Let food be your medicine…by nutritionist Lola Renton


“Let food be your medicine and medicine your food” …and Hippocrates knew what he was talking about! To commemorate World Food Day it is only fitting to give you a run down of the most powerful, healing and medicinal foods found on the planet, or at least in your supermarket! Foods that are more effective than common prescription medication, plants that can regenerate cells and starve cancer and simple ingredients that have the potential to ward off heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.  These things are not of the future, they might be inside your fridge at this very moment!  To appreciate the power of natural remedies we have to remember that some of the most popular and life-saving drugs originated in the soil. Salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin is an extract of white willow bark and the drug that changed the course of history, penicillin, which was first discovered as a by-product of naturally occurring bacteria. Should you still doubt the healing and protective effects of the contents of the average kitchen cupboard, include the following 10 foods liberally in your diet and see for yourself what happens!

1. Oily fish – omega 3

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We’ve all heard it all before but it’s a winner every time! Omega-3 rich oily fish (whether on your plate or in capsules) is essential for a healthy body and mind!

Civilisations flourished near ancient rivers and coastlines for a variety of reasons but they were able to take advantage of and benefit from an abundantly available food source. Populations with a high intake of oily fish are among the healthiest people on the planet. Sardines, mackerel, anchovies, trout and salmon are all exceptionally rich in omega 3 fatty acids which nourish every single cell in your body. With a research profile of over 1400 scientific studies, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to successfully lower cholesterol and blood pressure, help in the prevention and treatment of depression and other psychological disorders, improve IQ scores and behaviour in children, increase joint mobility, combat chronic inflammation, improve blood sugar levels in diabetic and obese patients and increase life span and quality. There is really no excuse for not including this truly ‘super’ food liberally in your diet, (excepting allergies or a profound distaste for fish). High quality fish oil capsules should form an essential part of every supplement programme; there are a number of appropriate alternative for vegans.

2. Green tea

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It’s not everyone’s favourite, but green tea offers a range of health benefits. Several brands offer a range of flavoured green teas, including peppermint, lemon, pineapple, jasmine, cranberry – to name a few!

Catechins found in green tea have a positive effect on such a wide range of metabolic parameters it is hard to put a finger on it. This ancient brew helps to control weight, glucose and insulin metabolism, it plays a role in the regulation of cholesterol, triglycerides, oestrogen and testosterone and it may even be one of the most powerful antioxidants used in the fight against cancer. In traditional Japanese homes, a pot of green tea is always found simmering on the hob and it might be one reason why life expectancy is longer and all-cause mortality is lower in this island nation than anywhere else in the world.

3. Turmeric

Turmeric is not just among a host of ingredients in any decent curry, it is one of the most valued medicinal herbs in Chinese and Indian medicine. Curcumin is the active ingredient, which is responsible for turmeric’s extraordinary colour and health benefits. It is as powerful an anti inflammatory agent as hydrocortisone and ibuprofen without producing dangerous side effects. It protects cells from damage, specifically in the colon and has been successfully used in the treatment and prevention of colon cancer, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. This is truly significant because there are currently no successful medical drug treatments for these conditions. Curcumin also injects life back into stiff joints, increases mobility and arrests pain just as efficiently as an over-the-counter dose of paracetamol. It can also be used topically to reduce swelling, redness and inflammation in exchange for a deeply yellow coloured skin that would make any Halloween enthusiast proud.

4. Cruciferous vegetables

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Broccoli is getting quite a reputation in health circles, and no wonder! Add it to a salad or stir fry, liven up your crudités – get adventurous!

If you were forced to eat your broccoli as a child, your parents have probably saved your life without you even knowing. When broccoli is chopped or juiced, an enzyme called myrosinase is released which reacts with naturally occurring sulphur compounds to form 3-indol-carbinol. This natural substance has the ability to arrest cancer cell growth, especially in breast tissue. It is also implicated in the treatment of the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is one of the leading causes of cervical cancer. Broccoli and its close relatives such as cauliflower and kale are not only a woman’s best friend but should feature on every dinner plate, preferably raw and not boiled to death!

