It looks like Spring is finally coming and I can say I am enjoying the sunny days in Amsterdam. Make time and really try to go out to get yourself a dose of sunshine, which gives you vitamin D, an essential nutrient, that helps your body absorb calcium from food and has a role in the nerve, muscle, and immune systems.
This is also what today’s post is about Nature and how it can help us stay and/or get healthy. Ever since starting to write this blog, particularly the Monday’s Food & Fact section, I have been surprised and reminded again and again how perfectly things are arranged in the Universe, with Mother Nature providing us with everything we need to live a healthy and active life. One part of it is of course the woods, waters, mountains, meadows, the sun, the rain, fresh air, the animals, they all have a healing effect on us, if we only allow it. The other thing is the food that we are offered, all the wonderful plants, that can be our sources of health and energy.
So today’s article is more or less a summary of a chapter of a very cool book – The Vegetarian Cook’s Bible by Pat Crocker, which I recommend to everyone. Below you will find 10 foods that have very beneficial effects on each of the seven body systems. It is a long list, I know, but well worth the read, I promise.
- Hearth Health:
- Avocados: high in healthy monounsaturated fatty acids including oleic acid;
- Garlic: helps platelet aggregation and blood pressure, decreasing the risk of heart disease and stroke;
- Soy and other beans: can significantly lower LDL cholesterol levels by decreasing cholesterol and absorption of bile acid from the gastrointestinal tract; buy organic and non-genetically modified soy and always consume in moderation (soy products contain phytoestrogens, which may act like weak estrogens in the body);
- Pomegranate: reduces the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, protects arteries from becoming thicker, reduces the development of atherosclerosis;
- Extra virgin olive oil: antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, high in monounsaturated fats, reduces blood pressure and improves lipid profiles;
- Whole oats: contain a soluble fiber that binds cholesterol in the bowels and prevents it from being absorbed into the bloodstream;
- Celery: its compound 3-n-butyl phthalide benefits the cardiovascular system, helps reduce blood pressure;
- Apples: rich in pectin, which helps lower cholesterol levels and works against the oxidation of LDL; rich in quercetin, also an antioxidant, that regenerates the levels of vitamin E in the body, has anti-inflammatory and antihistaminic properties;
- Asparagus and leafy greens: high in folate, essential for lowering the homocysteine levels, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke;
- Tea and cocoa: rich in bioflavonoids; consume in moderation.
- Digestive Health:
- Cabbage: rich in glutamine, which helps cells repair and regenerate themselves, prevents undigested foods from passing through the intestinal lining; sauerkraut helps populate the intestinal micro flora and contains digestive enzymes;
- Onions: source of quercetin, which helps protect the lining of the digestive system from irritation and the body from food sensitivities; a source of a complex sugar that acts as a probiotic and feeds healthy bacteria in our digestive system;
- Apples: rich in pectin (helps calm the intestinal tract during diarrhea and prevents constipation) and quercetin (stabilizes immune reactions and decreases inflammation and irritation);
- Garlic: acts as a probiotic and feeds healthy bacteria in our digestive system, also a powerful antimicrobial, protecting against parasites, yeast, viruses and bacteria;
- Fennel seeds: stimulate digestion and appetite;
- Peppermint: helps relax the stomach and intestines when we suffer from cramping and spasms, helps relieve nausea; if you suffer from gastric reflux, avoid it, because it also relaxes the esophageal sphincter and could cause symptoms of heartburn;
- Bitter greens: help stimulate the release of bile from the gall bladder and digestive enzymes from the pancreas, enhancing digestive function;
- Pineapple and papaya: contain digestive enzymes bromelain and papain that help break foods in the digestive tract, can decrease symptoms of food sensitivities and reduce bloating after the meal;
- Brown rice: good source of insoluble fiber that increases bulk in the stool, helps prevent constipation and protect against colon cancer;
- Beans and other legumes: excellent source of soluble fiber, a food source for friendly bacteria in the intestines.
