4 foods that act as natural medicine

Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food - with these words spoken way back in the fifth century BC, Hippocrates, the father of Western medicines recognised the value of eating well, and the potential of certain foods for good health.

Wholefoods are generally defined as foods that are largely unprocessed and unrefined, and are rich in essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Vegetables, fruits, unpolished grains and legumes are examples of wholefoods.

Wholefoods also provide phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are substances found in plant-based foods that may help to support good health. Phytonutrients are non-essential, and are sometimes called phytochemicals.

Phytonutrients provide foods with their colour, smell and taste. Their therapeutic potential comes from their antioxidant, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory actions, just to name a few.

Food as medicine

More and more, the importance of eating a diet with a variety of nutrient-rich wholefoods is being recognised for its benefit on our health and wellbeing.

A study published in the Journal of American College of Nutrition investigated whether a wholefood diet, rich in phytonutrients provided a more positive outcome for health, versus a refined food diet.

Subjects in the study followed two diets for four weeks, starting with a refined food diet, followed directly with a phytonutrient-rich wholefood diet.

What the researchers found was that a diet rich in unrefined, minimally processed foods had a beneficial effect on cholesterol and lipids in the blood, and decreased the need for oxidative defence mechanisms, which means less free radical damage to cells, and improved colon function.

With the benefits of phytonutrients found in wholefoods becoming more widely recognised, let's take a closer look at four such wholefoods and how they may help our health and wellbeing when included as part of a healthy diet.

Spirulina

Arthrospira plantensis, or spirulina, is a type of blue-green micro-algae found in warm, alkaline waters around the world - in particular Mexico and Central Africa.

The use of spirulina dates back to the 16th century.

What makes spirulina a powerful wholefood is its rich source of nutrients, including B-group vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients (phycocyanin and chlorophyll), and a number of essential minerals, including zinc, selenium and magnesium.

Spirulina contains almost 70 per cent protein that is highly digestible and provides all the essential amino acids.

It is a rich source of carotenoids, especially beta-carotene. Approximately 60-70 per cent of spirulina weight is protein. Therefore, it is ideal for vegetarians or people who don't eat a lot of meat.

Wheatgrass

Triticum aestivum, or wheatgrass, is the young green plant that grows to produce wheat grain.

Like spirulina, wheat grass is a "green food" rich in chlorophyll, and a powerful wholefood containing vitamins A, C and E, iron, calcium and magnesium.

Wheatgrass also contains about 30 enzymes, and is a complete protein with all the essential amino acids. It is a natural "cleansing" food for the body. Despite its name, wheatgrass is gluten free and can be used by people with gluten intolerance.

White tea

Camellia sinensis or white tea, is the dried leaves of a sub-species of C. sinensis in which the bud or first leaves are picked and minimally processed.

The buds are still covered in fine, white hairs, leading to its white appearance.

It is thought to have a higher proportion of polyphenols as it is less processed than other teas.

White tea makes the power wholefoods list for its phytonutrient-rich profile and antioxidant activity.

These antioxidant nutrients include polyphenols, catechin and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which act as free radical scavengers.

Reishi mushroom

Ganoderma lucidum, or reishi mushrooms (lingzhi mushroom), have a long history of medicinal use, and are even documented as far back as the Chinese pharmacopoeia of the first century BC.

In traditional Chinese medicine, it is used for fatigue, cough, liver health, and to promote longevity.

Reishi mushrooms grow on decaying logs and tree stumps, and are native to China, Japan and North America.

There are six different colours of reishi - blue, yellow, red, white, black and purple, and it is the red that is most commonly used.

Reishi mushrooms earn its power wholefood credentials from its active component - polysaccharides and triterpenoids.

These components have antioxidant and immune-supporting actions. In particular, beta-D-glucan and lingzhi are thought to be responsible for reishi's immune supporting benefits.

Balancing your nutrient intake

Even with the nutrients from wholefoods, it is still best for our diet to be supplemented with vitamins and minerals. With our busy lifestyle, it may not be easy for us to consume enough nutrients that are needed for optimum performance.

Therefore, it is crucial to be able to get the right supplement that provides both nutrients from conventional multivitamins and the goodness of wholefoods.

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