Food is powerful information for the body. With every bite and sip you take, you’re programming your body to store or burn fat, to quell or create inflammation, to prevent disease or set the stage for systemic imbalance. This concept is called nutrigenomics, the power of food to switch on or off genes that express disease. We know that chronic stress creates inflammation that starts the disease process. Lack of quality sleep, our go-go lifestyles, emotional stress, environmental toxins, and poor quality diets break our bodies down and create free radicals that damage DNA, resulting in abnormal cells.
We are fighting disease all the time, and our bodies should be able to destroy abnormal cells. If we eat a diet rich in anti-inflammatory, high antioxidant foods, we have the ability to neutralize free radicals that cause disease. That’s right: you can prevent disease with food. When we consume a diet high in processed foods, artificial ingredients, hormones, antibiotics, sugar, and pesticides, we create additional stress and inflammation, diminishing the body’s ability to fight disease.
There are certain foods that have an amazing ability to combat disease, slow the aging process, quell inflammation, reverse chronic pain, and boost our antioxidant levels. Most of these are plant foods that contain healing phytonutrients. Include as many of these foods as possible with your meals each week. These are my most favorite superfoods. You’ll glow with health.
My Favorite Healing Foods
- Blueberries are among the healthiest fruits you can eat. They’ve been shown to lower blood pressure and are powerful anti-inflammatories due their flavonoids, known as anthocyanins, which benefit the endothelial lining of your arteries. Blueberries reduce oxidative stress (read: anti-aging!) and also benefit brain health. Include 1/2 – 1 cup in smoothies or grain free porridges several times weekly.
- Turmeric is a favorite due to its active constituent, curcumin. Study after study has proven curcumin more effective than NSAIDs for chronic pain and arthritis WITHOUT the nasty side effects NSAIDs carry. I can attest to this, as after one month of taking curcumin supplements, my nagging shoulder pain disappeared– and hasn’t returned. Studies have also shown its effectiveness against cancer and cardiovascular disease. It is poorly absorbed, however, so I recommend a curcumin supplement with a fatty acid co-factor needed for absorption. Black pepper is also said to boost absorption, and you can easily incorporate that into a tasty tea.
- Spirulina is an algae that’s super high in protein, antioxidants, B-vitamins, fatty acids, chlorophyll, iron, and trace minerals. Its rich, deep green color should give you a clue to how nutrient dense it is. I use it in smoothies. I also use moringa, which has similar benefits.
- Garlic is awesome for fighting the common cold and is often included in tonics to boost immune health when you feel a cold coming on. It contains allicin, which kills candida and SIBO. Some studies show it may have a modest effect lowering blood pressure. It’s easy to chop and add to vegetable or meat dishes, and let’s face it– garlic is delicious!
- Coconut oil is a healing food inside and out. Used therapeutically, it can boost metabolism and thyroid function. It’s anti-pathogenic and kills yeast and bad bacteria in the gut. Used topically, it is a wonderful conditioner for skin and hair and can even help eczema. I’ve used it as part of my non-toxic skin routine for years, and it’s the base of my homemade anti-aging miracle skin butter. Coconut oil is superior for high temp searing or sauteing because its strong bonds don’t break down and oxidize under high temperatures.
- Tea is another of my all time favorite healing drinks. I start most days with green tea or pu-erh and drink herbal teas such as nettles, pau d’arco, Tulsi, mint, and chamomile throughout the day. Green tea especially is a wonderful source of antioxidants called catechins that fight the aging process, and it’s a rich source of polyphenols that boost the immune system. Green tea is also thermogenic, meaning it helps you burn fat. Herbal teas are rich in trace minerals and have a calming effect on the system. Here’s my guide on how to use tea.
- Fermented foods. we’ve learned much more about the microbiome recently, and we now know that our gut bacteria outnumber our cells 10:1. This means that nourishing your microbiome will make you healthier, keep your weight stable, and boost immune health. Fermented foods are rich sources of the probiotics and enzymes needed for healthy digestion and a healthy gut. I recommend and love this dairy free coconut water kefir, and get plenty of raw kraut along with your meals.
- Bone broth is liquid gold. When bones are simmered long and slow, a mineral and collagen rich broth results. It’s rich in amino acids, calcium, and the trace minerals that are so lacking in our diets. It’s great for healing leaky gut because it’s so rich in collagen and gelatin. Great for skin and stretch marks, too.
- Leafy greens. We all know eating more greens will keep us healthier. Kale, swiss chard, spinach, collards, dandelion, watercress, arugula, purslane, etc: These greens are high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and cancer protective phytonutrients. Many have liver cleansing properties and anti-inflammatory fatty acids. Get more greens for longevity.
- Medicinal Mushrooms are some of the most potent healing foods on the planet. Varieties such as maitake, shiitake, cordyceps, reishi, and turkey tail have mostly been touted for their cancer killing properties. One of the active medicinal compounds found in Cordyceps has been identified as a potential cancer drug. More recent studies suggest it also has potent anti-inflammatory characteristics that may be helpful for those suffering from asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, renal failure, and stroke. These mushrooms are anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial. Try them in a tincture or supplement. I also add them to delicate dishes such as this roasted fish. Read my guide to medicinal shrooms here.
- Sea vegetables such as nori, kelp, kombu, wakame, bladderwrack, dulse are nutritional powerhouses. Kelp is especially high in iodine that can boost thyroid function. Iodine deficiency is a main cause of non-autoimmune related hypothyroid. Sea veggies offer one of the broadest ranges of minerals of any food, containing virtually all the minerals found in the ocean. They’re anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anticoagulant, antithrombotic, and antiviral. Buy your own toasted nori sheets and roll up smoked salmon, cucumber, and avocado for a fast, easy, disease-fighting lunch!
Manuka honey deserves a shout-out. Raw and unfiltered, it’s rich in enzymes, amino acids, and minerals. Researchers have discovered that manuka honey in particular has a higher level of enzymes than regular honey. Manuka honey has potent anti-bacterial powers and can be used to fight pathogenic gut bacteria, IBS/IBD, acne, eczema, burns, tooth decay, and allergies. It’s been used as a beauty aid since ancient egyptian times (around 3000 BC). Make sure you buy Genuine UMF Manuka Honey.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.