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Food is Medicine: A Holistic Approach to Wellness and My Top 10 Functional Foods

Food is, hands down, the number one most important thing you can control when it comes to your health. Food does so much more than provide our bodies with fuel. The food we eat can determine the level of inflammation in our bodies, how our metabolism functions, our body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, and so much more.

Think of Your Body as a Bank…

Every time you sit down to have a meal, you are either fueling wellness or disease. What are you “depositing” into your body every time you prepare a meal, snack, or beverage? Are you making more deposits than withdrawals? When we think of our bodies as a “bank,” we can begin to understand how the “balance” of our body bank can determine the trajectory of our health.

When we are making "withdrawals," we are exposed to processed foods, refined sugars, chronic stress, alcohol, poor sleep quality, dehydration, and negative relationships with ourselves and others. These are the factors that deplete our “banks,” and support an internal environment that is conducive to imbalance and dysregulation.

On the other hand, we are making “deposits” to our bank when we contribute things like unprocessed whole foods, fiber-rich foods, nutrient diversity, exercise, quality sleep, healthy relationships, proper hydration, diaphragmatic breathwork, mindfulness, and meditative practices. These “deposits” create an environment that is conducive to health and healing.

Food is Medicine: A New Type of “Farmacy”

Picture a new medical model, where the “prescription” for optimal health is more than just a pill. This is not to understate the importance of medication for some people - it is simply an expansion of an incomplete approach to medical intervention. What if individuals opted for a new type of “Farmacy” where the norm was to seek a diverse range of fruits, vegetables, greens, grains, and legumes to prevent disease, improve digestion, and promote energy production and healing? What if instead of leaving the doctor’s office with a prescription and a pill bottle, we left with a grocery list?

The Food is Medicine model is an incredibly effective approach for disease prevention and optimization of health, while bringing richness and diversity to any diet with a focus on unprocessed, anti-inflammatory, and fiber-rich functional foods.

What Are Functional Foods?

The term “functional foods” has been gaining popularity across recent health blogs over the past several years. In a nutshell, functional foods are foods that may have a positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition. Supporters of functional foods say that these foods can support optimal health and may help lower the risk of disease.

Here are my top 10 Functional Foods that I would recommend incorporating into your diet daily for anti-inflammatory and immune supporting benefits:

1. Wild Blueberries

Wild blueberries are packed with polyphenolic-rich antioxidants, which help protect

the body against inflammation. Just one cup of wild blueberries has a higher total

antioxidant capacity (TAC) than 20 other fruits and veggies, including cranberries,

strawberries, and regular blueberries. These can be added to yogurts, smoothies, or

eaten as a snack and can provide you with a big leg up when it comes to optimizing the health of your brain and body.

2. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)

Olive oil, particularly extra virgin olive oil, contains ~30 polyphenolic compounds and may be a potent mediator of the immune response by improving inflammatory cytokine production. It is high in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which can play a role in reducing “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and increasing “good” HDL cholesterol levels, in addition to decreasing blood levels of triglycerides.

3. Turmeric

Turmeric, and especially its most active compound, curcumin, have many scientifically proven benefits, such as the potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities that can help improve symptoms of arthritis, depression, and can disrupt the growth and spread of cancer. It has also been shown to improve heart health and prevent against Alzheimer’s. Turmeric can be added as a spice to many dishes, made into teas, or taken as a supplement regularly.

4. Ceylon Cinnamon

Ceylon cinnamon contains a mineral called manganese, which is necessary for optimal metabolism, calcium absorption, and brain function. Supplementation or regular use of Ceylon cinnamon has been shown to lower blood glucose, blood pressure, and help manage cholesterol. It is also a powerful anti-inflammatory that can help reduce systemic inflammation in the body.

5. Green Tea

Green tea contains a handful of antioxidants with proven anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. It is loaded with a specific catechin (substance found in tea that helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals) called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCC). EGCC has been shown to help boost lipolysis (breakdown of fat), enhance ketosis (conversion of fat into energy), block adipogenesis (the formation of new fat cells), and is an excellent modifier of proper metabolic function.

6. Fermented Foods

Fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir have been shown to improve the gut microbiome by supporting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Additionally, fermented foods have been shown to help promote bowel regularity, boost immunity and reduce inflammation, and can support a healthy mood.

7. Ginger

Ginger is loaded with anti-microbial, anti-parasitic, and anti-inflammatory properties that help prevent stress and damage to the body’s DNA. Ginger may also aid in fighting off chronic diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, and is a great digestive aid that can help relieve gas and bloating after meals.

8. Bone Broth

Bone broth is best for improving nutrient absorption by healing your gut and diminishing joint pain. Bone broth contains large quantities of L-glutamine which heals the lining of the digestive tract, aiding in digestion and enhancing the body’s ability to absorb more nutrients. Bone broth may also be beneficial in helping to strengthen bones and joints to relieve pain brought on by arthritis and joint deterioration.

9. Broccoli Sprouts

Broccoli sprouts are an excellent food to help stimulate Phase 2 Liver Detox. In Phase 2 liver detox, the liver uses one of two major enzyme pathways to change a toxic substance into a less toxic substance that is easier for the body to excrete. Broccoli sprouts can also improve gut health by containing 100 times more sulforaphane than broccoli. The sulforaphane in broccoli sprouts can help intestinal cells function more appropriately and may stimulate more regular bowel movements (i.e. better toxin elimination!) Not into sprouts? Try adding powdered mustard seed to cooked broccoli to help boost the sulforaphane content instead!

10. Beans/Legumes

Beans and legumes are an excellent source of dietary fiber, B vitamins and many other essential vitamins and minerals. Beans and legumes come packed with soluble fiber, which has been shown to slow digestion and keep you full. Some evidence also suggests that beans and legumes can help reduce blood sugar, boost heart health, and maintain a healthy gut.

The Bottom Line

While there are many other functional foods that were not mentioned here, the important thing to remember is that food can benefit our minds, bodies, and souls in more ways than we think. Incorporating more of these foods on a consistent basis can help to reduce inflammation and improve your overall health.

Interested in working with a practitioner to learn about how you can incorporate functional foods into your healing journey? Head to my website to submit a request to work with me!

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