Question: Can food heal?
Historically, food, spices and herbs have been used to treat and prevent illness, infection and disease. As early as 2700 BC, cinnamon was used to reduce inflammation and relieve cold, flu and respiratory symptoms. In the 4th Century, ginger was used in China to aid digestion and treat nausea. The chia seed was a staple in the Aztec diet, a seed supplying carbohydrate, fat, protein and fiber.
As we investigate culture and different regions around the world, research has shown consumption of certain foods are associated with lower disease rates. The Mediterranean diet is comprised of whole fruits, vegetables, olives, olive oil, nuts, seeds and fish. The typical Western diet includes processed carbohydrates, meat and limited in whole fruits and vegetables. Epidemiological studies have shown lower rates of cardiovascular disease in Mediterranean countries compared the US. This association supports the role of olive oil, nuts, and fish in reducing inflammation and risk of cardiovascular disease.
Food can help repair tissues and decrease risk of disease. However, food can also cause trauma to tissue in the form of inflammation. Processed foods high in refined sugars and fried foods can alter blood sugar levels, increase cholesterol, alter hormones, and destroy cell membranes. Inflammation can also be present post-surgery, sports injury, or accident.
All foods provide nutrients, however there are certain foods with specific nutrients that can aid in healing and disease prevention. Unprocessed, whole foods contain the most “healing” nutrients compared to processed foods, which are stripped of nutrients during processing. Nutrients that play a key role in tissue repair and disease prevention include: Vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and phytochemicals. Dark green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach are high in vitamin A and C which aid in tissue repair at the cellular level. The B vitamins found in asparagus, spinach, banana, seafood, eggs, and whole grains, stimulate neuralgic tissues responses, required during muscle rehabilitation. Avocado, rich in magnesium and manganese are essential for tissue repair. Vitamin C which maintains collagen, the structural component of skin is available in citrus fruits, green vegetables, especially broccoli.
Phytochemicals found in whole fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices are compounds that may reduce risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and improve immune function. Cranberries have been shown to reduce infection, while the antioxidant properties of artichokes may help to reduce LDL levels. Berries such as cherries and blueberries may also play a role in reducing cancer risk. The antioxidants found in beets help to reduce inflammation and promote tissue healing. The list continues; substituting processed foods for nutrient rich foods can decrease inflammation, thus reduce tissue destruction and help promote tissue healing. In conclusion, food can heal, but only the right type of foods.