- Endocrine Health:
- Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, bok choy contain a phytochemical (indole-3-carbinol), that induces the break down of estrogen into its harmless metabolites, reducing the risk of breast cancer;
- Sea vegetables: nori, arame, kelp, dulse, kombu all contain iodine, an essential mineral needed for the production of thyroid hormones, which help increase metabolism;
- Pumpkin seeds: high in zinc, essential for the healthy function of the male reproductive system, helping keep proper testosterone levels, sperm production and motility;
- Stevia: its extract has 200 times the sweetness of sugar and no calories, it does not raise blood sugar levels and has glucose lowering properties;
- Soy foods: its phytoestrogens may help protect from cancer; again buy only organic and non-genetically modified soy and always consume in moderation;
- Onions and garlic: have blood-sugar regulating properties, they contain sulfur, aiding in liver detoxification and elimination of excess hormones; garlic is high in selenium, a strong antioxidant;
- Flax, hemp seeds: a source of omega-3 fatty acids and phytoestrogens helping regulate the menstrual cycle in women;
- Brewer’s yeast: good source of chromium that helps promote the uptake of glucose by target cells, regulating blood sugar and preventing diabetes;
- Citrus fruits: rich in vitamin C, which helps the production of adrenal hormones, increases insulin’s response to sugar (helping lower blood-sugar) and can help prevent breast and prostate cancer (antioxidant);
- Spinach: rich in alpha-lipoic acid, very important for glucose metabolism and prevention of diabetes, also an antioxidant; a source of many minerals.
- Immune Health:
- Soy foods: high in protein, complex carbohydrates and phytonutrients; always buy organic, non-genetically modified and consume in moderation;
- Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts contain a phytochemical (indole-3-carbinol), that induces the break down of a harmful estrogen molecule into its harmless metabolites, reducing the risk of breast cancer;
- Flaxseed oil, hemp seed oil: rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, helping reduce inflammation; never heat these oils, store in a dark bottle in a cool place, possibly the fridge, to prevent rancidity;
- Shiitake mushrooms: contain mycochemicals, which may stop the growth of tumors by suggesting a programmed death to the individual cancer cells;
- Tomatoes: rich in lycopene, an antioxidant, that helps protect against some forms of cancer (including lung and prostate) and boosts the immune system; interestingly cooked tomato contains a more bioavailable form of lycopene than raw tomato;
- Avocados: high in the antioxidant glutathione and in monounsaturated fats;
- Brown rice: good source of insoluble fiber which, helps protect against colon cancer; has a low allergic potential compared to other grains, making it less of a burden for the immune system;
- Blueberries: one of the best antioxidant foods;
- Green tea: rich in polyphenols giving it antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties,
- Pumpkin seeds: high in zinc (boosts immunity, protects against free radicals, needed for wound repair, helps prevent recurrent infections, reduces the duration of cold symptoms);
- Musculoskeletal Health:
- Almonds: rich in calcium and magnesium, which are important for contraction and relaxation of muscles (recurrent muscle cramps might signal lack of these minerals) and mineralization of bone; also high in protein and monounsaturated fats;
- Tofu: source of high quality protein, calcium (added as coagulant), iron and zinc; as other soy products may prevent osteoporosis; as mentioned above buy only organic, non-genetically modified and consume in moderation:
- Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and especially kale are rich in an easily absorbed form of calcium and also vitamin C, (helps protect joints against free-radical damage created during inflammation, helps repair and build new cartilage in the joints);
- Leafy greens: rich in vitamin K (helps bind calcium to the bone matrix and thus reduce the elimination of calcium in the urine); high in calcium and folic acid; they create an alkaline environment in the body, making it an unsuitable for fungus and cancer cells to multiply, helping with problems of stomach acidity, and preventing extraction of calcium from the bones (protecting from osteoporosis);
- Flaxseed oil, hemp seed oil, chia seeds: rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, making them anti-inflammatory (also have been shown to be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of arthritis);
- Turmeric: can stop the enzyme that produces inflammation and inhibits the break-down of cortisone in the body, making it a superb anti-inflammatory (decreases the symptoms of arthritis and prevents further damage to the cartilage in the joints); highly valued in Ayurvedic medicine;
- Ginger: anti-inflammatory (inhibits the enzymes that promote inflammation and helps make white blood cells more stable so they release fewer inflammation mediators);
- Citrus fruits: oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes, mandarins have an alkalizing effect on the body, so that it doesn’t need to take calcium from the bones to buffer acidity; rich in vitamin C;
- Sunlight: ultraviolet light from the sun converts 7-dehydrocholesterol in the skin into vitamin D3, which is further converted into more active forms in the liver and kidneys; it stimulates the absorption of calcium from food in the digestive tract and kidneys;
- Nuts and seeds: rich in magnesium (look at 1. for its benefits).
