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Apr 10, 2021, 4:29
Food and Ingredients as Medicine
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Food and Ingredients as Medicine

29 March 2021

Eating specific foods and utilizing certain ingredients to prevent, manage and possibly even reverse certain health conditions.

By Lisa Parrish, GMC Editor

Why do we eat? Although chefs might answer that question with “because it tastes good,” the true reason is nutrition for the body. And it stands to reason that good nutrition is the basis for good health. Even the father of Western medicine, Ancient Grecian Hippocrates, who is rumored to have said almost 2,500 years ago, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” There has always been a strong connection between nutrient-dense foods and good health.

This fact is not lost on consumers, where approximately 80 percent have adopted a “food as medicine” approach to eating, according to Nielsen, and The NPD Group found a quarter of U.S. adults are actively trying to manage their health through food.  People are seeking specific foods and ingredients for medicinal qualities to help prevent and mitigate chronic diseases.

Culinary cooking and training, whether on-the-job or in a school or university, usually does not dwell on the medicinal connection between a food and its positive effect on health. For instance, did you know that grapes contain a high level of Vitamin K which recent studies have shown may help in the fight against COVID-19? Or that onions benefit the immune system since they are a rich source of fiber and prebiotics which promote optimal gut health?

Below is a list of common spices and ingredients and their positive therapeutic and preventative effects on the body.

Spices and health benefits
Editor’s Note: Several of the studies proving the healthful benefits of the following spices examined the herb in its extract or concentrated form. Therefore, the specific quantities required to achieve the health benefits may vary. However, adding these ingredients to applications will please both the palate and body’s health.

Turmeric
Turmeric has been used in India and Southeast Asia for thousands of years as a spice and medicinal herb that possesses anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic and antioxidant properties. The bioactive compounds found in turmeric were found to be more effective in alleviating rheumatoid arthritis symptoms than common non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs. This potent spice has even been shown to prevent heart attacksdiabetes and cancer.

Ginger
Ginger has long been used as a traditional and alternative medicine to help digestion, reduce nausea, or help fight colds and influenza. The most common use of ginger is its ability to alleviate symptoms of nausea and vomiting thanks to its ability to break up and expel intestinal gas. Ginger is also an anti-inflammatory and can be effective in managing and lessening arthritic pain and reducing pain medication usage.

Garlic
Garlic isn't just for fighting off vampires, it also helps fight off illness by increasing T-cells that attack viruses. One study found that doses of garlic can reduce a person’s sick days. Garlic can also help long-term health by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and preventing Alzheimer's.  

Cinnamon
This sweet spice is packed with a variety of protective antioxidant compounds that have potent anti-inflammatory qualities. The reduction of inflammation means that cinnamon oil and extract can be beneficial in chronic pains such as migraines and arthritis, as cinnamon can promote blood circulation, which helps stimulate and push circulation to the nerves and joints.

Fuel the immune system with American lamb
American lamb is packed with nutrients that support a strong immune system. A three-ounce cooked serving of American lamb is an excellent source of protein, zinc, selenium, and B12, and a good source of iron and B6. These nutrients support the immune system and help the body fight infection, inflammation and repair cellular damage.feature lamb

  • White blood cells require zinc to function and fight infection.
  • Selenium has antioxidant properties, protecting immune cells from oxidative stress. It also plays an important role in protein synthesis.
  • Iron is a fundamental element for the immune response, helping lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell that attacks an infection) grow and mature. 
  • Protein provides the body with amino acids. These amino acids act as building blocks to produce immune cells and antibodies.
  • Vitamin B6 is needed to activate an immune signaling molecule that regulates the activities of white blood cells.
  • Vitamin B12 plays a critical role in the production of protein synthesis which is vital to produce immune cells.

feature grapes smallSmall but mighty: How grapes support good health
Fresh grapes are prized for their taste, convenience, versatility – and emerging health benefits. Over 20 years of research links grapes to a wide variety of health-promoting activities in the body. Importantly, many of these studies have shown positive health impacts with normal amounts of grapes – between 1 ¼ to 2 ½ cups per day. Eating grapes may help counter the harmful inflammation and oxidative stress that can lead to many chronic diseases.

The science linking grapes to heart health is well established, and grape consumption is also linked to brain, skin, colon, eye, and immune health. Click here for a chart describing grapes’ positive effects on a healthy body.

Grapes of all colors contain over 1,600 natural plant compounds, including beneficial antioxidants and other polyphenols, which have been shown to protect the health and function of our cells. Studies on individual grape compounds including resveratrol, quercetin and other flavonoids, have shown a positive influence on immunity.

Studies also suggest that grape polyphenols may defend against chronic inflammation by reducing oxidative stress and preventing the activation of critical metabolic pathways that cause inflammation. Grapes are a good source of vitamin K, which has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects.feature grape photo for 4th paragraph

Grapes and COVID-19
Recent research suggests that vitamin K (of which grapes are a good source) and certain flavonoids found in grapes may help in the fight against COVID-19. These studies found that:

  • Vitamin K plays a role in normal blood clotting, including the prevention of clots; in maintaining the integrity of lung tissue; and also promotes anti-inflammatory activity. Inadequate vitamin K status in COVID-19 patients was related to poor outcomes.
  • Certain flavonoids in grapes (also cacao, green tea and dark chocolate) appear to inhibit an enzyme that contributes to the infectivity of COVID-19.

feature onions smallAn onion’s healing powers and an immunity connection
Valued throughout history for its healing powers, onions add important nutrients, valuable phytochemicals, and antioxidants to the diet. Whether sliced into salads, simmered into sauces, or chopped into salsa, onions add layers of flavor, color, texture and health benefits to dishes.

The Eaton, Colo.-based National Onion Association notes that onions are low in calories (only 30 calories) yet provide dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and other nutrients to the diet.

Dietitian Shari Steinbach, MS, RDN, notes that onions benefit the immune because they are a rich source of fiber and prebiotics which promote optimal gut health. The prebiotics in onions serve as “food” for the beneficial gut bacteria and create short-chain fatty acids, she said. Research has shown the prebiotics strengthen gut health, support a healthy immune system, reduce inflammation and enhance digestion.

feature mushrooms smallMushrooms and micronutrients for immunity
There are a variety of micronutrients which are important for supporting a healthy immune system including selenium and vitamins D and B6, which all can be found in mushroom varieties.

Selenium is an essential trace mineral which means the body must get this mineral in the food consumed. Selenium helps a body make special proteins, called antioxidant enzymes. These play a role in preventing cell damage. Selenium is found in crimini and portabella mushrooms.

Vitamin D helps build and maintain strong bones by assisting the body to absorb calcium. Vitamin D is available via diet, supplements and sunlight, which is why it is also referred to as the “sunshine vitamin.” Vitamin D has other roles in the body, including modulation of cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function, and reduction of inflammation. It is found in UV-light exposed mushrooms.

Vitamin B6 helps convert food into usable energy and assists in the formation of neurotransmitters, red blood cells, proteins and DNA. Shitake mushrooms contain this vitamin.

The Mushroom Council has created a site called FeedYourImmuneSystem.com that spotlights not just mushrooms, but how a variety of foods can support the immune system. It features various immune-supporting nutrients found in everyday foods that are regularly consumed.

For citations and resources, please contact Lisa Parrish at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..