We've been watching food trends for a while, and we see that people are becoming more interested in what they eat, where it comes from, how it's produced, and whether it's good for them. The trends show that more and more people now view food as preventative medicine for the mind and body.
It's no longer enough to stay away from processed foods, excessive sugar or salt, trans fats, and ingredients that have been declared dangerous to your health. There is a constantly updated list of foods that are good for preventing certain types of disease.
Probiotics are available in supplement form, but the increase in popularity of fermented foods is a clear indicator that many people prefer to get what they require from their food. Fermented foods and drinks like sauerkraut, pickles, kombucha, kefir, and yogurt provide the body with good bacteria, which helps digestion of food, fights off harmful bacteria, produces B and K vitamins, and improves overall gut health.
Blueberries and various other berries have always been popular, but now they reign supreme as important antioxidant sources. Antioxidants protect your body from potentially harmful molecules known as free radicals, which can accumulate and raise the rate of heart disease, cancers, type 2 diabetes, and many other chronic diseases. Fortunately, eating a diet rich in antioxidants can help reduce the risk of these chronic diseases. In addition to berries, other foods rich in antioxidants include spinach, kale, beans, and my favorite, dark chocolate.
Say Omega-3, and many people think of fish and fish oil. However, fish is only one source of this heart-healthy nutrient. Other sources include ancient grains, avocados, nuts, hemp and chia seeds, beans, winter squash, and green leafy vegetables. Many of these items have become increasingly popular in the last few years, and for good reason. Heart health is not the only physical benefit of Omega-3s. They are believed to fight auto-immune diseases and inflammation. They are also supposed to aid brain health during pregnancy and fight depression, anxiety, ADHD, and lessen the effects of Alzheimer's.
The popularity of mushrooms has grown exponentially in the last few years to the point that you can purchase mushroom powders to be added to coffee or tea. You can also purchase grow kits online, and the foragers may soon be fighting over them in urban and suburban areas. Mushrooms have long been considered a superfood and have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, but there is new data linking mushrooms to preventing and treating breast cancer.
As we learn more about the health benefits of the food we eat, there are many to mentor us along our journey. For example, Alexandra Levitzke, owner of Bluff City Gardens, started growing her food in suburban Chicago. The garden produced more than her family could consume sustainably. Looking for ways to preserve her food, Alexandra paid homage to her ancestors and began fermenting various items.
She began selling some of her products at farmer's markets (including the Mill River Marketplace). As a way to introduce potential customers to fermented food, Alexandra fermented carrots. Her customers got the health benefit with a more palatable flavor. Once accustomed to the taste, she was able to introduce them to kimchi and other fermented products. "The experience has to be enjoyable," she said. "Eating healthy food should not be a chore."
This is only the tip of the iceberg on the topic of food as medicine. It has become a field of its own with books, websites, and nutritionists dedicated to the subject who make a living off of a vast following around the world. While many people believe that what you eat is either medicine or poison, they don't always agree on which foods are medicine vs. poison. This is especially true of grains and legumes. Just remember, you are what you eat!
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