Honey to improve sleep...olive oil for arthritis...spinach for a better mood. Certain foods have been proven to work better than standard medical treatments—and they are safer, too.
You might be surprised to find how many foods and ingredients that are already in your cupboard can help specific conditions. For details on these and other food cures, our editors turned to Stephen Sinatra, MD, www.DrSinatra.com, cardiologist and founder of Heart MD Institute, an educational platform that promotes complementary treatments for heart disease in Manchester, Connecticut. He is coauthor of The Healing Kitchen (Bottom Line Books). Here are the top food cures that can really help you...
This natural sweetener can help you get more of the sleep you need.
What research shows: Recent research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows that honey increases the activity of serotonin, a "calming" neurotransmitter in the brain. It also sends a signal to the brain to curtail the release of orexin, a substance that promotes alertness during the day and can interfere with falling asleep at night.
How much: One-half teaspoon to one teaspoon 45 minutes to one hour before bed. It can be added to a sliced banana and one-quarter cup of plain yogurt.
More sweet news: A study of more than 900 people found that a dab of honey was more effective than some standard dressings at helping small burns heal more quickly. Cover with gauze, and change the dressing every day. Any type of honey will work.
It’s estimated that 15% of Americans eventually will suffer from depression that is severe enough to require medical attention...a higher percentage will experience milder forms.
What research shows: Up to 38% of people with depression are deficient, or borderline low, in the B vitamin folate. Folate is thought to increase levels of serotonin, the same brain chemical that is boosted by the most widely used antidepressant medications.
How much: The recommended daily amount of folate is 400 micrograms (mcg). That’s about the amount in one cup of raw spinach or any dark green leafy vegetable, such as kale, Swiss chard and mustard greens. You also can get generous amounts of folate in other fresh vegetables, fortified fruit juices and pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
Celery contains the compound apigenin, which dilates blood vessels and can help prevent and treat hypertension. Another chemical in celery, 3-n-butylphthaide, not only relaxes arteries but also reduces levels of adrenaline and other hormones that cause blood pressure to rise.
What research shows: A laboratory study at the University of Chicago found that animals given purified 3-n-butylphthaide for eight weeks had drops in systolic (top number) blood pressure of 12 points.
How much: Four or five stalks of celery daily. That’s enough to reduce blood pressure in most people—it can shift a patient with mild hypertension into the safety zone.
Any form of high-heat cooking for meats, including broiling and grilling, produces heterocyclic amines (HCAs), carcinogens that may increase the risk for breast and colon cancers.
What research shows: Marinating or seasoning meat with rosemary produces two natural antioxidants, carnosol and rosemarinic acid, that destroy HCAs. Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that animals given rosemary extract after being exposed to a carcinogen had less DNA damage and fewer tumors.
How much: Add rosemary, fresh or dried, to marinades and stews...sprinkle it on roasted potatoes and meats.
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish are among the best known anti-inflammatory agents. Many people don’t realize that olive oil has similar effects.
What research shows: People who consume extra-virgin olive oil have less arthritis-related inflammation. This is important because inflammation is what causes pain and stiffness—and, in many cases, subsequent joint damage. Olive oil contains the naturally occurring chemical compound oleocanthal, which blocks the activity of an inflammatory enzyme. A report in Nature showed that extra-virgin olive oil’s anti-inflammatory effects were similar to those of the drug ibuprofen.
How much: One to two tablespoons of olive oil daily (in place of other fats).
Also helpful: Two oranges. A Boston University School of Medicine study found that people with a vitamin C intake of 120 milligrams (mg)—about the amount in two oranges—were three times less likely to have a progression of osteoarthritis of the knee, compared with those who had less vitamin C.
Up to 90% of Americans are deficient in chromium, a mineral that makes the body’s cells more responsive to insulin’s effects.
What research shows: People with diabetes who eat more onions, which are high in chromium, typically have lower fasting blood glucose levels. They also have lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. High levels of triglycerides and LDL increase the risk for heart disease—a serious threat for diabetics.
How much: Aim for one to two servings of chromium-rich foods a day. In addition to onions, other high-chromium foods include brewer’s yeast, sweet potatoes, oysters, beef and tomatoes.
Also helpful: A sprinkle of cinnamon. One study found that people who used cinnamon had blood sugar levels that averaged 20% lower than people who didn’t use it. A compound in cinnamon mimics the effects of insulin even in amounts as small as one-quarter teaspoon two to three times daily.
Nuts are among the most potent remedies for heart health.
What research shows: People who eat nuts up to five times a week can reduce their risk for heart disease by 30% to 50%, according to the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study and other medical trials. People who eat nuts regularly have better heart health even when they eat unhealthy amounts of saturated fat or consume few fruits and vegetables. The omega-3 fatty acids in nuts reduce arterial inflammation and the risk for clots. Nuts also contain oleic acid, which improves cholesterol.
How much: One small handful of nuts daily. Any kind of nut is fine (including peanuts, which actually aren’t a nut), roasted or raw (no salt).
People who suffer from migraines typically have lower-than-normal amounts of magnesium in the brain. Those who increase their consumption of magnesium-rich foods can dramatically reduce these painful headaches.
What research shows: German researchers gave one group of migraine patients magnesium supplements for 12 weeks. Those in a second group were given a placebo. Those taking magnesium had a 41.6% reduction in migraines, compared with a 15.8% reduction for those in the control group.
How much: Try to get 400 mg of magnesium from food daily. Magnesium-rich foods include nuts (one ounce of almonds, 80 mg)...spinach (one-half cup cooked, 78 mg)...and oatmeal (one cup cooked, 58 mg). Caution: If you have kidney disease or kidney stones, check with your doctor before loading up on magnesium.