A growing body of research supports the effectiveness of a wide range of ingredients from all over the world on various ailments and conditions, from inflammation to digestion to cognitive function.
Kefir from Russia, adzuki beans from Japan and black currant from the European Union are among the ingredients with beneficial effects.
"... [F]ood product developers ... can easily and successfully incorporate such medicinal ingredient into food products that already have a certain cultural flair: using the Indian spice turmeric, shown to have healthful properties, in Indian-style simmer sauces, for example."
In the decades since processed foods took over the market place, people have strayed further and further away from fresh whole foods. I don't think the rise in chronic disease is very surprising in light of what most people put into their bodies these days.
Fortunately, there are glimmers of hope, such as the emerging trend toward authentic foods that are historically known for their health benefits.
After all, you truly are what you eat, and science has now shown us that it takes just one good meal to start reversing biological damage. This is great news, as that means it is not too late to reverse disease patterns that have already begun, using not drugs, but food.
Just imagine the power that gives you. If you have been eating poorly recently, you can start reversing the damage with your very next meal -- and start to improve your health right now.
Your body was designed to maintain a healthy equilibrium, and it will do its best to stay that way provided you give it the proper tools -- the proteins, the healthy fats and the good carbs (mostly from veggies) and micronutrients -- that it needs to thrive.
If you feel hungry, irritable, sleepy or sluggish after you eat, you are likely not giving your body the fuel that it needs to do its job properly.
This fuel will vary from person to person. There is no one diet that is optimal for everybody, but you can find out which foods your body needs by determining your nutritional type.
"Functional Foods" are Re-Emerging
According to NewsWise, the re-emergence of functional foods, or foods known for their medicinal qualities, was discussed at the 2010 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting and Food Expo®:
"As consumers overseas embrace foods and beverages made with ingredients long known to have health and wellness benefits, American manufacturers can take a cue from their success and add such medicinal ingredients to their foods and beverages."
While this is good news, I want to remind you to beware of highly processed food products that boast beneficial ingredients, as you likely will not experience any significant health benefits from such products.
The take-home message here really needs to be that, yes, foods have all sorts of 'medicinal' and health promoting qualities, but in order to get those benefits you must also make sure they have not been processed into oblivion. And that usually means eating the foods as close to their natural state as possible.
Rock-Star Ingredients from Across the Globe
NewsWise mentions a few "ancient" foods that are gaining in popularity, such as kefir, adzuki beans and black currant.
Keep in mind that most of the kefir you'll find is pasteurized, which will negate many of its health benefits. But kefir made from raw milk is an excellent source of immune boosting probiotics, and you can easily make it yourself, using a kefir culture starter if you have access to raw milk.
The Japanese adzuki bean is historically known for its ability to support healthy kidney and bladder function, and the European black currant is a potent source of antioxidants, hailed for its anti-inflammatory properties and beneficial effect on arthritis pain.
The Indian herb mixture triphala is a traditional remedy for bowel regulation, and the spice turmeric, another Indian antioxidant powerhouse, is a general immune system booster with anticancer properties. Five to eight times more potent than vitamins C and E, turmeric is even potent enough to scavenge the hydroxyl radical, which is considered by some to be the most reactive of all harmful oxidants.
Eating for Greater Health
If you want to improve your health, avoiding processed foods, grains, and sugar will go a long way toward strengthening your immune system and reducing chronic inflammation in your body. However, you can take it a step further by selecting foods that are loaded with specific immune boosting and anti-inflammatory nutrients.
Remember, nearly every chronic health problem has inflammation at its root, so eating a diet high in anti-inflammatory foods is a simple, natural way to prevent any number of diseases from ever getting foothold in your body. This includes high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, just to name a few.
Changing your diet will be far better for your health than taking fistfuls of supplements, or worse, falling victim to drugs and vaccines that compound the risks to your long-term health.
Essentially, I don't think there's a single whole food that doesn't provide some sort of health benefit – we just might not know exactly what it is yet. Listing all beneficial foods would clearly be impossible, but here's a list of foods I consider to be some of the most beneficial in terms of their anti-inflammatory and immune boosting capacity.
Potent Anti-Inflammatory, Immune-Boosting Foods
Unpasteurized grass-fed organic milk -- Raw organic milk from grass-fed cows contains both beneficial fats and bacteria that boost your immune system. An outstanding source of vitamin A, zinc, and enzymes, raw organic milk is not associated with any of the health problems of pasteurized milk such as rheumatoid arthritis, skin rashes, diarrhea and cramps.
Although raw milk availability is limited in the US, depending on where you live, you can locate the source closest to you at RealMilk.com.
Whey protein -- Even if you don't have access to raw milk, you can use a high-quality whey protein derived from the milk of grass-fed cows to receive much of the same health benefits. Whey protein contains beta-glucans and immunoglobulins, which protect your immune system and support your body's natural detoxification processes.
Fermented foods -- If you are serious about boosting your immunity, then adding traditionally fermented foods is essential. One of the most healthful fermented foods is kefir -- an ancient cultured, enzyme-rich food full of friendly microorganisms that balance your "inner ecosystem" and strengthen immunity.
Besides kefir, other good fermented foods include natto, kimchee, miso, tempeh, pickles, sauerkraut, and olives.
