Foods That Heal: Using Food as Medicine

By Val Silver

Foods that heal are important allies when you are facing health challenges or trying to prevent them. Using food as medicine makes sense. Numerous studies have proven that what you put into your body builds or impedes health. 

Eating a diet rich in healthy, natural foods helps you feel good, and makes you more resistant to common health problems. They help our cells function optimally for physical and mental vitality.

Certain foods are proven to promote healing, provide energy, reduce inflammation, improve our moods, and improve immune function in many people.  For the most part, these are the wholesome foods that Nature provides us.

 Unfortunately, many of us eat too much unhealthy 'newfangled food', which barely resemble the plants or animals they came from. Along with poor lifestyle choices, they promote poor health.

It's no secret that the SAD standard American diet, along with stress and toxins, is a major contributor of ill health. Highly processed, denatured food laden with chemicals, sugar, rancid oils, and trans-fats may taste good, but it taxes your nutritional reserves and creates unhealthy living conditions for your cells.

As the 1970's Chiffon margarine commercial proclaimed, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature." Well, the truth is, you can fool your taste buds, but you can't fool your body and how it responds to what you put in it.

Jack LaLane gave wise advice when he said,

"If God didn't make it, don't eat it."

A Secret about Healing Foods

After reading hundreds of books and articles about nutrition and foods that heal, I've come to a simple conclusion.

Yes, specific foods are particularly helpful for preventing and healing certain ailments. But for the most part, if you eat a variety of good-for-you foods, and limit highly-processed foods, you will naturally use food as medicine. This is especially true of lifestyle diseases: cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and more. The same nutrient-dense, natural foods often show up over and over again on lists of healing foods. 

This healthy balanced diet is comprised of plenty of vegetables, healthy fats, and lean protein. Add to this foundation nuts, seeds, fermented foods, berries, fruit and small amounts of whole grains. Eat like this and you will eat plenty of foods that heal and help you stay well.

Foods that Heal Specific Conditions

Please note: Using food as medicine does not imply that you should not use prescribed medication, when needed. Healing foods and medication complement each other in helping you get and stay healthy. Also, if you have a sensitivity or an allergy to a certain food, it is not a healing food for you.

The list of conditions and specific needs discussed in this section illustrate how to use foods that heal for additional nutritional support. These healing foods were chosen based on research and tradition, and are just a sampling of helpful foods.

Healing foods for heart disease and cancer

This graphic illustrates the ratings of 21 different fruits and vegetables deemed to have the most nutritional value as heart health and cancer-fighting foods. Notice that dark, leafy greens (including several not shown) top the list.

foods that heal

Cholesterol reducing and balancing foods:

  • monounsaturated fats in nuts, avocados and olive oil. 
  • soluble fiber-rich foods in whole grains, beans and fresh fruit (with the skin when edible) which absorb cholesterol and escort it out of your body. 
  • omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish such as wild caught salmon, tuna, sardines, herring and mackerel to help your heart by reducing blood pressure, inflammation, and triglycerides while raising HDL. 
  • Lower carbohydrate, higher healthy fat diets which favor normalizing cholesterol and triglycerides. 
  • If you also have high blood pressure, eat potassium rich foods such as cantaloupe, bananas, watermelon, avocados and real coconut water. 

Cancer-fighting foods:

These foods help stave off this dreaded disease. They help prevent or slow cancer growth by protecting DNA, preventing cells from turning cancerous, encouraging cancer cell death, and/or by stimulating the immune system and controlling inflammation.

Cancer fighting foods that heal primarily consist of a variety of anti-oxidant, fiber and nutrient rich fruits, vegetables and plant foods in a rainbow of colors. You want to eat several portions of these foods daily. Choose from among red, yellow, green, blue and orange varieties to take advantage of different phytonutrients that protect you from cancer and other lifestyle diseases. 

  • Eat cruciferous vegetables such as brocolli and kale which contain sulforaphane, a compound that helps detoxify your liver and protect against cancer.
  • Lycopene rich cooked tomatoes are especially protective against prostate cancer.
  • Horseradish contains even more glucosinolates - a compound that helps your liver detoxify carcinogens than cruciferous vegetables. This compound may also slow cancer cell growth. Add a teaspoon of horseradish to your daily diet for a healthy dose of prevention.
  • Enjoy liberal amounts of spices such as turmeric, nutmeg, and cinnamon. 
  • To supercharge your protection, combine cancer fighting foods in a meal. For example, eat steamed broccoli with cooked tomatoes and a cup of green or Earl Grey tea to multiply each other's healing effects. As you will hear in the video below, this effect can be greater than drugs or supplements. 
  • Read more about cancer-fighting foods and supplements here.

