Foods That Heal


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Fresh fruit and vegetables aren’t just rich sources of vitamins and minerals. Many of them possess powerful healing properties that can help prevent and relieve a wide range of ailments. Josie Cowgill Dip.ION turns to the kitchen to find some of nature’s most basic food remedies

It is generally recognised that people who eat diets rich in fresh fruit and vegetables have a significantly reduced risk of developing a host of modern maladies. This is due both to the general alkalising effect that these food groups have on the body, as well as the array of phytochemicals (substances found in plants which have a nutritional or theraputic effect) they contain. This article looks at some of the traditional uses of 10 fruit and vegetables and what modern research has revealed about how and why they are effective in helping to prevent or overcome disease.




Apples and apple juice have long been used in cleansing and fasting programmes, due to their detoxification effects on the liver and gall bladder.

Active Constituents


Needed for energy production and along with tartaric acid, may help inhibit the growth of ferments and pathogenic bacteria in the digestive tract.


A soluble fibre present in the pulp of apples seems to have a marked effect on lowering cholesterol in the blood. Pectin has also been found to protect the body against heavy metals such as lead and cadmium. It does this by chelating these anti-nutrients and removing them from the alimentary canal.


Prevents the oxidation of LDL cholesterol thus lowering the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. A study in which 25 adults added 2 apples a day or 12oz of apple juice to their normal diet found that the oxidation of LDL cholesterol was delayed and in those with borderline high blood cholesterol, healthy cholesterol levels were achieved after just 6 weeks1. The researchers put the results down to phytonutrient content, which functions as potent antioxidants.




The globe artichoke has been traditionally employed to aid liver detoxification. It also stimulates bile, required in fat breakdown. The Jerusalem artichoke (which is no relation to the the globe artichoke) contains other therapeutic benefits. (See below.)

Active Constituents

CYNARIN (globe)

This phytonutrient has been shown to reduce high blood cholesterol and triglycerides, protect the liver from hepatitis infection and to help the liver regenerate if damaged.


This compound contains antioxidant properties and has the ability to stimulate the production of new liver cells.

INULIN (Jerusalem)

A type of fibre known as oligosaccharides. Research on rats2 and pigs3 found that inulin increased the levels of desirable short chain fatty acids and “friendly” bifidobacteria, thus promoting a healthy environment in the bowel. The compound was found to be effective even when eaten in much smaller quantities than would have to be consumed of other fibres, such as bran. Inulin has also been shown to reduce the insulin needs in diabetics when used regularly as part of a balanced diet4. Because it is mildly laxative, it may also help relieve constipation.




In Chinese medicine avocado is used to build the blood, harmonise the liver and lubricate the lungs and intestines. Researchers in Japan found that avocados showed potent activity in slowing liver damage in rats5. It is also an excellent food in satisfying hunger, possibly due to its rich fatty acid content and its ability to reduce the secretion of insulin.

Active Constituents


Needed for the formation of red blood cells.


Essential for proper brain function and required in the break down of fats.


Research shows that eating mono and polyunsaturated fats can make platelets in the blood less sticky and less likely to form clots. Professor Kris-Etherton of Penn State University, USA says “monounsaturated fats can help dissolve clots if they do form.”6 Because the fruit is easily digested, it is good for people who have difficulty assimilating fatty foods.


this vitamin is often low in the vegetarian diet and is important for adrenal function.


is often destroyed in the refining process of many foods but as avocados are eaten unprocessed, their vitamin E content remains intact. Diets high in this antioxidant have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, infertility in men, and Parkinson’s disease. The vitamin E content of avocados is no doubt one of the reasons why they are thought to beautify the skin.




Beetroot is believed to purify the blood, improve circulation, promote menstruation and aid the peristaltic action of the bowel. It stimulates the liver and can be highly detoxifying, so should be consumed in moderation in toxic individuals.

Active Constituents


These antioxidants can help reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol which can damage artery walls and lead to strokes and heart disease.


Beetroot is one of the richest food sources of folic acid and the vegetable is therefore recommended during pregnancy and pre-conceptual care to reduce the risk of spina bifida in the unborn child. Folic acid is also associated in reducing the risk of heart disease, as it helps lower homocysteine levels in the blood. A growing body of evidence suggests that elevated homocysteine, a normal breakdown product of the essential amino acid methionine, is a risk factor for heart disease, independent of other known risk factors such as elevated serum cholesterol and hypertension. (7,8)


This mineral strengthens connective tissue and aids calcium metabolism, important in musculo-skeletal health and reducing the risk of osteoporosis.



