As a healthcare professional, I see doctors prescribe five, ten, even twenty medications to one patient without giving any nutritional advice. I’m not saying that food should replace all medicines, and you should check with your doctor to make sure that any medications you take are not counteracted by a particular food. However, I do think that the plate is the place to start for living a long and healthy life.
For centuries, many cultures have used natural foods as their medicine chest. They understand that certain herbs and leaves offer curative powers. Hippocrates, a Greek physician who practiced medicine over 2,000 years ago (and from whom doctors derived the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm” to patients), is credited with writing, “Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food.”
In my native Southeast Asia, plants—sources of healthful herbs and spices—are integral to the practice of healing, and have been for several centuries. Some of my favorite herbs and spices—garlic, ginger, parsley, tea, and turmeric—are all examples of natural foods known as much for their palliative and healing properties as for the flavors they add to our meals. You can learn about these properties in my cookbook FoodTrients: Age-Defying Recipes for a Sustainable Life. In it is a guide that lists the FoodTrients—26 age-defying nutrients found in my recipes—along with their health-giving benefits. In it you’ll see many herbs and spices with disease-preventing, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immunity-boosting, and beauty-enhancing properties.
For example, you’ll learn that garlic contains the FoodTrient allicin, which is an anti-inflammatory that reduces the risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and cancer. So if you have trouble with rashes, allergies, swelling, or atherosclerosis add garlic to your meals whenever possible.
The root of the ginger plant has its own very special FoodTrient called gingerol. Gingerol has the power to alleviate nausea (a side effect of many medications) and reduce the risk of cancer. It’s also an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant. I grate fresh gingerroot and put a teaspoon or two of it into both sweet and savory foods—everything from cakes and cookies to chicken stew and stir-fries. My Tangy Ginger Dressing works well with any mixed salad, especially my Spinach and Grapefruit Salad. And read about my nourishing cookbook recipe Green Tea Noodles with Edamame, which was featured in the Today Show food blog, Bites on Today.
Parsley and other bright green grassy herbs—such as watercress and wheatgrass—contain lots of chlorophyll, a FoodTrient that protects against certain cancers. Parsley and its companion herbs are also full of antioxidants, which will help you look and feel younger. They’re perfect in salads, soups, and even some fruit-and-veggie smoothies. Parsley is a star ingredient in my cookbook recipe Veal Meatballs with Parsley and Mushroom Gravy.
Green and black teas are full of the FoodTrient catechins, which are super-antioxidants that help reduce the risk of heart disease and heart attack. Those at high risk for heart attack should consider drinking a cup of tea at least every day. The catechins in tea also help prevent cavities, promote weight loss, and protect against certain cancers.
Turmeric (found in many curry powder mixes) is rife with curcumin—a FoodTrient highly valued in India. Indians have long had a lower incidence of heart disease and Alzheimer’s than Americans and new studies are showing that curcumin may be the major reason why. Curcumin is a strong antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory that works in the body to reduce swelling of the skin, arteries, brain (as in Alzheimer’s disease), bowel (especially in irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease), joints (as in arthritis), and nasal passages (as in allergies). It therefore reduces the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. For more on curcumin and heart disease, see this article by the Livestrong foundation. And try my Turkey in Turmeric Sauce for a FoodTrients boost at dinnertime.
Making culinary herbs and spices part of your daily meals: now that’s powerful medicine!