What’s in Your Lunch? 9 Healing Food Tips
Remember going to the doctor's office when you were younger? The shots were scary, but then you got a cool bandage to show off to your friends and maybe even a colorful balloon to carry around the rest of the day. It seemed like there was always a cure for whatever was ailing you, and hearing that your problems could be solved with this or that pill might have been a relief. However, the movement to use food as medicine has gained momentum recently, and some people are saying that maybe we didn't need all of those prescriptions in the first place.
We sat down to discuss this topic with Mandy Murphy, a registered dietitian and 2014 Fellow at the Center for Health Leadership at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health, where she is pursuing her Masters. "When a patient’s just been diagnosed with heart disease or heart inflammation or high cholesterol, [food] is not even addressed, when a driving factor was probably stress and food," Murphy said. "It’s like, 'Here’s a pill or a prescription,' and that to me is unsettling." [Editor's note: Always check with your doctor before making any changes to your health regime, especially changes that involve prescription medications.] We were interested in her perspective, so we asked her to share some of her best tips for using food as medicine and leading a healthier lifestyle, plus her go-to anti-inflammatory tea recipe — delicious and nutritious.
Turn to food. “The foods we eat should promote health on a daily basis and that can kind of be our primary prevention. But then when we do get sick we can use food and natural remedies instead of going to Western medicine immediately," Murphy said. She believes there is a place for Western medicine, but when dealing with the common cold, food should be the first place you look for healing.
Healing powers of garlic? "Whenever you start to feel sick, you feel a tickle in your throat or something, chop up a few cloves of garlic, let it sit for five minutes to activate and then take it with a spoon like a pill for two or three mornings," Murphy suggests. Garlic is a natural antibiotic and antiviral, making it a magical food when it comes to medicinal purposes.
Feed your gut. Well, your gut bacteria that is. Murphy says the best foods for this are probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria found in fermented foods and beverages, including yogurt, kombucha, and sauerkraut. Prebiotics feed the bacteria that are already present in our digestive system and can be found in fibrous plants.
The wonderful world of...food! Murphy's kitchen is chock-full of foods that have healing properties. Cinnamon and nopales (the prickly pear cactus pads) both help to naturally lower glucose, plus cinnamon is anti-inflammatory. Ginger helps fight inflammation with its partner-in-crime turmeric, while ginger is also an anti-nausea and turmeric contains powerful antioxidants. Citrus is always great for keeping antioxidant and vitamin C levels up as well.
Be holistically healthy. Even if you eat all the right foods and get your 60 minutes of exercise a day, that doesn't mean you're healthy. "Another thing is stress, how much stress impacts our health," Murphy said. "Americans believe that we always have to be consuming information or producing something. But relaxing and sleeping do good for us, and sometimes that needs to be the agenda, just to relax."
"Enjoy this moment." This mantra has gotten Murphy through many long days, and reminded her to disconnect when she says she's going to do so. "If I’m on a walk and I’m already thinking about what I have to do, I’m not enjoying this moment," she said. "I’ll get to it later and I’ll worry about it when I get to it."
Reclaim the dinner table. First and foremost, we must be reminded how special food is in its powers of bringing people together. Murphy believes we need to remember to "see food as a social benefit rather than something that’s going to keep me well or make me sick, because that’s not very motivating sometimes. Focus on the enjoyment of it and use it as an excuse to see friends."
Cut back on cola. "The things to really try to avoid day in, day out, are sugary beverages," Murphy said. "It really doesn’t have any benefit. If you enjoy one once a week, great! But maybe not three times a day."
Flexibility and enjoyment are key. Murphy is wary of dieting, especially when it involves cutting yourself off from a food entirely, which can then lead to overeating and an overall unhealthy relationship with food. "The best thing is to have a way you try to eat the majority of the time and be flexible with yourself," she said. "If you go to a cocktail party, enjoy it! Don’t beat yourself up, because then it can even be mentally harmful, and the mental part is so important to our health. You have to feed both parts."
Mandy's anti-inflammatory ginger tea
Boil in water:
- A 1" to 2" piece of ginger root, sliced or shredded
Add to teacup:
- A large dash of cinnamon
- A smaller dash of turmeric
- Juice from about 1/2 lime (or lemon, if preferred)
After ginger water comes to a boil, pour into teacup. Swirl the teacup to avoid cinnamon and turmeric from settling. Enjoy!
--Image via iStockphoto/Okea
--Recipe reprinted with permission from Mandy Murphy
Jessica Zischke is an editorial intern at Sierra. She is currently studying environmental studies at Dartmouth College, where she also works as a staff writer for The Dartmouth newspaper.