Let food be your medicine By Dr. Sandra Cabot
Many diseases can be overcome by eating healing foods that contain powerful medicinal properties. Optimal health and the prevention of disease is only possible by including these healing foods regularly in the diet. The healing substances found in certain foods or therapeutically active chemicals are known as phyto-chemicals. The culinary habits of different cultures have been recognised for decades as being influential in the incidence of diseases. Mediterranean countries have a lower prevalence of cardiovascular diseases because of the protective effect of traditional Mediterranean foods, such as olive oil, tomatoes and legumes. Broccoli and other vegetables in the cruciferous family are known to reduce the risk of bowel cancer, but it is only recently that scientists have isolated the phyto-chemicals which confer this protection. Broccoli has been found to contain a phyto-chemical called sulphoraphane, which enhances the phase two-detoxification pathway in the liver. Sulphoraphane has also been found to block mammary tumor formation in rats.
Tomatoes contain a powerful antioxidant called lycopene, which according to a paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1997:66:116-22), is the most powerful of all the dietary carotenoids. The researchers found that the dietary intake of lycopene was linked to a lower risk of prostate problems. They also found that higher levels of lycopene in the blood lowered the risk of cell proliferation, which would theoretically exert a powerful anti-cancer effect. Cooking or chopping tomatoes increases the absorption of lycopene into the body. Eating tomatoes with oil increases the availability of the lycopene to the body, which is another reason that Mediterranean cuisine confers health benefits.
Beetroot is a beautiful deep purple colour because it contains the antioxidant anthocyanidin. Constituents of beetroot have been shown to exert anti-viral and anti-tumour effects in animal studies. Other foods, which also exert these properties, although to a lesser degree, are red and green peppers, red onion, paprika and cranberry. These foods contain healing phytonutrients such as carotenoids, capsanthin and anthocyanins.
Certain foods have high concentrations of plant hormones, which are known as phyto-estrogens. Examples of these are the isoflavones genistein and daidzein (found in soya beans and red clover), and lignans (found in flaxseed). Asian communities consume a high intake of soy, and have a significantly lower incidence of hormone dependent cancers of the prostate, uterus and breast. All legumes such as beans, peas and lentils contain beneficial phyto-estrogens.
A study published in the British Medical Journal in 1990, looked at a group of postmenopausal women who were given 1.5 oz of soy flour for 2 weeks, followed by half that of flaxseed meal for 2 weeks, and then half again of red clover sprouts. This produced improvements in various blood hormone levels and menopausal symptoms.
Asian and Mediterranean cuisines are now integrating themselves into the old fashioned Western diet consisting of meat, bread and 4 vegetables. This culinary multiculturalism has enormous and proven benefits for our health and also for our enjoyment. We all know that variety is the spice of life, and Asian and Mediterranean foods can add spice to our often bland ways of eating. A wide range of Asian foods is now available from supermarkets and greengrocers as well as Chinese grocery stores. Typical Asian foods and vegetables such as ginger, chilli, garlic, Chinese water spinach, bok choy, lemongrass, coconut, tumeric, curry, Chinese mushrooms and many others can be experimented with, and gradually introduced into the diet if you want to expand the horizons of your taste buds.