Whole foods are loaded with nutrients which naturally have healing properties. I've compiled this page based on foods used in my recipes and to provide a quick and easy reference. I've found that telling people how particular foods can improve their health (especially kids!) encourages them to eat those foods. All foods are listed alphabetically and some include a link to one of my recipes or an article where they are mentioned.
Broccoli is one of the most nutrient-dense foods. It is especially high in vitamin C and a 1 cup serving provides the same amount of protein as rice yet contains only 1/3 of the calories. Like other members of the cabbage family, broccoli shows strong anticancer effects — especially in breast cancer. A compound in broccoli helps to increase the excretion of a form of estrogen linked to breast cancer. This compound, indole-3-carbinol, has been shown to stop the growth of both breast and prostate cancer cells in studies. It also helps the liver with the detoxification process and decreases the growth of human papillomavirus (HPV) which is a virus linked to cervical cancer. Broccoli is also a rich source of lutein which not only has anticancer effects as well, but may be helpful in preventing macular degeneration since lutein is a caroteniod that is concentrated in the retina.
Butter is extremely stable since it is a saturated fat. Fats that are solid at room temperature have stable bonds, whereas fats that are liquids do not. This means that cooking and sautéing in butter is safe, as is baking with butter. Butter contains lauric acid, this is know as a conditionally essential acid since it is only found in milk products and is not produced in the liver like other saturated fats. It must be obtained from one of two sources, butterfat or coconut oil. Lauric acid is crucial to our bodies because it is antimicrobial, antitumor and immune-system supporting. In addition, butyric acid is found in butter (and only butter) and has antifungal and antitumor effects. Conjugated Linoleic Acid or CLA is also found in butter from pasture-fed cows and it has strong anticancer properties. It helps with the promotion of muscle growth and prevents weight gain. The short-chain fatty acids in butter are easily and readily absorbed by the body, this means they are less likely to cause weight gain or result in fat storage since they are utilized directly for quick energy.
Blueberries are an excellent source of flavonoids — antioxidant compounds that create their brilliant shades of blue, red and purple. When Tufts researchers analyzed sixty fruits and vegetables for their antioxidant capability, blueberries scored the highest. Blueberries help prevent the brain from oxidative stress and may help reduce the effects of age-related conditions, like Alzheimer’s disease. Blueberries have also been found to improve vision and protect against macular degeneration. They may be protective against the development of cataracts and glaucoma and are also therapeutic in the treatment of varicose veins, hemorrhoids, and peptic ulcers. Blueberries promote urinary tract health because they contain the same compound found in cranberries that help prevent and eliminate urinary tract infections. They are also high in vitamin C, fiber, manganese, vitamin E, and riboflavin.
Cabbage contains potent anti-cancer phytochemicals and is very nutrient dense, it is an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, folic acid, biotin, calcium, magnesium and manganese. Many studies confirm that the higher the intake of cabbage-family vegetables, the lower the rates of cancer, particularly colon, prostate, lung and breast cancer. Cabbage has also been shown to treat peptic ulcers effectively due to its concentration of the amino acid glutamine, which helps repair and regenerate the gastrointestinal tract.
Carrots contain the highest amount of provitamin A carotenes of any commonly consumed vegetable. Two carrots provide 4,050 retinol equivalents, or four times the RDA of vitamin A. Carrots also provide excellent amounts of vitamin K, biotin, fiber, vitamin C and B6, potassium and thiamine. They are high in antioxidants that help protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer. High carotene intake is associated with a 20 percent decreased risk of postmenopausal breast cancer and a 50 percent decrease in cancers of the bladder, cervix, prostate, colon, larynx, and esophagus. Human studies suggest that as little as one carrot a day could cut the rate of lung cancer in half.
Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin K and vitamin C as well as fiber, potassium, and B vitamins. It is also typically high in the trace mineral boron. Cauliflower is part of the cruciferous family (with broccoli, cabbage, and kale) which is known to contain cancer-fighting compounds. Researchers believe that these compounds stop enzymes from activating cancer-causing agents in the body. The compounds also work to increase the activity of enzymes that disable and eliminate carcinogens.
Celery is another potent healing food and is very high in vitamin C and fiber. It is a good source of potassium, calcium, folic acid, and vitamins B6, B2, and B1. Celery contains phytochemical compounds known as coumarins which are useful in cancer prevention and enhance the activity of white blood cells. Coumarin compounds also help tone the vascular system and lower blood pressure. Studies done at the University of Chicago Medical Center found that in animals given the equivalent dose of what would equal four celery ribs for a human, blood pressure was lowered by 12 to 14 percent and cholesterol was lowered by seven percent. In other clinical studies celery extract showed impressive results in treating osteoarthritis and gout pain. Study participants given 34 milligrams of the celery extract twice daily experienced significant pain relief after three weeks of use, with an average reduction in pain scores of 68 percent while some participants reported 100 percent relief from pain. Most noticed maximum benefit after six weeks of use.
