Food is fuel for your body, and eating a healthy diet can keep you energized throughout the day. Some foods, however, do even more for your health by helping to reduce inflammation or lower blood sugar levels. In this video, San Diego Health host Susan Taylor talks with Samar Rashid, DO, a family medicine specialist at Scripps Clinic Liberty Station, about how food can be used as medicine to help the body stay well and fight disease.
“Certain foods are not only high in nutrients, but also are really potent in terms of health benefits,” says Dr. Rashid. “These are foods I try to get people to eat in their daily lives.”
Here are a few examples of foods that can have medicinal benefits:
Garlic contains an ingredient called allicin that has an antimicrobial effect, which means it kills or slows the growth of microorganisms, such as bacteria or viruses. Research has shown that garlic is effective in fighting bacteria. Large doses of garlic may have a blood-thinning effect, so talk to your doctor before taking it if you take blood-thinning medication.
Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant that can defend cells against damage caused by harmful molecules known as free radicals. It also has strong anti-inflammatory properties, which may help with inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis and possibly dementia.
“Turmeric is really easy because you don‘t need very much of it. Adding it to soups and stews is a simple way to sneak it in there,” says Dr. Rashid. “For most people, I recommend about a teaspoon of turmeric a day, along with a high fat-soluble food to help with absorption and cracked pepper to help activate it.”
Instead of canola oil, which tends to be processed, Dr. Rashid recommends natural oils, such as coconut oil or raw extra virgin olive oil. These provide healthier natural fats without processing, and coconut oil is better for cooking at high temperatures.
Dark leafy greens have long been a nutritional favorite. Kale is especially popular, but Dr. Rashid suggests eating raw kale in moderation. “Kale has a higher degree of oxalate content, and some studies have shown a correlation between high oxalate and thyroid dysfunction,” she explains. “I recommend sautéing it in for a couple of minutes instead of eating it raw.”
Microgreens, which are young greens grown from the seeds of vegetables and herbs, such as broccoli and arugula, pack a lot of nutrition into their tiny leaves. Microgreens have several times the nutritional value of their full-sized versions and can be added to eggs, salad, sandwiches, dinner entrees and more. It’s better to eat them raw, so wash them thoroughly before eating.
Feeling an afternoon slump? Instead of coffee, reach for nuts. High fat-soluble nuts like almonds, or nut butters like almond or cashew butter, help stabilize blood sugar for lasting energy without a sugar “crash.”
“Dark chocolate is a potent antioxidant,” says Dr. Rashid. “Just make sure that it‘s at least 80 to 85 percent raw cacao.”
Just as some foods can help stabilize blood sugar, others can raise it. Sugar is one of the biggest culprits – including “natural” sugars, such as raw sugar and brown sugar. Natural date and maple syrups tend to be better choices in terms of blood sugar stability, but reducing your overall sugar intake is ideal.
Fruit juice may seem healthy, but most juices have had the fruit’s natural fiber removed. Fiber helps to stabilize blood sugar; without it, the juice is mostly sugar and causes blood glucose to spike. To make matters worse, bottled fruit juices often have added sugar. Choose whole fruit instead.
When you’re shopping for groceries, stick to the periphery of the store. That’s where you’ll find the fresh vegetables and fruits. Processed foods, with their added sugars and preservatives, tend to be in the aisles. Aim to have a variety of different colors of fruits and vegetables in your cart.
“I encourage my patients to cook meals at home instead of eating out,” says Dr. Rashid. “Cooking meals gives you more control over what you’re eating, and that is really empowering.”