Time to eat more! More what? More foods that heal. Organically grown plant foods, together with good quality fats and proteins. At last, the focus of nutritional healing is beginning to shift from an obsession with food groups, vitamin pills and much-hyped superfoods—from chia seeds to acai—for which we have been paying through the nose. Who needs them when so many delicious, readily available plants bring us natural healing phytochemical compounds. Their powerful, health-giving actions are well backed up by medical research. Get to know the health benefits of these easily obtainable foods. Make use of them and thrive.
CRANBERRIES FOR CLEARING
Cranberries are one of those wonderful red/orange/yellow fruits rich in flavonoid antioxidants and high in flavor. Native Americans have used them for centuries as both food and medicine. They have anti-fungal properties. They are anti-viral too. Cranberries, fresh or dried, also help prevent as well as treat many urinary infections such as cystitis. They knock out the Escherichia coli bacteria that glue themselves to the walls of the intestine and the bladder. An as-yet-unidentified phytochemical in cranberries prevents them from sticking. Cranberries also boast a natural antibiotic—hippuric acid. Eating them carries this little gem into the bladder and kidneys.
MANGOS FOR DEPRESSION
Mangoes have long been known as “food for the gods”. It was Paramahansa Yogananda who wrote in his autobiography, Autobiography of a Yogi, “It is impossible for the Hindu to conceive of heaven without mangoes.” He probably knew nothing about the biochemistry of this sensuous fruit, but he certainly got right its uplifting qualities. Mangoes are rich in anacardic acid— phytochemicals that bear a strong resemblance to drugs used to treat depression. This makes them a great way to start the day— especially if you can get them tree-ripened and organic.
Asparagus has long been used in ayurvedic medicine as a remedy against indigestion. Not long ago, researchers compared the therapeutic effect of asparagus with a commonly-used drug in the prevention of nausea and hiatus hernia, heartburn and gastric acid reflux. They found that asparagus was just as effective as the common drug remedy, yet it had no side effects.
Asparagus also boasts excellent diuretic properties, too. It stimulates the digestion and is used to alleviate rheumatism and arthritis. A member of the lily family, asparagus was used by the ancient Greeks to treat kidney and liver troubles. It is one of the best natural remedies for PMS-related bloating and is a top source of folic acid, the antioxidant glutathione, and vitamin C. All three are associated with a reduced risk of cancer and a myriad of age-related degenerative conditions.
FENNEL FOR PMS
As well as containing potassium, fennel (bulb fennel) is full of phytoestrogens. These are the natural plant hormones which help protect from the onslaught of dangerous estrogens in the environment and from the negative effects of estrogen-based drugs, which continue to be doled out far too often to women. As a result, fennel is useful not only in helping to regulate menstruation, but also in calming PMS. It even stimulates the flow of breast milk in nursing mothers. When you buy fennel, look for the fattest stems—they have more flavor and contain more phytohormones.
PEPPERS FOR ANTI-AGING
Peppers go back at least 7000 years in their many forms: bell peppers, pimentos, cherry peppers, paprika, piquin, Anaheim, jalapeno, chili, cayenne and aji, to name a few. They became part of European fare when Columbus returned from the New World and introduced them to the court. By the mid-seventeenth century they were widely cultivated in Spain and Portugal. All peppers are rich in vitamins C and E and the carotenoids to help protect against degeneration and the damaging effects of toxic chemicals in the environment. The hotter peppers are rich in an alkaloid called capsaicin, which is known to decrease pain, enhance digestion, detoxify the body and protect it from ‘flu and colds. Eat peppers raw as crudités, bake them and add them to stews and soups. Their magnificent color and health-enhancing capacities are a wonder to behold.
BASIL FOR SOOTHING
Basil has remarkable healing properties. It calms the stomach and brings a calming quality to the whole body. Basil is rich in monoterpenes. These are phytonutrients with powerful antioxidant properties. It also contains lots more plant chemicals, which soothe stomach cramps and quiet upset stomachs, including eugenol—known for its ability to ease muscle spasms. Finally, basil is both antiseptic and mildly sedative.
