Foods Are Medicine

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By Barbara Day, M.S., R.D.

March is National Nutrition month. Being a foodie and registered dietitian since 1973, I like to promote real foods as medicine!  In the early 60s, a famous nutritionist, Adele Davis, coined the phrase, “You are what you eat.” Many people during that time refuted the phrase, however, fast forward to today, and it’s apparent YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT.

Research suggests that many diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer are due to inflammation from the production of free radicals in your body. Free Radicals are cell damaging molecules that are formed in response to toxins or natural body processes. Antioxidants from foods we eat help protect our body from the effects of free radicals.

Eating a rainbow of colors each day help ensure you are getting lots of vitamins and minerals that may help prevent many diseases by fighting inflammation and neutralizing destructive free radicals.

Maximizing the Rainbow of Color for Your Health

Yellow Green Foods Antioxidants:  Lutein and Zeaxanthin. Health Benefits: Protects from macular degeneration and cataracts. Food sources: spinach, kale, Swiss chard, arugula, asparagus, yellow corn, green peas, celery, parsley, watercress, artichokes, okra, avocado, honeydew melons, kiwi.

Green Food Antioxidants: Sulforaphane. Health Benefits: Cancer fighters by reducing tumor growth, blocks carcinogens from initiating cancer, fight hormone related cancers.  Food Sources: Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage.

White Green Food Antioxidants: Organ sulfides.  Health Benefits: Cancer fighters and clot busters, contain strong antibacterial properties.  Food Sources: garlic, onions, endive, chives, potatoes, mushrooms, cauliflower, leeks, jicama, rutabagas, bananas.

Blue Purple Food Antioxidants: Anthocyanins. Health Benefits: Cancer fighters and possible brain boosters, prevent blood clots from forming, inhibits production of certain inflammatory chemicals including cytokines & prostaglandins, contribute to the health of connective tissue.  Food Sources: eggplant, purple cabbage, purple potatoes, blueberries, plums, blackberries, prunes, dark grapes.

Red Purple Food Antioxidants: Flavonoids.  Health Benefits: Clot busters. May help prevent heart disease. Food Sources: grapes, grape juice, apples, cranberries.

Orange Food Antioxidants: Alpha and beta carotene. Health Benefits: Cancer fighters which improve immune function.  Food Sources: sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash, pumpkin, orange bell peppers, apricots, mangoes.

Orange Yellow Food Antioxidants: Cryptoxanthin. Health Benefits: Cancer fighters which improve immunity, improves reproductive & bone health, improves pressure.  Food Sources: yellow bell peppers, yellow summer squash, cantaloupes, oranges, tangerines, peaches, papaya, nectarines.

Other Antioxidants with Health Benefits

Vitamin CHealth Benefits: one of the nutrients responsible for health of collagen, a major component of cartilage. Food Sources: oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, sweet peppers (all colors), broccoli, kale, kidney beans, kiwi, cantaloupe, mangos, etc.

Selenium. Health Benefits: helps lower oxidative stress in your body which reduces inflammation and enhances immunity.  Food sources: Brazil nuts, tuna (to avoid mercury, buy canned light tuna), crab, tilapia, pasta (whole wheat), cod, shrimp, whole grains, turkey, wheat germ.

Bio Antioxidants: Quercetin. Health Benefits: anti-inflammatory effects of quercetin similar to nonsteroidal meds like aspirin & ibuprofen. Food Sources: onions (all colors), kale, leeks, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, blueberries, black currants, elderberries, cocoa powder, apricots, apples with skin (Red Delicious).

Health Benefits of Spices

Spices come from plant sources.

  • Spices that may help prevent cancer: garlic, ginger, turmeric, rosemary.
  •  Spices that may help prevent heart disease: cinnamon, garlic, ginger, oregano, thyme.
  • Spices that may help control diabetes: cinnamon, garlic, ginger, fenugreek, coriander. Cinnamon helps to increase insulin sensitivity which may be effective in treating Type II Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome.
  • Spices that may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease: turmeric, rosemary, ginger, garlic.
  • Spices that may influence obesity: chilies, garlic, fenugreek. Spices that may help control autoimmune diseases: bay leaf, black pepper, garlic, ginger, green tea, oregano, rosemary, thyme, turmeric.

Two Superstar Spices 

Ginger contains chemicals that work like anti-inflammatory meds & can act as a blood thinner. NOTE: Check with your physician if you add lots of ginger.  Turmeric shown to suppress inflammatory body chemicals.

Barbara Day, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian with a Master’s Degree in clinical nutrition.  The former publisher of Kentuckiana HealthFitness Magazine, Kentuckiana Healthy Woman magazine and radio show host of Health News You Can Use,.