The often quoted "father of modern medicine" Hippocrates said over 2,000 year ago "Let food be your medicine and medicine by your food". Hippocrates words set the theme that food can indeed be strong medicine in Dr Earl Mindell's exciting book Food as Medicine.
Source: Stay Healthy Blog
Dr Mindell's book presents an accurate and fascinating discussion of over 100 medically beneficial foods and he explains how and why these feeds act as medicine in our bodies. According to Dr Mindell, the beneficial ingredients in these wonder foods is not limited to their energy (calorie) value nor just to the vitamins and minerals they contain. Other vital elements contained in foods have become the subject of intense scientific interest since the 1970's. These vital elements are now being identified to their activity in the body or effect on body systems and chemistry.
PLANTS AS CHEMICAL COMPOUNDS
Researchers examining the chemical compounds that make up plant foods have coined a new word to describe their subject: Phytochemistry (phyto meaning plant). As Dr Mindell writes, these phytochemical researchers were truly pioneers in their field. Prior to their intensive investigations into the chemical parts of complex plant make-up, trying to explain how plant foods acted as "medicine" was mostly guess work and mapping the specific chemicals plant foods contained led to some startling discoveries.
PLANT CHEMICALS THAT HEAL
Dr Mindell’s book presents a fascinating discussion of the chemical profiles found in plants which contributes to your body's healing processes and he illustrates the exciting new directions preventive health care with foods will take. For example:
1. Coumarins are substances found in parsley, licorice and citrus fruits and are natural "blood thinners" which may prevail blood clots.
2. Indoles are found in cabbages, broccoli and brussel sprouts and may help prevent breast cancer by blocking the action of estrogens that trigger tumour growth.
3. Ellagic Acid is found in cherries, grapes and strawberries and may deactivate cancer-causing chemical already in the body.
4. Pectins a type of water-soluble fibre found in apples and grapefruit can help reduce cholesterol and may protect against diabetes.
5. Genistein is a metabolic product of eating soy-based foods and appears to block the growth of new capillaries that supply blood to tumors.
A GROCERY BAG-FULL OF "PROTECTORS" PLEASE!
While plant food compounds come in many farms and clearly do a diverse job in keeping us healthy, Dr Mindell suggests it is logical to think of these compounds collectively as "protectors" since most of the phytochemicals help block or deactivate other compounds which promote disease in the body.
'Protectors" in foods, Dr Mindell writes, do a lot of different functions. Some help mediate or lessen the inflammatory response associated with arthritis, psoriasis and lupus. Other "protectors" help maintain normal blood-sugar levels and some others assist the body to better utilise vitamins and minerals that contribute to stronger bones, normal blood pressure and heart function. Perhaps the most significant protective function identified in plant foods are those associated with stimulating immune defences.
Dr Mindell discusses these at length in conjunction with antioxidant nutrients Vitamins A, C, E and the mineral Zinc.
Within the next ten years, Dr Mindell suggests our supermarket shelves could see the introduction of specially designed "medicinal foods" enhanced with specific phytochemical plant compounds that offer protection against various diseases. According to Dr Mindell, the USA National Cancer Institute has proposed a five year Experimental Food Project to study the viability of developing special foods that are enriched with natural plant anti-cancer substances.
You can choose to buy orange juice fortified with calcium to assist in preventing osteoporosis and amongst the breakfast cereals some companies have added psyllium flakes which shows promise in reducing cholesterol and colon cancer risk.
Naturally you can make up your own "food medicines" by shopping wisely and combining "protectors" in your meal plans. As a nutritionist, I would argue that it is far better to have a wide variety of natural unprocessed foods in the diet which would as a matter of course contain the major "protectors" amongst the "food medicines" rather than wait for a manufacturer to come up with a magic formula. Reading Dr Mindell's book will quickly show you which foods to focus on and having the most up-to-date information on what naturally occurring phytochemicals are found in foods can help you make wise shopping choices.
A final word of caution from Dr Mindell says that food may be good medicine but it is not a panacea, and anyone managing a serious disorder should not make major changes in their diet without professional guidance. Preferably, read D Mindell's ideas and discuss the possibilities with your practitioner.
Dietary Guidelines and Sources: (1) The Healthy Diet Pyramid (2) Magnesium: Health Benefits, Facts, and Diet (3) The Significance of Fats in Food and Cardiac Health