Raw organic eggs from free-range chickens -- Raw eggs are an inexpensive and amazing source of high-quality nutrients that many people are deficient in, especially high-quality protein and fat. And as long as you have a good source for fresh, organic raw eggs, you need not worry about salmonella. To find free-range pasture farms, try your local health food store, or go to http://www.eatwild.com or http://www.localharvest.org.
Grass-fed beef or organ meats -- This recommendation is only valid if you are a protein or mixed nutritional type as carb types really should not be eating beef. Grass-fed beef is very high in vitamins A and E, omega-3 fats, beta carotene, zinc and the potent immune system enhancer CLA (conjugated linoleic acid, a fatty acid).
Don't confuse "organic" with grass-fed, since many organically raised cows are still fed organic corn, which you don't want. However, most grass-fed cows are raised organically.
Coconuts and coconut oil -- Besides being excellent for your thyroid and your metabolism, coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, which converts in your body to monolaurin – a compound also found in breast milk that strengthens a baby's immunity.
When selecting coconuts and coconut oil, make sure you choose organic ones that are unrefined, unbleached, made without heat processing or chemicals, and are non-GMO.
Berries -- Blueberries and raspberries rate very high in antioxidant capacity compared to other fruits and vegetables. They are also lower in sugar than many other fruits. As mentioned earlier, black currants are another potent source of antioxidants.
Natural cranberries have five times the antioxidant content of broccoli, and have been found to decrease total cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol) levels in animal studies. Unsweetened cranberry juice has been traditionally used to successfully treat urinary tract infections.
Interestingly, a 50/50 mix of cranberries and oregano has been found to form a potent antibacterial agent that can help reduce the risk of food poisoning from seafood. Both plants contain phenolic compounds that have anti-microbial effects, but the synergistic effect of the two combined boosts the overall potency.
Mushrooms -- Mushrooms are rich in protein, fiber, vitamin C, B vitamins, calcium and other minerals. Medicinal mushrooms, especially Reishi, Shiitake and Maitake are notable for their ability to activate/modulate your immune system.
Chlorella – A near-perfect food, chlorella is a single-cell freshwater algae that acts as an efficient detoxification agent by binding to toxins (most of which promote chronic inflammation), such as mercury, and carrying them out of your system. The chlorophyll in the chlorella helps you process more oxygen, cleanses your blood and promotes the growth and repair of your tissues. (For a full review of all the benefits of this superfood, see my chlorella page).
Bee propolis -- Propolis is a bee resin and one of the most broad-spectrum antimicrobial compounds in the world, if not the broadest spectrum, according to master herbalist Donnie Yance. Propolis is also the richest source of caffeic acid and apigenin, two very important phenolic compounds that aid in immune response.
Tea – I've written quite a bit about the many health benefits of tea, so for more detailed information you can search my site using the search engine at the top of this page.
Matcha tea is the most nutrient-rich green tea and comes in the form of a stone-ground powder, completely unfermented. The best Matcha comes from Japan and has up to 17 times the antioxidants of wild blueberries, and seven times more than dark chocolate.
Tulsi is another tea loaded with antioxidants and other micronutrients that support immune function and heart health.
Herbs and spices – Not to be underestimated, fresh herbs and spices are good for far more than just adding flavor. Many of them top the list of high ORAC value foods, and most seem to have some immune modulating properties.
One 2008 study, published in the Journal of Medicinal Foods, found a strong and direct correlation between the phenol content of common herbs and spices and their ability to inhibit glycation and the formation of AGE compounds, making them potent preventers of heart disease and premature aging.
The spice with the highest rated ORAC value, and the deemed the most beneficial of the herbs tested in the study just mentioned, is cloves. Cloves contain eugenol, which has mild anesthetic and anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, making it useful for toothaches and sore throats, in addition to their ability to prevent more serious problems such as heart disease.
Another excellent choice is garlic. Garlic is antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal, and unlike synthetic antibiotics, bacteria, viruses, and yeast do not build up resistance to it. Garlic also contains allicin, a chemical that is anticarcinogenic. It also has been shown to lower LDL, lower total cholesterol, lower blood pressure, reduce your risk of blood clots and stroke, lower homocysteine, and even prevent insect bites -- including mosquitoes and ticks.
For more information about beneficial herbs and spices, see my previous articles Top Ten Spices That Defend You Against Aging, and 20 Anti-Aging Herbs and Spices to Add to Your Diet.
Select Vegetables Appropriate for Your Nutritional Type
Vegetables also have potent medicinal qualities, but you need to remember that the amount and type of vegetables you should eat daily will depend on your nutritional type.
Swiss chard and bitter melon, for example, are helpful for regulating insulin levels and are often recommended for diabetics, but these vegetables may still not be suitable for everyone, even if you have the condition.
Swiss chard, as well as collard greens, kale, and regular lettuces are far too high in potassium for protein types and will tend to cause biochemical imbalances, whereas these veggie varieties are on the recommended list for carbohydrate types.
If you find you are more of a protein type then your vegetables would be oriented more toward lower potassium varieties, like cauliflower, green beans, spinach, asparagus, mushrooms, and celery.
Last but not least, make sure the veggies you choose are fresh, as the nutrient value is dramatically reduced once a fruit or vegetable is canned.