A cruciferous vegetable, cabbage has been traditionally used in treating colds, whooping cough (as cabbage soup or tea), worms and parasites (taken with garlic). It can be consumed as raw sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), which cleanses the digestive tract, relieves constipation and enhances intestinal flora. Cabbage leaves can be bruised and wrapped onto leg ulcers, varicose veins, arthritic joints and wounds, or to relieve mastitis.

Active Constituents


Cabbage is a good source of this mineral, particularly in the dark green outer leaves.


Research has shown that cooking cabbage can actually increase the availability of its iron content from 6% to 30%.(9) This may be particularly important for vegetarians as iron from plants is less bioavailable than iron from meat.


This substance has been found to be beneficial in the treatment of ulcers. For stomach or duodenal ulcers drink half a glass of freshly pressed cabbage juice two to three times a day between meals for two weeks. To improve the flavour it can be combined with celery or carrot juice.


Purifies the blood and aids detoxification.


Research has found that cruciferous vegetables, which are rich in the groups of phytochemicals called isothiocyanates, indoles and dithiolthiones, are associated with reduced cancer risk. Studies carried out at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, USA, found that three servings of cruciferous vegetables a week reduced the risk of men getting prostate cancer by half.(10) A study in China of 18,244 males aged 45-64 years found that these compounds, which are released on chewing, to be protective against lung cancer.(11)




Carrots aid the respiratory and digestive systems, help ward off colds and brighten the eyes.

Active Constituents


Also known as pro-vitamin A, beta-carotene provides protection against cancer, poor night vision and ear infections. It is also beneficial to the skin and the mucous membranes, making carrot juice useful in the relief of lung, digestive and urinary tract infections.


Found in carrots, spinach, broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes and celery, these carotenoids work as powerful antioxidants. Research carried out on 1993 subjects between the ages of 30-79 found these compounds to show protective effects against colon cancer. They scavenge free radicals and protect the cell membranes from carcinogens (12).


Aids the utilisation of calcium in the body. Children can eat raw carrot sticks daily to help strengthen teeth and aid lower jaw development.




Celery juice combined with lemon juice is an effective remedy for the common cold where fever is present. The juice is also traditionally used to treat water retention, high blood pressure, urinary tract infections and to clear fermentation in the digestive tract. For appetite control raw celery can be eaten between meals.

Active Constituents


A glass of celery juice a day is recommended for all acidic conditions including rheumatism, arthritis, gout and nerve or tissue inflammation. It is also beneficial in cases where these minerals have been lost such as in heavy sweating or diarrhoea.


These phytonutrients have the ability to stimulate the activity of the detoxifying enzyme glutathione S-transferase (GST). Compounds with this activity are potent anti-tumor agents.(13)



Garlic has been used for its medicinal properties since ancient times. Professor Sherman, an evolutionary biologist at Cornell University Ithaca, New York, USA, believes mankind has evolved to enjoy the taste of garlic and other spices because of their ability to kill food borne bacteria and fungi. It is our ancestors who taught their children and others how to use these spices and so today we have inherited their use through cultural and genetic means.(14, 15)

Garlic is well known for its ability to improve circulation and is valued as a remedy for colds, influenza, whooping cough and bronchitis. Due to its antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties (16), garlic has been shown to inhibit pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella and Helicobacter pylori (implicated in 95% of stomach ulcers) as well as being found effective against fungal infections such as Candida albicans and many viruses.

Active Constituents


Produced by crushing or chewing fresh garlic, in turn produces other sulphur compounds: ajoene, allyl sulphides, and vinyldithiins.(17) Many publications have shown that garlic supports the cardiovascular system. It may mildly lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood, inhibit platelet stickiness (aggregation), and increase fibrinolysis,18 which results in a slowing of blood coagulation. It is mildly antihypertensive19 and has antioxidant activity.(20) Three reviews of double-blind studies in humans have found that garlic lowered cholesterol levels in adults by approximately 10%.(21, 22, 23) Human population studies show that eating garlic regularly reduces the risk of esophageal, stomach, and colon cancer.(24) This is partly due to garlic’s ability to reduce the formation of carcinogenic compounds. Animal and test tube studies also show that garlic and its sulphur compounds inhibit the growth of different types of cancer, especially breast and skin tumors.


