Food is nature’s No. 1 medicine — and certain veggies, fruits, carbs and proteins provide specific health benefits without some of the unpleasant side effects associated with prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.
With just a few simple changes, like adding pomegranate seeds to your breakfast oatmeal or tossing an extra garlic knob into your spaghetti sauce, you can instantly boost your immune system and increase your body’s capacity for healing itself from within. They may even save you a trip or two to the doctor.
1. Red cabbage
How simple are salads? Next time you’re looking for an easy, fresh side dish that goes with anything, be sure to add red cabbage to your green lettuce because it’s loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory support. In fact, you can chalk up their deep purple color to a high concentration of anthocyanin polyphenols, which are plant compounds that promote heart health, cognitive function and brain health, all while preventing the lipid peroxidation of “bad” LDL cholesterol, says Kate Gavlick, nutritionist and writer for Deckopedia. “This means that this cabbage keeps both your ticker and your noggin in tip-top shape,” Gavlick says.
2. Red grapes
Who knew purple was so therapeutic? You may have already heard that red wine and red grapes contain resveratrol, which is being touted as an anti-aging wonder, but wait, there’s more. “Resveratrol is noted to be one heart healthy plant compound and may help in the reduction of oxidative stress, vascular inflammation, and the prevention of platelet aggregation,” Gavlick says. “Good news: resveratrol may be more bioavailable in red wine, so enjoy a glass in moderation!”
3. Butternut squash
Not only is it the perfect autumn/winter veggie — one that makes the most sumptuously sweet soup on the planet — but as it turns out, butternut squash can also keep the flu and common cold far, far away. “Winter squash contains vitamin A, which is necessary for properly functioning eyesight, red blood cell production, and an up and running immune system,” Gavlick says. “In fact, vitamin A deficiencies are associated with a weakened immunity and a higher chance of catching infectious diseases.” Because vitamin A is fat-soluble, the best way to enjoy winter squash is by cooking it with a healthy fat such as coconut or olive oil.
4. Brussels sprouts
Suffering from pains associated with a recent injury? Load up on Brussels sprouts, which contain 240 percent of your daily intake of vitamin K, Gavlick says. She explains vitamin K is “an essential fat soluble vitamin necessary for responding to injuries, bone health, and the prevention of calcification in the arteries.” Brussels sprouts are delicious when roasted in the oven — or can be steamed or added to any salad.
5. Pomegranate seeds
Not only are they the perfect combo of sweet and tart (and they’re cute to boot), but pomegranate seeds are also an excellent source of antioxidants. “Pomegranate seeds are noted to contain 2-3 times the antioxidant capacity of green tea and red wine, which means they help to keep your cells free and clear of oxidative stress and overly reactive oxygen species,” Gavlick says.
Feel a scratchy throat or sniffle come on? Stop everything you’re doing and reach for scallions to add to your soup, salad, ginger tea or (my personal favorite) potato pancakes. “It helps the body sweat out toxins,” says Stacey Isaacs — a trained chef with a master’s degree in Oriental medicine and a license in acupuncture — who runs the blog There’s a Cook in my Kitchen. “Scallions are antiviral and antibacterial; they are good for the common cold and general nasal congestion — just don’t eat too many if you have a fever.”
Garlic is another Chinese herb (called “da suan”) that has antiviral and antibacterial properties — and it doesn’t hurt that it’s dead easy to add to most recipes. “Garlic is used to kill toxins and parasites and also to reduce swelling in the body,” Isaacs says. “It’s what I call a great ‘A’ herb: anesthetic, antibacterial, anti fungal, antioxidant, and antiviral.”
In Chinese medicine, cucumbers are known for having exceptional healing capabilities, Isaacs says. Not only can they cool the body down, but Isaacs says they also expel toxins, purify the blood, strengthen the heart, moisten the large intestines and the lungs and are even thought to be able to kill tapeworms. “They are good to eat if you have swelling in your hands or feet — or if you have a bladder infection,” she says.
9. Sunflower seeds
Like pomegranate seeds, these versatile babies can be added to oatmeal, granola, pancake batter, salads and even cookies. They boast calcium and magnesium and are often prescribed in Chinese medicine to get rid of rashes, Isaacs says. “Sunflower seeds help lower blood pressure and can relieve headaches and dizziness,” she says. “In Eastern medicine we recommend eating sunflower seeds if a person is troubled by certain severe intestinal symptoms like dysentery or intestinal worms or certain parasites.”