Eating and healing with traditional food
Written by Sevcan Gast, MD & Tara Conrad. Verita Life Thailand.
Food is one of the most important parts of our everyday lives, culture and community. It brings people together and is used in times of celebration and festivals. Traditionally, food was not as abundant as it is today. More often than not, food was used during celebrations, but mostly it was used for sustenance and, in some, cultures it was used for healing. As time moved forward and the world became industrialised food became easier to access, very plentiful, and much cheaper. In today’s world, for most, food has become more of a want than a necessity and as the quantity of it has increased the quality has decreased. Society and cultures stepped away from using food as a sustenance and maintaining health and wellbeing and used it to fulfil cravings and to indulge in regularly. This has led to the increase in lifestyle and chronic diseases amongst many different cultures, including, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Food is no longer healing us, but slowly making our lives unhealthier. The following takes a look at different cultures and their use of certain foods to help heal our bodies.
In India, the traditional Ayurveda medicine included nutrition. Food was thought to heal and prevent illness, creating a balance between the mind and body. The basis of Ayurveda treatment stems from our personality traits and the belief is that adjusting your diet, can balance and synchronise the health and wellbeing of your mind as well as your body.
In Chinese culture not only did they believe that eating certain foods were beneficial to their wellness, the Chinese also believed the way you eat can influence your health. For example, when eating a meal, it is important to eat while sitting down and slowly in a quiet place. It is essential to chew your food well and warm cooked food is better for digestion than raw foods. It is unhealthy for the body to skip meals and you should not eat a meal while distracted. They also believed it was important to nap after eating to help food digest. In our crazy, fast paced, world we live in today, it is very difficult to accomplish even one of these important habits
The following are a list of foods that are used both in Ayurveda medicine or traditional Chinese healing, and can easily be incorporated into a healthy daily diet, as they are readily available in most cultures.
Ginger: The ginger roots, fresh and dry forms, help for the digestion process by stimulating the digestive enzymes and has scientific approval for it. The efficacy of ginger rhizome has been well documented for the prevention of nausea, dizziness, and motion sickness (1).
Cumin seeds: Cumin (Cuminum cyminum L) is a leafy plant that grows low to the ground in China, India, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean region. Black cumin, Nigella sativa L. seeds contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effects, so it has been used since centuries in Middle East, Northern Africa and India for the treatment of asthma, cough, bronchitis, rheumatism (2). The anticancer properties of cumin seeds are also well known, such as in cancer prevention and also as anti-proliferative and chemo preventive agent. (3), (4), (5). Otherwise, cumin seeds are used as a potent analgesic (6).
Mung beans: The seeds and sprouts of mung bean play a physiological function in antifungal, antitumor genesis, anti-oxidation, improving immunity, and reducing cholesterol (7).
Almonds: Regular consumption of almonds has been associated with reduced risk of a variety of chronic disease, including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes (8).
Dates and figs: Supplements like dates and fig exert their beneficial effects against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer Disease (9).
Garlic: Sulphur compounds, including allicin, appear to be the active components in the root bulb of the garlic plant. In 1858, Pasteur noted garlic’s antibacterial activity, and it was used as an antiseptic to prevent gangrene during World War I and World War II. Garlic is well known for many properties, such as lipid-lowering effects, antihypertensive effects and other cardiovascular-related effects, anti-neoplastic effects and antimicrobial effects (10).
Cloves: Dietary supplementation with cloves reduces tissue injuries, especially in the lens and cardiac muscles. Additionally, the cloves treatment significantly reduces blood sugar increases and restores the antioxidant enzyme levels (11).
To be fair, we feel the pendulum shifting back again, as people become more educated about nutrition and their bodies, they are drifting back to eating for nourishment and health as opposed to eating for enjoyment and fun. This has become more popular as we see super foods and healthy restaurants marketed everywhere and as many lifestyle diseases become more and more prevalent, we must face that our food can actually help heal us, and eating the right foods can be beneficial to our overall wellbeing.
- Langner E. Ginger: history and use (1998)
- Burits, M., & Bucar, F. Antioxidant activity of Nigella sativa essential oil. Phyto therapy Research (2000)
- Edris, A. Anti-Cancer Properties of Nigella spp. Essential Oils and their Major Constituents, Thymoquinone and β-Elemene. Current Clinical Pharmacology (2009)
- Aruna K. Plant products as protective agents against cancer. Indian Journal Od Experimental Biology (1990)
- Padhye, Subhash et al. “From here to eternity – the secret of Pharaohs: Therapeutic potential of black cumin seeds and beyond.” Cancer therapy vol. 6,b (2008)
- Hajhashemi, V., Ghannadi, A., & Jafarabadi, H. Black cumin seed essential oil, as a potent analgesic and anti-inﬂammatory drug. Phyto therapy Research, (2004)
- Dongyan Tang, A review of phytochemistry, metabolite changes, and medicinal uses of the common food mung bean and its sprouts (Vigna radiata), Chemistry Central Journal (2014)
- Preedy Victor R., Watson Ronald Ross and Pate Vinood B., Nuts & Seeds in Health and Disease Prevention. Elsevier (2011)
- Essa, M. M., Subash, S., Akbar, M., Al-Adawi, S., & Guillemin, G. J. (2015). Long-Term Dietary Supplementation of Pomegranates, Figs and Dates Alleviate Neuro-inflammation in a Transgenic Mouse Model of Alzheimer’s Disease. PLOS ONE.
- Tattelman E., Health Effects of Garlic, Am Fam Physician (2005)
- Shukri, R., Mohamed, S., & Mustapha, N. M. Cloves protect the heart, liver and lens of diabetic rats. Food Chemistry (2010)
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