- Nervous System Health:
- Flax, hemp and chia seeds and oil: rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which regulate mood, emotion and prevent depression;
- Whole grains: rich in B vitamins, essential for a proper functioning of the nervous system, since they manufacture neurotransmitters and help the proper use of fuel by the brain; they also help control levels of blood-sugar and so maintain stable moods and energy levels;
- Spirulina or blue-green algae: rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and contains small amounts of vitamin B12 (helps increase oxygen in the brain and the speed of nerve impulses);
- Oats: rich in B vitamins and fiber, they help relax the nervous system, prevent exhaustion caused by anxiety and depression and can also help with symptoms of drug withdrawal (especially when quitting smoking);
- Brewer’s yeast: high in B vitamins (healthy nervous system), and chromium, essential for blood-sugar regulation;
- Blackstrap molasses: good source of B vitamins, calcium, magnesium and iron, which help the production of brain neurotransmitters and nervous system functioning;
- Chocolate: causes the release of serotonin in the brain (neurotransmitter that produces feelings of pleasure); consume dark chocolate, possibly without processed sugar, in moderation of course :);
- Exercise: increases the circulation of blood, oxygen and glucose in the brain, stimulates the release of endorphins (can elevate mood); preferably exercise outside in fresh air;
- Barley: has a very low glycemic index (GI), which means that when consuming it, blood-sugar levels and the supply of glucose to the brain remain constant, preventing mood fluctuations with depression, anxiety and PMS;
- Nuts and seeds: rich in protein, B vitamins, fiber, magnesium, calcium, zinc, selenium.
- Respiratory Health:
- Sprouted seeds and grains: full of life energy (prana, chi), help strengthen the body’s energy, the lungs and respiratory system;
- Flax, hemp and chia seeds and oil: rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties (helpful for asthma patients);
- Garlic: strong antibacterial properties (can help against bacteria that cause pneumonia, fight viruses and fungal infections of the respiratory system);
- Pumpkin seeds: zinc may help reduce allergies and asthma;
- Yellow and red onions: rich in quercetin, an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antihistaminic;
- Ginger: antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties; try fresh ginger tea – recipe here;
- Almonds: rich in calcium and magnesium, which help muscle contraction and relaxation also for the smooth muscles of the respiratory system;
- Berries: rich in vitamin C, which is antioxidant and antihistaminic;
- Cruciferous vegetables: rich in important minerals and cancer fighting chemicals; especially cabbage is rich in glutamine, which helps building and repair of mucous membranes, keeping allergens and pathogens at bay;
- Thyme and Oregano: thyme having a high content of volatile oils helps fighting infections, sore throat, cough, bronchitis, asthma; oregano is a strong antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal, antiparasitic.
That is it, in short. 🙂
Your body is a wonderful mechanism, which always tells you, what is good for it and what not – do you feel your hart racing after eating certain foods, do you feel heavy, sleepy and bloated or do you feel calm and nourished?
So which foods will you choose?
Love & Light,
– The Vegetarian Cook’s Bible: Pat Crocker (pages 10-56),
– The Ayurvedic Cookbook: Amedea Morningstar with Urmila Desai,