Tag Archives: food as medicine

Dr. Kaycie’s Top Ten Detoxifying Foods

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Strawberries are high in bioflavonoids that protect the cells of the liver. The whole plant can also be made into a medicine that is good for restoring digestive health.

Spring has finally arrived!  I don’t usually find myself waiting until the end of May to say this, but I think the snows are finally behind us, and the garden is planted.  Now that the weather has warmed somewhat, our bodies are also starting to warm and be ready for the exercise and outdoor activities of summer.  In addition to getting our bodies into ideal shape for the summer through exercise, we can also help to boost vitality through cleansing.  For more information on what spring cleaning and detoxification is, you can look at my article “What is Detoxification?” from last spring. There are many detoxification protocols out there, and finding the right one will depend on your constitution, health status, and commitment to the program.  However, an easy first step is to start incorporating detoxifying foods into each meal using the basic theory of detoxification: improve elimination of waste through optimizing the function of the digestive tract, urinary tract, skin and liver.  Here is a list of my top ten favorites:

 

10. Garlic

Garlic can help to reduce blood triglycerides and improve circulation and sweating to remove wastes via the skin. It also helps stimulate digestion.

9.  Apples

Apples are a great source of insoluble and soluble fibers.  The insoluble fiber helps to move waste through the digestive tract. When cooked, the pectins found in apples help to absorb excess cholesterol, delay absorption of sugars into the bloodstream, and bulk the stool.

8.  Dandelion Greens

Dandelion greens, which are commercially available in many areas, act as a diuretic to help remove wastes through the urine.  The beauty of dandelion greens is that they also replace any minerals lost through the process of diuresis.

7.  Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes are thought of as one of the least allergenic foods available.  Unless you have an intolerance to all carbohydrate, sweet potatoes are a good source of lower glycemic carbohyrates that help to soothe the digestive tract and decrease inflammation.

6.  Cilantro

Cilantro and its seed coriander are calming to the digestion and help to dispel gas.  Cilantro also helps to convert blood cholesterols into bile which can aid in reducing blood cholesterol levels.  Cilantro extracts have also been shown to remove mercury from a water solution, so there is speculation about whether cilantro could aid in mercury detoxification when consumed.

5.  Seaweed

Hijiki, Wakame, and Kombu (all types of seaweed) have all been shown to increase breakdown of fats in the body.  Seaweeds are also a good source of iodine, which is necessary for proper thyroid function.  These two actions together help to boost metabolism and removal of excess fats from the system.  Traditional Chinese Medicine also regards seaweed as a detoxifier which mobilizes heavy metals and turns them into inorganic salts that can easily be excreted through the urine.

4.  Lemon

Lemon and lemon juice are wonderfully bitter and sour.  Taken especially before meals, they help to start the digestive process early, which makes the digestive absorb nutrients and eliminate wastes more effectively.

3.  Kale

Kale and other members of the cabbage family contain indoles, which help the body metabolize and remove excess steroid hormones such as estrogen. Members of this family have also been found to repair damage to the liver.  Kale is also high in fiber and chlorophyll to increase energy and optimize digestion.

2.  Flax

Flaxseed is high in omega 3 fatty acids, which help to balance cholesterol and reduce inflammation.  Even more important for detoxification though is the high concentration of soluble fibers that help to trap excess fats and cholesterol, bulk the stool, and ensure effective elimination of waste via the digestive tract.

1.  Beets

There is extensive research supporting the protective and regenerative effect of beets on the cells of the liver.  This effect has even been seen with molasses derived from sugar beets.  The pigments in beets have also been shown to have a protective effect against the formation of cancer cells. Beets are also great for assisting with effective waste elimination through the bowels.

Congee Takes Away the Chill of Winter

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In my first year of medical school, I had a delightful roommate who was of Vietnamese descent, born in China, and raised in her family’s restaurant in San Jose, California.  Lucky for me, she was a wealth of food knowledge and was happy to share.  From her, I learned about sticky rice steamed in banana leaf, hot pot, geoduck, how to efficiently dispatch a live crab in the kitchen sink, and the magic of congee.

During the winter, the body craves warming foods that provide optimal, easy to assimilate nutrition.  In Chinese medicine, there is a concept called “digestive fire”, which roughly equates to your body’s ability to break down food and absorb it properly.  The bigger the fire, the better you can digest.  I like the metaphor of fire because it seems to parallel how our bodies generally are able to digest:  in the summer when the weather is warm, we can break down much more complex foods and do better with raw fruits and vegetables.  In the winter, we lack that external heat source and so we must apply heat to our foods to assist our digestive fire. Congee is the ultimate digestive assistant.

So what is congee?  Well, more than a specific recipe, congee is more of a concept.  The basic rule of making congee is you take a pulse (most often rice, but millet, wheat, barley, sorghum, mung beans, or other grains or legumes can be used), add a high proportion of water, and cook it for a long time over low heat.  Congee is a traditional food all over Asia, India, and even Portugal, and has historically been viewed as a medicinal food in all of these cultures.  Depending on taste preference, regional specialty, and the specific medicinal quality desired, other foods, herbs, and spices are added.  It can be served for any meal, and depending on your preference can be served sweet or savory.  Many Indian congees are served with milk and jaggery (palm sugar) but many Asian congees contain meats, pickled vegetables, ginger, eggs or crispy fried onions. (for more information, Wikipedia gives a great description of traditional congees across the world).

In my practice, I often recommend making congee as a winter food to bolster nutrition.  However, it is an especially good food for people who are recovering from extended illness or have significant digestive problems.  For patients who seem to “get sick no matter what I eat”, congee is a great place to start.  In people who are needing the simplest, easiest nutrition possible, white rice congee is appropriate. If your digestion is rather intact, brown rice should be fine.

In his book Healing with Whole Foods Paul Pitchford talks about many foods that can be added to congee to boost its healing properties.  A few of the most useful options I’ve found are: Using chicken or mutton broth instead of water is recommended for wasting illnesses and injuries, and duck or fish broth are supposed to relieve swelling. Ginger is warming to the organs and improves digestive function.  Fennel and black pepper also assist in reducing gas and improve digestion. Brown rice is good for nursing mothers and general nutrition, while sweet rice is more specific for recovering from digestive illnesses.

Chicken and Ginger Congee
Use bone-in chicken for this recipe.  The skin, bones, and connective tissue are rich in hyaluronic acid, chondroitin, and other building blocks of a healthy digestive tract and properly functioning immune system.

1 cup rice
2-inch piece of fresh ginger root, sliced thinly
1 chicken cut into parts
1 onion or 2 shallots, thinly sliced
6 cups water
1 tsp salt
soy sauce, sesame oil, and cilantro for serving

8-10 hours before eating, place rice, ginger, chicken, onion, and water into a large soup pot on low heat or ideally a slow cooker on low. When you come back 8-10 hours later, you should have a thick porridge.  Remove chicken parts from the porridge.  Remove the skin, then remove the meat from the bones and shred.  Skim the top of the porridge if necessary.  Ladle porridge into bowls and top with shredded chicken.  Garnish with soy sauce, sesame oil, and cilantro to taste.