June 9, 2010

Food is the Best Medicine.

Find your next Rx in the produce section.

My grandfather’s chicken soup can cure just about anything.

But don’t think I’m being sentimental. His soup’s power to kick illness has more to do with the 16-20 cloves of garlic that he dumps into each pot.

Sixteen to 20. No exaggeration. My grandmother literally had to wrestle the cloves from his cutting board during the making of one batch, because the kitchen smelled so pungent. Each swallow of his soup burns, satisfyingly, at the back of the throat, expelling any trace of winter chill.

There’s science to back this up. Garlic, it turns out, is anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-fungal. It eliminates toxic chemicals from the body—everything from snake venom to lead and cadmium. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, garlic stimulates circulation and reduces fever (some Buddhist practitioners avoid it altogether, as it’s been known to fire the passions). The vegetable has been used for thousands of years by cultures around the world to treat chronic illnesses and diseases.

With all of the attention we pay towards flavor and diet, towards the preparation and serving and enjoying of a meal, we often ignore this aspect of food. That with every bite, we’re not only feeding ourselves, but also treating—and hopefully preventing—medical conditions.

This is the angle that Rebecca Woods’ The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia takes on food preparation. Her book, which is sweetly and delicately illustrated by our favorite foodie, Peggy Markel, is a reference guide to the healing and medicinal properties of every veggie, grain and legume. (No meat to be found here, so the book is perfect for veg-heads.) Included is information on the best ways to find, store and prepare each one.

Rebecca Wood is herself a testament to the healing power of food. She reversed her own third-stage cervical cancer, solely through natural methods, with a heavy emphasis on diet. While the treatment of serious conditions should obviously be handled by a trained medical practitioner, resources such as The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia are a great way for us to feel more educated, and empowered to take an active role in our health. It’s amazing to me that traditional Western medicine not only ignores the role of diet in the healing process, but often serves patients meals that may actually hinder their recovery. When my soup-making Grandfather was hospitalized for a heart attack in 1996, he was served white bread, scrambled eggs, bacon and chocolate Jello for breakfast each morning.

It’s important that this information isn’t lost in the shuffle of modern-day health care, and I’ve been doing my part by paging through, reading the book little by little. There’s something incredibly soothing about Rebecca’s voice, and Peggy’s drawings give each ingredient its own personality. Never again will I look at a salad and think “vegetables”. I’ll think, “Carrots. Nourishing to the liver and stomach. Considered an aphrodisiac by the ancient Greeks.” Or, “Brocolli. Boosts the immune system and treats eye inflammation. Great source of vitamin C.”

I approached the book as I would any other reference tool—looking up the ingredients that I eat most frequently, to learn more about their health benefits, and then paging, at random, to learn a few new facts about vegetables and grains that I didn’t even know existed.

I’m planning to keep a copy of the book on my kitchen counter, to look up the ingredients that I use at each meal. It may take me a while, but meal by meal, ingredient by ingredient, I think I’ll learn a lot.

Find The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia on Amazon.

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