CHILIES FOR PAIN
Most people think of chilies think in terms of herbs and spices, not of health. But chilies are a great addition to any health-enhancing diet, even in the smallest doses. One small chili boasts one hundred percent of the daily recommended dose of the antioxidant beta-carotene, as well as nearly two hundred percent of vitamin C. These nutrients help fight free radicals and therefore help protect against heart disease, cancer and early aging. They also strengthen immunity. In addition, chilies contain a plant chemical called capsaicin, which helps prevent cholesterol issues.
Throughout history, chilies have been used to relieve pain. Recent research shows capsaicin can temporarily block chemically transmitted pain signals in the body. That’s why you find it in natural ointments useful for relieving arthritis and nerve pain. You’ll even find it in nose sprays for clearing headaches. There is good evidence that capsaicin may also soothe pains of the mind and soul, since it triggers the release of mood enhancing endorphins by the brain.
GINGER FOR PMS
The spicy, sweet ginger root is one of the greatest of all the natural health supports from the vegetable kingdom. It’s well known for its ability to calm an upset stomach and banish travel sickness. It is also brilliant at alleviating the symptoms of colds and flu by increasing circulation and calming fevers. It even eases PMS and headaches and has heart-protecting properties thanks to its ability to discourage the clumping of blood cells.
To prevent or clear nausea you can use half a teaspoon of dried ginger or a tiny piece of fresh ginger. It relives indigestion and flatulence. Ginger stimulates circulation, and is used in natural medicine to counter rheumatism. In a study done in Denmark in 1992, researchers confirmed what ayurvedic practitioners have long known—that ginger relieves the pain of arthritis and rheumatism without side effects. Many scientists studying this amazing root believe that ginger works its wonders in no small part thanks to an ability to block inflammatory tendencies in the body.
ROSEMARY FOR SORE MUSCLES
Rosemary has a natural ability to soften the skin. When used in a carrier cream and rubbed on the body, its essential oils are a great help in relieving muscular soreness. But what I like best about rosemary is the way it revitalizes the senses through its pungent odor and taste.
GREEN LIPS FOR INFLAMMATION
With their beautiful blue-green shells, these sea gems—when harvested from unpolluted water—are not only a highly nutritious form of protein. They are rich in vitamins and trace minerals. In addition, green-lipped mussels are a great source of mucopolysaccharides and the free radical scavenging enzyme superoxide dismutase. Extracts of green-lipped muscle have been used successfully to treat inflammatory diseases from rheumatoid arthritis to osteoarthritis to eczema and emphysema. But eating them is even better than using extracts. Recently, they have even taken their place in the growing arsenal of natural cancer treatments. Always eat them cooked.
MEET GOOD MEAT
The problem with domestic meats is that, in many countries, most of them are laden with hormones, toxins and antibiotics. When you routinely eat non-organic meat, you can end up not only with a high level of uric acid in your body, but a tendency to form a lot of mucus and to build up toxic chemicals in the body, including hormones and antibiotics. This is why I buy only certified organic meat. The difference in flavor is remarkable, and I know that the animals I am eating have been carefully raised and are free of both excess fat and the toxicity that most domestic farm animals carry these days.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
I was a vegetarian for twenty years. I believe that a vegetarian diet is ideal for many people. I discovered in my mid-thirties, however, that vegetarianism was not ideal for me—probably because my ancestors, being Nordic, spent most of their lives living on fish, salted meat and whatever vegetables they could dig up from the frozen tundra. Our genetic make-up determines to a great extent what works for us and what doesn’t. When I added fish and game to my meals, my energy levels soared and I looked and felt better.
Each one of us is unique. This not only determines what kind of foods we thrive on, it also determines what kinds of foods are best for us at any particular time of our life. For instance, many women at menopause find they do better by cutting meat out of their diet. Others discover just the opposite—that they need more protein. It’s a question of ‘suck it and see’. Don’t hesitate to shift from eating more vegetables at one time of your life to more fruit at another, and more fish at another. The human body is always changing, as are our needs for various foods. The magnificent variety of organically-grown, healing and health-enhancing foods to choose from makes the process of finding which foods serve you best a sensuous delight.