Cinnamon has a long history of medicinal use for a variety of ailments. Research has confirmed that cinnamon helps stabilize blood sugar. When taken at high dosages (1 to 6 grams per day) it has been shown to reduce fasting blood glucose levels in diabetics by 18 to 29 percent and LDL (know as bad) cholesterol by 7 to 27 percent. As one of the oldest know spices, it was used in ancient Egypt as a medicinal herb and embalming agent. In Chinese medicine the use of cinnamon dates back to 2700 B.C.E. This is another example of how spices have been used traditionally to nutritionally complement certain foods — it is no wonder that cinnamon is often paired with foods containing sugar as it helps modulate the body’s response to rising insulin levels. Cinnamon’s healing properties come from the essential oils found in its bark.
Coconut Milk is very high in the medium-chain fatty acid, lauric acid, this is an extremely healthy fat that is only found in coconut and human breast milk. Lauric acid acts as an antiviral and antibacterial agent in the body. The antiviral properties of medium-chain fatty acids like lauric acid are so potent that they are being studied as a treatment for AIDS patients. Coconut also protects against heart disease and promotes weight loss due to the thermogenic (fat-burning) effects of medium-chain fatty acids.
Eggs are packed full of nutrients, healthy fats and protein. They are pretty darn close to a perfect food. The best option is to eat pastured eggs — meaning eggs that come from chickens that are raised on open pasture and regularly eat grass, plants, bugs, grubs and whatever else they can find in the fields. Chickens are omnivores and the quality, taste (and health benefits) of their eggs is largely dependent on what they eat.
Garbanzo beans are a good source of fiber, folic acid, and manganese, they also contain high amounts of molybdenum — a trace mineral needed to detoxify sulfites, a preservative commonly found in wine, processed meats, and salad from salad bars. They are a great source of protein and are high in minerals like iron, magnesium, copper, and zinc. Garbanzo beans can help lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar levels.
Garlic is a nutritional powerhouse and has many medicinal properties, which are thought to be largely the result of the sulfur-containing compounds it contains. It has high levels of trace minerals, particularly selenium. Studies have shown that garlic decreases total cholesterol levels, while increasing HDL, which is protective against heart disease. It has also shown to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension. Garlic has been used throughout history to fight infections. It is antimicrobial due to the sulfur compound allicin, which has been shown to be effective against colds, flu, stomach viruses, as well as stronger pathogens. Garlic appears to be protective against some cancers. Studies have shown that as few as two or more servings of garlic a week may help protect against colon cancer.
Kale is a member of the cabbage family and as such, exhibits the same kind of anticancer properties as all the other members of this family. Kale is actually one of the most nutritious vegetables, with high amounts of carotenes, vitamins C and B6, and manganese. It is a great source of calcium, iron, and copper as well as dietary fiber, B vitamins and vitamin E. As you can see from its deep green color, kale is very high in chlorophyll. The deeper green your vegetable, the more health benefits it contains and kale is one of the darkest!
Leeks are a great source of vitamins B6 and C and folic acid. They also contain manganese and iron and a good amount of dietary fiber. Similar to onions, leeks can lower cholesterol levels, improve the immune system, and fight cancer.
Lemons contain limonene, which is a potent phytochemical that has strong anticancer properties. The juice of three provides about 135 mg of Vitamin C, or 167% of the RDA. Squeezing fresh lemon juice on your greens, fish, or adding it to a glass a of water is a great way to get a boost of Vitamin C. Lemon juice is also a great way to gently detox and cleanse your body.
Oats are high in minerals like manganese, selenium, and phosphorus. They are also a good source of the minerals magnesium and iron and contain vitamin B1. Due to the fact that oats contain dietary fiber high in beta-glucan, they have long been touted as having cholesterol lowering effects. Beta-glucan binds bile acids and removes them from the body to help lower cholesterol. Oats also have a favorable effect on blood sugar and are a good alternative to refined grains.
Onions contain sulfur compounds like allicin which have strong effects on boosting immunity. They also contain one of the highest amounts of quercetin of any food — a flavonoid which helps to calm allergies, reduces inflammation, and is also a powerful antioxidant providing protection against cancers and heart disease. Clinical studies have shown that onions lower blood pressure and prevent clot formation as well.
