You are probably well aware that a low fat, high-fiber diet can help prevent disease. But is there such a thing as food that heals? The answer is yes.
For more than 30 years, I’ve been studying the effects of food on health. I have also tried out many remedies based on centuries-old folk wisdom.
Based on my observations and those of my students, I’m convinced that certain foods do help the body heal more quickly from a number of minor ailments…
Colds and flu
The best natural remedy is garlic. By boosting the immune system and killing bacteria, it helps keep a mild viral illness from turning into a serious bacterial infection.
Swallow one small clove or several small pieces every four to six hours until symptoms subside. Wash this garlic “pill” down with a glass of orange juice or water.
Don’t worry about bad breath. If you don’t chew the garlic, no one will be able to smell it on your breath.
You probably know that whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables especially prunes help “normalize” colon function.
But these natural remedies won’t do much good unless you wash them down with plenty of water. Vegetarians should have four to six glasses a day, meat-eaters at least eight.
Ironically, constipation is sometimes caused by consuming too much dietary fiber. If you suspect this is your problem, cut back on raw produce. Continue to eat whole grains especially brown rice. It seems to be more easily digested than other high-fiber foods. And drink plenty of water.
If you have a “wet” cough (one that produces phlegm), drink hot liquids especially hot-and-sour soup or another spicy soup. Wet coughs should be encouraged they are the body’s way of expelling bacteria and other pathogens.
Also helpful: Hot apple or pear juice with cinnamon (from the Chinese medical tradition).
To stop a “dry” cough or a tickle in the throat, eat something salty like umeboshi plums. These pickled plums are sold in health food stores and Japanese groceries. Or try licorice tea. It strengthens the lungs and is a traditional herbal remedy for asthma.
Mild diarrhea can often be controlled by eating small amounts of cooked white rice or grated raw apple that is allowed to turn brown, so it develops the soluble fiber pectin.
Caution: Seek medical attention for severe, prolonged diarrhea or diarrhea accompanied by vomiting. That can signal dysentery, food poisoning or another life-threatening infection.
Tension headaches are often triggered by insufficient food or insufficient fluid intake or by prolonged exposure to summer heat.
Remedy: Two or more cups of cool juice. I’ve seen this “prescription” relieve headaches in as little as five minutes.
Fruit juice especially apple or apricot juice seems best. I don’t know whether that’s because of the pleasant flavor or because it gets carbohydrates and fluids into the system quickly.
For a headache caused by drinking too much alcohol or eating too much sugar, eat olives, anchovies or umeboshi plums.
You might also try steamed vegetables sprinkled with sesame salt. My father had an easy and delicious variation on this idea eating a scallion that’s been dipped in salt.
For a headache that stems from caffeine withdrawal, chew a piece of lemon. The strong, sour taste somehow counteracts the body’s response to less caffeine. Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that migraines can be triggered by eating potato chips or another oily food on an empty stomach.
Remedy: “Spiked” lemon tea. Squeeze half a lemon into a cup. Dice the peel and simmer in 1 ¼ cups of water for 10 minutes. Strain into the cup. Add a pinch of cayenne or ½ teaspoon of grated fresh ginger or ¼ teaspoon of powdered ginger. Sweeten with maple syrup or barley malt.
To soothe a sore throat, drink tea made from ginger or slippery elm (the latter can be found in health-food stores). Slippery elm lozenges are also effective.
Ginger tea is made by simmering three to four slices of fresh ginger in a cup of water for eight minutes. It is also good for coughs, chest congestion and motion sickness.
If you have heartburn or another form of gastro-esophageal reflux, eat cooked food only it’s easier to digest.
Intestinal gas can often be relieved by an “antacid” made of kudzu, a starch made from the root of the kudzu plant. It’s sold in health food stores.
Dissolve one tablespoon of kudzu in a cup of cold water. Cook, stirring until thick. Then add a tablespoon of soy sauce.
To make kudzu pudding, dissolve two tablespoons of kudzu in a cup of apple juice. Add a teaspoon of vanilla if desired. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. Fold in a tablespoon of tahini (sesame paste). Eat hot or cold.
Soothing and very relaxing, kudzu pudding is an excellent remedy for stress or insomnia. Kudzu has also been shown to reduce cravings for alcohol.
Respect your taste buds
Don’t force yourself to eat foods you dislike. If you find a food distasteful, it probably isn’t something that will help your body.