|Nature encourages health and balance. In nature's splendor we find all of the food we need to radiate with a healthy glow. While the foods we eat are only one aspect of being healthy, diet is definitely an important part. Studies reveal that eight of the ten leading causes of death in North America are directly related to diet. That's a sobering statistic and yet we are all responsible for the foods we eat. Nobody shoves the food down our throats. Many of us make the wrong food choices every day by consuming foods that were never intended for our body and contribute to most common major diseases.
This article is about how to use food as medicine - to make the best food choices to reduce your risks of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer's, arthritis, common forms of cancer, premature aging, vision problems and mental dysfunction, and offer ways to increase your energy, vitality and a sense of empowerment over your body and life.
Almonds - What can be easier to snack on when you're hungry and on the go? Two ounces, or about 40 almonds, give you more than 50 percent of your daily requirement of magnesium, a mineral that's important for heart health. Almonds are also a good source of calcium, vitamin E, potassium, folate (the plant form of folic acid), fiber and monosaturated fat, all heart-healthy nutrients. In 2002, a study published in Circulation found that after eating about 2 1/2 ounces of almonds a day for one month, participants had significantly reduced their total cholesterol and lowered several other risk factors for heart disease as well.
Asparagus - A superior alkalizing vegetable, asparagus has the ability to quickly change the pH of the body as evidenced by how rapidly you can smell it in your urine after you eat it. The odor is the result of asparagus changing the body chemistry and eliminating wastes while it breaks down its constituents of nitrogen, sulphur and ammonia. Just 20 calories in six spears, asparagus is a good source of folate, beta carotene and potassium. Asparagus is also a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants are substances that knock out free radicals, thus affording cellular protection.
Avocados - Often referred to as nature's butter, avocados are rich in phytochemicals. They have about a quarter of the calories of total fat of dairy butter, by weight. And ounce for ounce, they provide more heart-healthy monosaturated fat, vitamin E, folate, potassium and fiber than other fruits. Yes, it is a fruit. Avocados contain the antioxidant glutathione and are the number one fruit source of the cholesterol-lowering phytosterol. Evidence suggests that these valuable subnutrients may help prevent certain types of cancers and heart disease.
Blueberries - Known as an excellent laxative, blood cleanser and antioxidant, blueberries are the only food that has been shown to not just prevent, but also actually reverse abnormal physical and mental decline. Despite their small size, one cup of blueberries contains only 80 calories. Referred to as the "brain berry," blueberries are packed with red pigments that have been linked to prevention - and even reversal - of age-related mental decline and anti-cancer effects.
Broccoli - A supreme superfood, broccoli has been proven effective as a food medicine against cancer, heart disease and a host of other serious conditions. First it destroys any carcinogenic compounds that you've ingested, and then it creates enzymes that eat up any carcinogens left over from that reaction. It's also a good source of beta carotene, calcium, magnesium, vitamin B-3, vitamin B-5, vitamin C, potassium, folate, chlorophyll and fiber.
Cantaloupe - Cantaloupe is an excellent cleanser and rehydrator because of its high water content. Like all melons, for maximum benefit, eat cantaloupe alone. This beautiful fruit has lots of zinc, which is important for the prostate gland. It's also a powerhouse of potassium with 1/4 cantaloupe providing 1/4 of your daily potassium requirements!
Chili Peppers - Chilies-or hot peppers-add spice and interest to many foods. Chilies raise your endorphin level and are a cornucopia of nutrients, including beta carotene and vitamin C. In fact, chilies are so rich in vitamin C that they have been used as natural remedies for colds, coughs, bronchitis and sinusitis around the globe.
Cinnamon - Cinnamon is a highly versatile flavoring as well as a carminative that relieves bloating and gas. Adding cinnamon to food, especially to sugary ones, helps normalize blood sugar by making insulin more sensitive. So find ways to add cinnamon to sweet foods such as fresh fruit.
Coconut - Coconut butter (also referred to as coconut oil) is a raw saturated fat containing mostly medium-chain fatty acids, which the body can metabolize efficiently and convert to energy quickly. Added regularly to a balanced diet, it may help lower cholesterol by promoting its conversion into pregnenolone, the precursor to many hormones, including progesterone. Rich in magnesium, potassium, zinc, folate and vitamin C, coconut also helps regulate thyroid function.