5. Coconut oil

We all know about the detrimental effects of a high fat diet, so it is hard to imagine that most people are actually deficient in good fats, with potentially dramatic consequences. Coconut oil contains a unique type of saturated fat, rich in short-chain fatty acids which can dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease. They also support thyroid function, increase energy expenditure and actually HELP you lose weight. Lauric acid and caprylic acid found in coconut are powerful anti microbial, antibacterial and anti fungal agents potentially helping to prevent dangerous infections. Providing one of the best examples of a coconut-rich lifestyle are the Takelauans, a tribe from the South Pacific. These people derive 60% of their calories from coconut related products and are the biggest consumers of saturated fat in the world, yet these people are in excellent health with no evidence of heart disease. It is also worth mentioning that coconut oil used externally as well beats every high street and designer beauty product hands down when it comes to moisturising skin, protecting from sun damage and maintaining lustrous locks.

6. Sauerkraut

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A spoonful of probiotic-rich sauerkraut is a great way to support healthy gut bacteria – plus it’s really easy (and cheap) to make at home!

Albeit an acquired taste, fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut used to be a staple food before the time of diabetes, heart disease and IBS. By now we are all familiar with the concept that friendly gut bacteria regulate our immune system, support digestion, keep our gut healthy, produce vitamins etc, etc. Traditionally fermented foods, which include brewer’s yeast and marmite, contain more friendly organisms than any probiotic supplement or hyped-up yoghurt drink and have been shown to help prevent diabetes, obesity, cancer, coronary heart disease and mental illness. The beauty of fermentation is that with just a little research and time spent on Google, you can very easily turn an unassuming cabbage into a true ‘superfood’ in your own kitchen!

7. Seaweed

First off, all sea greens are the source of a mineral deficient in almost all other foods: iodine. Essential for thyroid function and overall control of metabolism, this is the first reason to start munching on some sushi! Secondly, it contains all essential amino acids, macro and micro minerals in addition to a unique dose of astaxanthin. This compound is what turns flamingos pink, is only found in algae and is thus far THE most potent antioxidant known to man. Considering that antioxidants protect from cell damage, and cell damage is the catalyst for cancer, it is not surprising that seaweeds and algae have endless health potential. More relevant to modern times, sea greens are specialists in the detoxification of heavy metals such as lead and mercury, which are implicated in a number of life threatening and chronic conditions.

8. Sour cherries

Tart or sour cherries have had somewhat of a revival of late – and rightly so. Their dark red colour is testament to an immense antioxidant content, but they are also hiding a secret treasure: melatonin. Sour cherries are the richest source of naturally occurring melatonin, an extraordinary substance that regulates our circadian rhythm but is also one of the most potent intra-cellular antioxidants. Buzzwords like anthocyanidines and bioflavanoids (also found in other dark coloured berries) are synonymous with this tart treat and largely responsible for their ability to fight cancer, gout and arthritis, migraines and even premature ageing.. A punnet of cherries may also improve your sleep-and-wake cycle and dramatically aids in recovery after strenuous work or exercise.

9. Almonds

This nut is the king of nuts: with a content of almost 90% monounsaturated fatty acids, that’s more than olive oil! This unique feature makes it one of the most effective weapons against heart disease, rivalled only by omega-3 fish oil. Almonds have another ace ‘up their shell’ in the form of fibre. These nuts are more effective in lowering cholesterol, improving blood lipids and keeping your digestion regular than wheat and oat bran put together. Not to mention its sky high levels of vitamin E and manganese, they are truly little brown pearls of nutrition and only 30(!) almonds a day just might keep the doctor and all sorts of trouble away!

10. Garlic

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Garlic is a great all-round health-boosting ingredient to add to meals. Researchers suggest that crushing garlic releases an enzyme which helps its beneficial compounds survive the cooking process.

Looking for a ‘pill for an ill’ or a ‘drug for a bug’? Well, garlic is as close as you’re ever going to get! This masterpiece of nature eradicates bacteria, viruses, yeasts and fungi, lowers cholesterol, improves blood flow, aids in the detoxification of heavy metals and other poisons and, according to many grandmothers and great, great aunts, a raw garlic bulb stuck up your nose is the best cure for a nasty cold! Inserting raw garlic into orifices takes some serious commitment but as a rule of thumb, include at least one precious piece in every meal and during times of sickness, as much as you can stomach!

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Lola Renton

About Lola Renton

Lola Renton is a leading Nutritional Therapist (BSc Hons) and product consultant with a passion for anything edible. She is a published health writer for national publications and international magazines and a down-to-earth blogger in cyber space. In the confusing and contradicting world of nutrition, it is her aim to set the record straight and serve her followers delicate pearls of nutrition on an entertaining, light hearted plate.