Oregano has been shown to exhibit potent antioxidant qualities due in part to two oils it contains: thymol and carvacrol, which are antimicrobial agents. In one analysis done by the USDA, oregano scored the highest in antioxidant activity of any herb or food tested and ranked higher than many fruits and vegetables. It contained 42 times the antioxidant activity of apples, 12 times as much as oranges, and and four times as much as blueberries. During the winter months, dried oregano is easily used to spice up an array of soups, stews, and sauces.
Parsley is an extremely potent healing food. It is rich in large numbers of nutrients, chlorophyll, and carotenes. Parsley contains a high amount of vitamin C, folic acid, and iron and is a good source of minerals including magnesium, calcium, potassium, and zinc. Parsley has traditionally been used for its medicinal properties and is regarded as a nerve stimulant that helps with energy production. Parsley’s volatile oil components have all shown to have anticancer effects. Parsley is also a good cleansing food and helps with liver health.
Pine nuts contain the most protein of any nut and are a good source of B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, vitamin E and potassium, among other nutrients.
Potatoes are a good source of many nutrients and minerals. They are especially high in potassium, vitamins B6 and C, niacin, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, and dietary fiber. Potatoes contain lysine, an amino acid lacking in many grains that has been found to be helpful in treating and preventing the herpes virus. Remember that most of the nutrients and fiber are found in the skins so don’t peel your potatoes and always eat the skins. Potatoes also contain chlorgenic acid, a chemical that prevents cell mutations leading to cancer. It is important to buy organic potatoes whenever possible since potatoes often have very high amounts of pesticide residue after they have been harvested. Also, most commercial potatoes have been treated with sprout inhibitors that can have harmful effects. Red potatoes are a lower glycemic choice than many other types of potatoes and therefore are a better choice for people with diabetes or other blood sugar issues.
Red Chili Peppers actually help reduce body temperature. It sounds counter-intuitive, but capsaicin, the phytochemical in chili peppers, stimulates the cooling center of the hypothalamus in the brain. This is why traditionally, people in tropical climates have used hot chili peppers medicinally and therapeutically. Capsaicin has also been shown to increase the body’s basal metabolic rate, or the rate at which our bodies burn calories and fat for energy. Studies have shown that adding chili peppers to your diet, along with ginger and garlic is a natural and effective way to help your body burn fat. Capsaicin has also been shown in clinical research to be an effective pain reliever, a digestive and anti-ulcer aid. A New England Journal of Medicine study recently found that daily doses of red pepper significantly reduce symptoms of indigestion.
Salmon is one of the most nutritious foods and has been prized and valued for its nourishment in traditional cultures throughout history. It is an excellent source of protein, potassium, selenium and B12. Salmon also provides high amounts of the important omega-3 fats. Dr. Weston Price, in his travels throughout the world to find the healthiest people, concluded that those cultures who ate fish and other seafoods had the best health of all. Eating fish promotes excellent growth and bone structure and is crucial for pregnant women, babies and young children.
It is of utmost importance to only buy and consume wild-caught salmon from responsible fisheries. Farmed salmon is not only nutritionally inferior to wild salmon but the salmon farms are contributing to the destruction of the ocean ecosystems. In addition to having less omega-3 fats, more omega-6 fats, and 20 percent less protein, farmed salmon also contain higher levels of pesticides and carcinogens due to the type of feed they are given. In the wild, salmon eat a diet of pink krill, thus turning their flesh pink and bestowing it with all the health benefits in krill. Farmed salmon on the other hand, are feed pellets with a synthetic dye in order to turn their white-gray flesh to pink.
Sauerkraut contains Lactobacilli, a great source of naturally occurring probiotics that aide in digestion and promote the growth of good bacteria in the digestive tract. Traditionally, people have eaten lacto-fermented foods as condiments to their meals, which helps aide in digestion — in modern culture this has largely been abandoned. Even store-bought sauerkraut is pasteurized thus killing all the beneficial bacteria that were originally there. Digestive problems are so prevalent in American culture and are often at the root of chronic diseases and conditions. Reintroducing lacto-fermented foods into our diets is a great, easy and affordable way to enhance the health of our intestinal tract and our overall health.
Shiitake mushrooms have been used medicinally by the Chinese for 6,000 years. Research has found the active compound in these mushrooms — called lentinan — to have the ability to boost the immune system and aid it in fighting off infections and disease. Lentinan has also shown to have anticancer properties. Shiitake mushrooms are an excellent source of selenium and polysaccharides and are a good source of iron as well as vitamin C, dietary fiber and protein.