Flaxseed - Often referred to as "nutritional gold," flaxseed is a rich source of essential fatty acids, in particular Omega-3's. As well as playing a critical role in normal physiology, essential fatty acids are shown to be therapeutic and protect against heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, many skin diseases and others. Numerous studies have uncovered the benefits of flaxseed to help alleviate constipation and bloating, eliminate toxic waste, strengthen the blood, reduce inflammation, accelerate fat loss and reduce depression.
Garlic - A veritable treasure chest of nutrients, garlic is a rich source of unique sulfur compounds that keep your body chemistry in balance. Well-documented studies from major medical universities around the world have found aged garlic extract to be effective in its ability to resist and fight cancer, cardiovascular disease, other respiratory ailments and infections and fatigue. It also shows promise against a major risk factor in Alzheimer's disease and atherosclerosis.
Grapefruit - As with all other citrus fruits, grapefruit is rich in vitamin C and potassium and very low in calories. This fresh raw juice eases constipation and improves digestion by increasing the flow of gastric juices. One whole grapefruit has only 100 calories and it makes a perfect snack food. Deep inside the white rind and membranes of this fruit (lemons and oranges, too) lies a miraculous group of plant compounds -- bioflavonoids, citric acids and pectins -- which protect against cancer and heart disease. Grapefruit pectin reduces the accumulation of atherosclerotic plaque in patients afflicted with atherosclerosis and strengthens blood vessels and capillaries.
Kale - One of the most nutritious greens in the garden, kale is part of the cruciferous family and is a rich source of indoles, glucosinolates and isothiocyanates, a group of potent phytochemicals that help prevent breast and lung cancers. Kale helps prevent age-related macular degeneration of the eyes, oxygenates the blood, improves red blood cell counts and aids the fundamental processes of cell circulation and respiration. It also is an outstanding source of beta carotene, vitamins C and E, and calcium.
Kelp - A stellar, nutrient-dense sea vegetable, kelp is especially rich in potassium, iron, iodine, riboflavin, dietary fiber, and vitamins A, B, C, E, D and K. It also contains a natural substance that enhances flavor and tenderizes. Kelp contains an element that helps remove radioactive particles and heavy metals from the body, plus works as a blood purifier, relieves arthritis stiffness and promotes adrenal, pituitary and thyroid health.
Lemon - Although acid to the taste, the juice of a lemon is a great alkalizer for the body. When our bodies are too acid, our immune systems are compromised and our energy abates. If taken in the morning on an empty stomach diluted with water, lemon juice is known to improve liver function and has been used to help eliminate kidney stones. The organic acids in all citrus fruits stimulate digestive juices and relieve constipation. Added to water or fresh juice, it helps relieve colds, coughs, and sore throats. If you have dry mouth, licking a lemon or sipping unsweetened diluted lemon juice can stimulate saliva flow.
Parsley - This culinary herb is a bona fide storehouse of synergistic nutrients that rejuvenate and detoxify the body. A good source of vitamin C, iron, calcium, sodium, beta carotene, vanadium, manganese and chlorophyll, parsley can be used in so many ways. Parsley contains nutritional precursors for the manufacture of adrenal hormones, so it's a great stress-buster. Studies show parsley to be effective in slowing the aging process, reducing depression, lowering cholesterol, strengthening the kidneys and detoxifying the cells. Many herbalists recommend parsley to relieve the symptoms of goiter and rheumatism, and to facilitate menstruation.
Tomatoes - Over 90% of this beautiful, low calorie fruit is water. It's alkaline and jam-packed with nutrients and phytochemicals. Tomatoes provide vitamin C, potassium, chromium, biotin, lutein and zeaxanthin, alpha and beta carotene, the B vitamins and lots of lycopene, an important part of the antioxidant defense network in the skin. Numerous epidemiological studies have found that people who eat lots of tomatoes are significantly less likely to get cancer. Study results were strongest for prostate, lung and stomach cancer.
This material contains highlights from a more comprehensive article "20 SuperFoods & Healthy Kitchen Tips" and from Susan Smith Jones's forthcoming book SuperFoods & Healthy Kitchen Tips.