Foods that support immune function:

  • beta-carotene rich foods such as spinach, carrots, winter squash 
  • vitamin C rich foods including cantaloupe and oranges. 
  • mushrooms such as reishi and maitake. Research shows that rehi mushcrooms contain biactive molecules that not only boost the immune system but help reverse age related lowered immunity. These mushrooms also protect you from illness because they have anti-viral, anti-bacterial properties as well as the ability to boost the immune system. 
  • garlic. Finely chop a few fresh cloves and eat fresh or lightly cooked.
  • zinc rich top sirloin, lentils and king crab. 
  • fermented foods such as kefir and cultured vegetables which support immune system friendly bacteria living in your intestines.

Read more on promoting healthy immune function.

Anti-inflammatory foods:

These foods, herbs and spices reduce the chronic inflammation behind many chronic degenerative diseases, pain, and premature aging. Anti-inflammatory foods that heal include:

  •  super foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, grass fed beef, monounsaturated fats, green tea, nuts and seeds and a wide variety of real, unprocessed foods.
  • inflammation-cooling spices and herbs like ginger, turmeric and fennel to protect yourself from the myriad of health problems caused by chronic inflammation and can be used as seasonings. Avoiding foods you are sensitive to and limiting pro-inflammatory trans fats and processed foods are a must.

Sleep-enhancing foods

Not sleeping well can wreak havoc with your mental and physical health. Healing foods can help. 

  • Tryptophan-rich foods including milk, cheese, chicken and turkey can make you sleepy. 
  • Enjoy plenty of calming magnesium-rich beans, green leafy vegetables, pumpkin seeds, avocados,  nettle infusion, and almonds. 
  • Tart cherries provide sleep-inducing melatonin.

Here are more tips for getting a good night sleep.

Constipation relieving foods: 

  • Eat fiber-rich foods to bulk up stools and carry away toxins. Enjoy them with plenty of water or you may make it worse. 
  • Fermented foods can rebalance your intestinal flora. 
  • Prunes are a constipation superstar because they contain three stool moving ingredients: fiber, sorbitol which softens the stool, and a compound called di-hydroxyphenyl isatin that stimulates intestinal contractions.
  • Psyllium seeds (found in over-the-counter products) contain fiber. Be sure to get organic if you can. 
  • Ground flax seeds are rich in soluble fiber, healthful compounds and oil. After a few days of taking flax you may notice that your stools are easier to pass.
  • Fiber isn't always the answer for constipation. If fiber doesn't help, a dose magnesium citrate with Vitamin C might do the trick. 

Foods that heal muscle cramps

Muscle cramps are so painful! They can often be relieved with electrolyte minerals - magnesium, calcium, potassium and sodium. Many people are deficient in magnesium, the mineral that tells muscles to relax and helps the other electrolytes do their jobs.

Rich sources of electrolytes are:

  • watermelon
  • dark leafy greens
  • fermented soy (natto)
  • bananas 
  • coconut water

Also, drink plenty of fluids before and after exercise.

Foods that lift your spirits

When you’re tempted to turn to food because you are feeling down, why not turn to foods that support overall brain function and improve your moods? While many factors determine your mood, certain foods can help when eaten as part of your daily diet.

  • Dark chocolate - an ounce of 70% dark chocolate offers a pleasurable eating experience and a host of feel-good compounds.
  • Probiotic-rich fermented foods - research shows a connection between healthy gut bacteria and better moods.
  • Fatty fish - mackarel, sardines, wild-caught salmon, tuna, and herring are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which aid brain health and lower your risk of depression
  • Oats and fiber-rich whole grains for breakfast promote better mood and energy levels throughout the day.
  • Berries contain compounds that reduce oxidative stress in your body. Anthocyanins, the compound that gives blueberries, and blackberries their dark purple-blue color has been associated with a lower risk of depression symptoms when eaten regularly.  
  • Coffee - the compounds in coffee improve mood and focus. 
  • Beans, lentils, nuts and seeds contain vitamins and nutrients that support brain health and elevate mood.

Summary of Foods that Heal

Do you notice a pattern in this compilation of using food as medicine?

Nutrient-rich foods that lower your risk of cancer, inflammation, and other health problems are foods that heal regardless of specific physical conditions. When your cells are properly nourished and functioning properly, you are more likely to be healthy and happier. It may not always be easy to eat enough of these healing foods, but it really is that simple.

Source: 9 Healthy Foods that Lift Your Mood

Related Pages

For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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