Twenty Foods That Are Not Only Fuel, They're Medicine
Updated: Jan 2
Ever wonder why doctors tell you to avoid certain foods when you're prescribed a medication? In some instances, it's because those foods inhibit the absorption of or work to reverse the effects of medications. But, more often than not, it's because certain foods enhance the effects of prescribed drugs. So why aren't we prescribed food? And why are we so willing to invest our hard-earned money in medications and not meals?
This article is not intended to convince you to stop taking prescription medications in favor of changing your diet. This article is for those on the precipice. The pre-diabetics...the slightly hypertensive...the people with borderline hyperlipidemia...those who need to lose 30 or more pounds to get to a healthy BMI or a healthy weight.
The foods listed below really are the prescription for a healthy lifestyle. Most of the foods listed are readily available, although a few may require ordering online, trips to specialty markets or purchase as a health supplement rather than the food itself.
One of the more difficult to find as a whole food are Jerusalem artichokes. Jerusalem artichokes, also available as a dietary supplement, have been used to treat hypothyroidism and diabetes. The inulin fiber the Jerusalem artichoke contains is a prebiotic fiber that can help with regulating the bowels, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, reduce cholesterol and protect against certain cancers.
Cranberries are iodine-rich, as is basil (St. John's Wort). Iodine is a necessary component for your thyroid make it's hormones. The antioxidants in cranberries treat inflammation in the body and can keep some types of cancer cells from multiplying. A 2019 study of basil in diabetics showed basil can reduce high blood sugar levels as well, and, since diabetes can cause hypothyroidism, routinely using basil in your diet supports both conditions before they can become a problem.
Coconut oil stimulates the thyroid and helps correct autoimmune disorders. It also protects against liver disease and increase dental health (through oil pulling), even improving gingivitis.
Mushrooms are full of vitamin D and antioxidants associated with stimulating the thyroid, inflammation reduction and supporting good bone health.
Ashwagandha, ginseng, and cordyceps mushrooms contain adaptogens that promote adrenal health. The adrenal glands have a direct effect on the thyroid in the hormonal cascade that occurs to stimulate the thyroid. So, by enhancing the health of the adrenals, you also enhance thyroid health and hormone production.
Eating a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products and low in saturated fat and cholesterol can lower high blood pressure by up to 11 mmHg. Examples of eating plans that can help control blood pressure are the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and the Mediterranean diet.
Potassium in the diet can lessen the effects of salt (sodium) on blood pressure. The best sources of potassium are foods, such as fruits and vegetables, rather than supplements. Aim for 3,500 to 5,000 mg a day, which might lower blood pressure 4 to 5 mm Hg.
Red onions contain bio-active sulfur-containing compounds that help lower cholesterol levels and prevent the hardening of the arteries. Also, they are useful in the maintenance of a healthy blood pressure level. Interestingly, heated red onions are more effective at reducing cholesterol than raw ones.
Beans and lentils that are high in fiber reduce cholesterol and promote good gut health.
Ginger helps reduce cholesterol, can help regulate blood glucose levels and can boost metabolism. Cinnamon is also an effective metabolism booster and is associated with reduced insulin resistance.
Radishes are full of anti-inflammatories and help decrease insulin resistance, thus helping to lower blood sugars. They are also shown to help lower cholesterol levels.
Oats, as in oatmeal, not only promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut, which promotes good digestion and nutrient absorption, but also are high enough in fiber to reduce LDL (bad cholesterol) by 5-10%
Tree nuts, like pistachios, are full of plant sterols. Plant sterols block the absorption of cholesterol by the blood.
Grapefruit is tremendously high in antioxidants and, as a result, is a great anti-inflammatory, lowers blood pressure and reduces LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
Avocados are high in monounsaturated fat. When eaten regularly, avocados reduce cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease.
Green tea reduces LDL and promotes HDL (healthy cholesterol).
Dark chocolate products containing at least 70% cocoa contain the flavanols that inhibit bad cholesterol from being absorbed by the body.
Kimchi and other fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, sour beer, and pickles help reduce the bloodstream’s LDL cholesterol levels. Because they contain lactobacilli, they also promote good gut health.
Extra virgin olive oil contains polyphenols and cardio-protective monounsaturated fats. These lower cholesterol levels and are associated with weight loss.
Spinach is a nutrient-dense food not only associated with lowering cholesterol, but with guarding against macular degeneration.
Pumpkin is a versatile squash that has so many uses and benefits. Pureed fresh pumpkin is naturally high in fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and antioxidants. Those ingredients are phenomenal for skin and gut health, lowering cholesterol levels and stabilizing blood sugars, can protect against chronic diseases and protect eye health. They have been associated with protecting against stomach, throat, pancreas, breast and other cancers in multiple studies.
Also, pumpkin can be beneficial both inside and out. Pumpkin-based facial masks can brighten skin, improve skin texture and exfoliate on a micro-level.
Apples lower your risk of diabetes, lower cholesterol levels, promote heart health, reduce insulin resistance and their antioxidants have been shown in multiple studies to help keep cancer cells from multiplying, especially in breast, lung and digestive tract cancers. They can also protect against oxidative stress to your brain, helping you to avoid neurological syndromes such as Alzheimer's Disease. Whole, unpeeled apples give you the best health benefits. Apples are, arguably, probably the best food you can incorporate into your diet. An apple a day may very well keep the doctor away.
If you slowly incorporate these foods one by one into your diet, you can potentially avoid the need for prescription medications in the future. Incorporating these foods in your diet can also help eliminate the need for continued use of prescriptions or enable you to have your doses lowered.
Making these foods the center of a well-balanced, well-rounded diet can help heal you, help prevent further cellular damage and help you lose weight.
Again, you should not stop taking your prescribed medications without consulting with your personal health care provider. If you are on thyroid, high blood pressure, diabetic medications, blood thinners, or any other prescription medications, you should discuss dietary changes with your health care provider before making any changes.
If you would care to discuss dietary changes, nutrition, weight management or get recommendations for incorporating healthy changes into your life, please call 402-234-5049 and make an appointment with our Nurse Practitioner, Teresa Champion, APRN.