Spelt is an ancient grain, a distant elder cousin of modern wheat. It is, in fact, one of the earliest crops grown in the Western world. As a grass-derived grain, spelt is the perfect substitute for white or whole wheat flour when baking. It is an excellent alternative for those allergic to wheat since it contains different forms of gluten than modern wheat. The type of gluten found in spelt is much more fragile than the gluten found in wheat which makes it much easier for the body to break down and digest. Spelt also provides double the amount of protein and fiber than is found in most common varieties of commercial wheat. It is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates as well as B vitamins and minerals.
Spinach is extremely nutrient dense. It contains high levels of vitamin K, carotenes, vitamin C, and folic acid. It is also a very good source of magnesium, iron, and vitamin B12. Spinach is one of the richest sources of lutein, which promotes healthy eyesight and prevents macular degeneration. Spinach is also a strong protector against cancer, at least thirteen different flavonoid compounds have been identified in spinach that work as antioxidants and anticancer agents. One study of women in 1980s showed that the higher the intake of spinach, the lower the incidence of breast cancer. Spinach is also one of the most alkaline-producing foods, which makes it helpful in regulating body pH.
Sweet potatoes are very high in carotenes, vitamins C and B6, as well as B12 and fiber. Due to their unique root storage of proteins in combination with their abundant amounts of carotenes and vitamin C, sweet potatoes are very effective in boosting antioxidants in our bodies and fostering strong immunity. In addition, animal studies have shown that despite their sweet flavor, sweet potatoes actually help stabilize blood sugar.
Swiss chard is highly nutritious. It is an excellent source of carotenes, chlorophyll, vitamins C, E, and K, as well as dietary fiber. It contains high levels of important minerals like magnesium and iron. The combination of the many phytonutrients, chlorophyll, and plant pigments make Swiss chard one of the most powerful anticancer foods, particularly in protecting against colon cancer and other digestive cancers. The vitamin K in Swiss chard is also vitally important for protecting and maintains bone health.
Turmeric is a member of the ginger family and has many strong medicinal properties. It is used as an anti-inflammatory and to treat a wide range of ailments in both the Chinese and Indian systems of medicine. Curcumin is the yellow pigment in turmeric which has shown to be as potent an anti-inflammatory as drugs like ibuprofin. Unlike these drugs however, which have toxic side effects, the use of curcumin produces no toxicity. Curcumin is also a powerful antioxidant and has proven in clinical studies to protect healthy cells from free radicals that can lead to cancer. It has shown to be particularly beneficial in the colon and in the prevention of colon cancer. Curcumin also helps the body destroy mutated cancer cells so that they cannot spread throughout the body; it has also shown to inhibit tumor growth. More studies are needed, but curcumin shows great promise in the treatment and eradication of cancer. Curcumin also helps lower cholesterol and shows potential as a brain-protective agent. In elderly Indian populations, where turmeric is a common spice used in the diet, neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s are very low.
Yukon Gold Potatoes are a good source of potassium, vitamins B6 and C, niacin, pantothenic acid, and dietary fiber. Remember that most of the nutrients, fiber, and protein are found in the skins, so don't peel them!
Vegetable Mineral Broth (as well as bone broths and meat stocks) are some of the most nutritionally valuable staples to prepare. Homemade vegetable broth is extremely rich in minerals like potassium, calcium and magnesium. Many of the heat-sensitive vitamins (like vitamin C) are destroyed by the cooking process, but the minerals are drawn out of the vegetables during the long cooking period. Many Americans are severely deficient in minerals, which are crucial to all of our body’s vital functions. They play a key role in the proper composition of bone and blood as well as normal cell function. Without minerals our bodies can’t utilize vitamins properly. This broth is like the best mineral supplement you can buy — times ten, and it’s great to sip warm like a tea, so drink up!
Winter squash, particularly the darker-fleshed varieties, contain very high amounts of carotenes, which have been show to have a protective effect against many cancers, particularly lung cancer. Diets rich in carotenes are also protective against developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Winter squash like butternut, delicata, pumpkin, acorn and spaghetti also contain high levels of vitamin C and B1, folic acid, potassium, and fiber.
Zucchini are the best known of the summer squashes and are high in cancer fighting compounds. They are particularly healthful during summer months because of their high water content and high amounts of carotenes, which are helpful in protecting against the damaging effects of the sun. They also contain good amounts of vitamin C and potassium.
Much of the nutrition information and studies here are culled from The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods by Michael Murray, a very good reference.