In the ancient words of Hippocrates, “Let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be food”. Today’s physicians now believe that wise Greek philosopher was way ahead of his time. “There is an overwhelming strong database suggesting that the quality of calories we eat has a huge impact on our well-being, and our risk of chronic disease”, says Dr. David Ludwig, director of the Optimal Weight for Life Program at Children’s Hospital in Boston.
While not a prescription for curing disease, researchers are finding that a well-stocked home kitchen pantry most likely contains potent disease-fighting agents just as the medicine cabinet does. And while some foods are clearly labeled with simple and straightforward claims, not all functional foods (products that are enhanced and designed to do much more than simply supply us with calories), are appropriate for an “eat to treat” approach!
There are many examples of functional foods in our food supply. Here are some examples that are probably very familiar:
Flour: Nearly all flour is fortified with folic acid, which is a synthetic version of folate, the vitamin B. Folate is important for heart health, in addition to providing for a reduced risk of spinal defects in newborns.
Milk: we started adding vitamin D to milk in the 1940’s as a way to boost milk sales. Vitamin D is especially important for seniors (who generally don’t spend much time in the sun and thus tend not to get it that way. The body manufactures vitamin D from exposure to sunlight), and for all Americans, who don’t tend to get enough vitamin D. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in very few foods, added to others, and promotes calcium absorption in the gut. Vitamin D also helps maintain adequate serum calcium and phosphate concentrations to enable normal mineralization of bones. All the more reason to drink your milk!
Eggs: Nutritious, and in moderation (3-4 eggs per week for those with elevated blood cholesterol), These days, chickens are fed flaxseed, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids, thus more of the healthy fat makes it into egg.
Here are a few “pharma foods” that you can find in your local grocery store – and their modern remedies that have ancient roots.
Fennel: A member of the parsley plant family, fennel is very high in fiber and low in calories. Unlike celery, a one cup serving of fennel fulfills one-third of the RDA for vitamins A and C, and also provides 15% or more of the RDAs for iron and calcium, as well as potassium and other minerals. Throughout the ages, physicians have prescribed fennel for a variety of ailments. Fennel seeds aid digestion and are said to alleviate bloating, flatulence and other intestinal problems.
Kale: Kale looks like collards but with curly leaves. It’s a hardy autumn vegetable that’s a member of the cabbage family, and like others, is an excellent source of vitamin C and beta carotene. A one-cup serving provides twice the daily requirements for these nutrients. In addition, kale contains more iron and calcium than almost any other vegetable; its high vitamin C content enhances the body’s ability to absorb these minerals. Serve kale with a lemon dressing or in the same meal as other acidic fruits or vegetables, as it will further boost the absorption of the iron and calcium. Kale also contains many cancer-fighting compounds, including indoles, bioflavonoids and carotenes.
Tomatoes: Like potatoes, sweet peppers and eggplants, tomatoes belong to the nightshade family. One ripe tomato contains only 25 calories, making tomatoes a low calorie staple. Eating tomatoes regularly may reduce the risk of prostate cancer, and cooked tomatoes appear to be more protective than fresh, as more fat-soluble lycopene is released once the tomato is cooked, and with a small amount of oil the protective effect is intensified.
Although no single food can prevent cancer, experts agree that consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidant nutrients will help protect against the cancer-causing cell damage that occurs when the body burns oxygen.