Kitchen Medicine

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Some herbs and plants have been used in the kitchen forever and add wonderful flavor, texture and color to the foods we eat. They are also beneficial to health and may help inhibit the growth of certain cancers, lower the risk of heart disease and improve your appearance. Here are a few you may want to consider:

Blueberries are wonderful in a pie, added to muffins or made into a sauce. They are also said to help prevent certain eye diseases of aging such as macular degeneration and may provide some protection from infections and allergies.

Rosemary, that aromatic herb, is a natural antioxidant. It can have an antibacterial effect on food and an antioxidant effect on humans. What this means is that rosemary may actually reduce the bacterial levels in some foods, acting as a natural preservative. In humans, rosemary may help to reduce certain types of artery damage, thus helping to prevent some types of heart disease. And it tastes so good in sups and stews!

Fresh parsley and basil have concentrated levels of chlorophyll, the green pigment found in plants. Chlorophyll is thought to be a good “filter.” That means it can help in maintaining the health of the stomach and small and large intestine. Eating chlorophyll-containing plants may help reduce the risk of some stomach and intestinal cancers. Chopped parsley and basil add wonderful texture, color and flavor to sauces, pasta, rice and salads, so throw some in and increase the health quotient of the dish.

Fresh chilies, cayenne and bell peppers get their “heat” from a natural compound called capsaicin. Capsaicin is said to help stomach health (believe it or not) and is actually being added to creams for people with arthritis. Popu- lations that consume large, consistent amounts of chilies tend to have less incidence of stomach cancer. So, throw some peppers into the sauce and the salad and contribute to your health.

Garlic and onions are said to contain compounds that may help to reduce blood pressure. We’ve always thought that garlic and onions reduce blood pressure because if you eat enough of them, everyone will stay away from you! Tomatoes contain lycopene, a naturally-occurring substance thought to help reduce the incidence of prostate and breast cancers.

Soy products, such as tofu, soymilk and soybeans are a good replacement for animal foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Green tea is also thought to help reduce certain cancers. Green tea, hot or cold, is a delicious beverage.

Your prescription:

Try to eat more whole plant foods in their natural form instead of processed foods. For example, eat more brown rice, barley and whole wheat products versus white bread, bagels and crackers. Eat more vegetable soups, salads and stir-fry dishes instead of deli sandwiches, burgers or hot dogs.

By Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE.

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