Food as medicine

‘Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food’. The words of Hippocrates are as true as they ever were; and it’s not just about choosing ‘healthy’ foods rather than processed, or fresh vegetables rather than empty calories. There is no hard-and-fast dividing line between food and medicine, and that borderline place is where herbs are to be found; more active than most foods, and less directly active than most drugs or poisons.

All foods have some action, even if it’s simply to provide fibre, but you’d have to eat far more than a normal portion of most things to get a medicinal effect. A naturopath I used to work with liked to prescribe cos lettuce to anxious patients for its sedative qualities, but you had to eat a whole one every day. He put arthritic patients on a fast consisting of six pounds of grapes a day, and while it certainly did help some of them with its anti-inflammatory and eliminative qualities, it wasn’t for the faint-hearted.

The point is, everyday foods are not very active. Cabbage can inhibit thyroid function, but in normal amounts it’s unlikely to cause trouble, and eating apple pips or cherry stones could give you an overdose of cyanide, but how many cases of this do you hear about? Unless you have a particular reason to avoid something – grapefruit juice if you’re taking statins, for instance – there is no need to worry. Eating refined sugar and saturated fats is far more damaging.

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