These compounds contain antioxidant properties.




Half a lemon squeezed into warm water first thing in the morning is cleansing to the liver and stimulates the bowel and bile production. Both lemons and limes contain antiseptic and anti-microbial properties, as well as stimulating saliva which all help destroy putrefactive bacteria in the intestines and mouth, reduce bad breath and improve digestion. Marinating fish or meat in lemon juice before cooking helps to break down the proteins, thus improving digestibility. Some cultures “cook” fish in lemon juice rather than using heat. Being citrus fruit, the acidity present may make them unsuitable for those with excess stomach acid or ulcers.

Active Constituents


The rind of lemons and limes are particularly rich in bioflavonoids, which can be extracted by simmering them in water for 20 minutes. Bioflavonoids have tremendous strengthening power on blood capillaries, helping to prevent and reverse many circulatory conditions.


a commonly deficient antioxidant mineral.



There are many varieties of lettuce. These include iceberg, Cos, radicchio, Romaine, green and red leaf, escarole and endive. As for the nutritional value of lettuce, most varieties are very similar, although the darker green leaves provide more nutrition than light green or yellow ones. Leaf lettuce is more concentrated in nutrients than head lettuce. Most types of lettuce provide a small amount of folic acid, vitamins A and C, potassium and fibre.

Active Constituents


This vitamin is needed for proper bone formation and blood clotting, in both cases by helping the body transport calcium.


The green pigment present in plants, chlorophyll helps oxygenate the body and boost red blood cell count. This is probably linked to the fact that chlorophyll has similar characteristics to that of haemoglobin, the red pigment in blood.


This compound contains natural sedative properties, which calms the nerves and may aid insomnia.




This article has focused on 10 highly nutritious foods. Obviously it is important to include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in a balanced diet. Eaten raw they contain enzymes and their nutrients remain unharmed. Lightly cooking vegetables may increase the bioavailability of some of their minerals as the fibres that bind the minerals are broken down. Including raw and lightly cooked vegetables in the diet ensures the benefits of both. Fruit and vegetables are best when locally grown, freshly picked and organic where possible, allowing you and the environment to benefit fully.


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Campbell JM, Fahey GC Jr, Lichtensteiger LA, Demichile IJ, Gamels KA. An enteral formula containing fish oil, indigestible oligosaccharides, gum arabic and anti-oxidants affects plasma and colonic phospholipid fatty acid and prostaglandin profiles in pigs. Journal of Nutrition 1997; 127:137-145.
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Stampfer MJ, Malinow R, Willett WC, et al. A prospective study of plasma homocysteine and risk of myocardial infarction in US physicians. JAMA 1992; 268:877–81.
Bostom AG, Silbershatz H, Rosenberg IH, et al. Nonfasting plasma, total homocysteine levels and all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality in elderly Framingham men and women. Arch Intern Med 1999;159:1077–80.
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Cohen JH, Kristal AR, Stanford JL. Fruit and vegetable intake and prostate cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2000; 92(1): 61-68.
London SJ, Jian-Min Yuan, Fung Lung Chung, Yu-Fang Gao et al. Isothiocyanates, glutathione S-transferase MI and TI polymorphisms, and lung cancer risk: a prospective study of men in Shanghai, China. The Lancet 2000; 356: 724-729.
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Hughes BG, Lawson LD. Antimicrobial effects of Allium sativum L. (garlic), Allium ampeloprasum L. (elephant garlic) and Allium cepa L. (onion), garlic compounds and commercial garlic supplement products. Phytother Res 1991;5:154–8.
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Ursell, Amanda. Healing Foods. Dorling Kindersly, 2000.
Harper, Jennifer. Body Wisdom. Thorsons, 1997.
Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods. North Atlantic Books, 1993.

Josie Cowgill is a Dip.ION nutritionist practising in the Ealing area. She is an ION lecturer and second year ION tutor and runs workshops on cookery and nutrition at various venues throughout London.



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