When Food is as Medicine

Most people have heard the often overused, famous quote by Hippocrates, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Depending on whether you favor conventional medicine or more alternative methods, this quote might leave you with a sour expression or a more pleasant one.

The fact is, modern medicine would have been a gift of the gods to ancient Greeks. We would do well to be thankful for all the boons science has brought us, however, if all we consumed was modern medicine, disease would be the least of our problems. Food is of supreme importance, and no modern doctor worth their salt would tell you otherwise. Generally speaking, we are told by our doctors to eat more vegetables, less meat, and exercise moderately throughout the week, but it requires us to take responsibility for our own bodies and research what produce is best for us, what meat is worst for us, and what exercise is the most beneficial for us–individually. Often we don’t do these things, and many times when we do, we forget to follow through.

The good news is that today can always be better than yesterday. We can will ourselves to change. Health and vitality are our choices. And doctors should in no way make us feel comfortable in our lack of responsibility.

There are times we will need doctors, but who wants to live a life of sickness?

And, it turns out that Hippocrates was a very wise man. Food can be as medicine. A little experimentation can lead to some profound discoveries in the realm of food. Let your own body be the laboratory for your mind as scientist, and you will understand more intimately what foods can heal and what foods can hurt your body.

In my own experimentation with foods, I have found these five to be the some of the best medicines in nature’s own pharmacopeia. In reverse order, they are:

5. Extra Virgin Coconut Oil

The oil produced from the coconut is, next to extra virgin olive oil, the most powerful and versatile of oils to use everyday. But, a clarifying note is needed since not all coconut oils are created equal: “extra virgin” are essential words to look for when buying coconut oil, as a simple “coconut oil” may be hydrogenated, full of trans fats, and essentially a poison to the human body. The extra virgin variety is part of a healthy source of saturated fat, containing medium-chain triglycerides; the oil has been shown in numerous studies to have antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. The antioxidant and antibiotic effects of extra virgin coconut oil are particularly effective against a host of infections, and they support the beneficial bacteria of the gut.¹ This makes it a wonderful cooking oil during the fall and winter seasons when our bodies need an extra boost to defend against colds and flus.

Coconut oil can be used instead of other oils in recipes, or as a substitute for butter. It can also be used on the skin and hair as a safe alternative to lotions and conditioners that are filled with more toxic chemicals. One can even make a daily habit of rinsing their mouth with coconut oil after brushing for 5-10 minutes, which cleanses the teeth and gums and moisturizes the lips.

4. Apple Cider Vinegar

While apple cider vinegar takes more processing than other foods on this list, I believe it deserves more attention than it often receives, and therefore a place here. Full of beneficial vitamins and minerals, ACV is a known body cleanser, a detoxifier. It can be incorporated into a daily routine or used when purging the body during a fast. It can be purchased in most food stores, however, regular apple cider vinegar is not the type I am referencing here. Forgo the common ACVs, particularly ones that look more like clear juice, as real ACV will be a light brown all through, especially if shaken. Look for the words “raw” and “unfiltered,” and of particular importance is the sediment at the bottom of a container of ACV, called “the Mother” that has antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties.²

There are a plethora of uses for ACV, from cooking to body care. My favorite is to add a tablespoon of ACV to sparkling mineral water, as it makes a healthy alternative to beer all with without the toxicity, allergens, or calories.

3. Garlic

This pungent pouch is truly representative of nature’s own pharmacy. Old and commonplace, garlic is used practically worldwide in all types of cuisines, yet only when it is examined closely do we find out why. Literally thousands of studies have documented garlic’s medicinal power. “Garlic is lipid-lowering, antithrombotic, anti-blood coagulation, antihypertensive, antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiviral, and anti-parasitic,” says Dr. Jonny Bowden.¹ In other words, garlic can hold its own when compared to many conventional medicines–all without toxic side effects. From cardiovascular health to certain types of cancer, garlic fights for you on so many fronts that it’s almost easier to say what it doesn’t do.

Like the friend that smells odd and looks out of place everywhere but the woods, garlic is a food that can be hard to acquire a taste for, especially if you grew up without it. The good news is that if you keep cooking with garlic, experimenting, it can become a food that adds a special nuance to meals; in fact, you might end up craving garlic for the nourishing and satisfying effects that only this spice can provide.

2. Turmeric

A more vibrant member of the ginger family, Turmeric is most often found in traditional Indian cooking and Ayurvedic medicine (which goes back 5,000 years), but it is becoming a powerhouse ingredient here in the West in recent years. And for good reason. It turns out that the beauty of turmeric comes from a particular compound called curcumin, which gives it the characteristic yellow-golden color. Curcuminoids have been shown to be extremely anti-inflammatory, all with no side effects, which makes turmeric a wonderful ingredient for people with arthritis and other inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. However, we are really just beginning to scratch the surface of the turmeric/curcumin potential. Numerous studies have indicated that curcumin has anti-tumor effects as well, making it valuable for anyone battling cancer.¹ Of course, there is much more research to be done, but turmeric has potential that most other foods cannot even come close to providing.

Turmeric is available in many different forms, from the root itself that can be used in cooking or in making various teas to supplements that can reduce pain as well as provide a host of other benefits to one’s whole body. Researching for yourself is key to finding new information, or perhaps even a new recipe that might become a family favorite.

1. Wheatgrass

If you have never heard of wheatgrass as food before you may be thinking that this is a singularly odd item to list as number one; after all, grass is everywhere–why don’t you see people in parks gathering grass to bring home? Well, we aren’t referring to the majority of grasses out there, certainly not lawn grass (most of which has been treated with toxic chemicals). Wheat grass is a member of the cereal family of grasses, the same variety that, once matured, we harvest the grain from to make wheat. Before wheat matures it is a tiny seed that sprouts a single translucent tendril up to the source of life in the Sun. After about a week or so, the grass is able to be cut and juiced. This is when the food becomes medicinal for humans.

Wheatgrass juice contains a plethora of essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, but what really makes it stand out, especially in our modern world, is the chlorophyll content–what gives plants their green pigment. The concentration of chlorophyll in wheatgrass juice translates into enzyme activity in humans, which in turn helps to cleanse and detoxify the body. Dr. Arthur Patek, during 20 years of research, discovered that the magnesium molecule of chlorophyll enhanced the production of globin in the human bloodstream, which means that as the blood is purified and restored the whole body can become reenergized in a similar way to blood transfusion.³  This process is crucial to human health, and in our urbanized and industrialized world today we are exposed to many more toxins than our ancestors were, from the food we eat to the air we breathe and the objects we come in contact with. Proper detoxification leads to health, yet when the body becomes overwhelmed by the assault of toxins it is only a matter of time before disease results.

Nevertheless, while wheatgrass does cleanse and detoxify the body, it is not a panacea. Anyone who tells you it is is overzealous and misleading. What wheatgrass can do is give one the clean foundation to build a healthy body and live a healthier life. According to Loraine Dégraff, “anyone looking to reap the total benefits of a wheatgrass regimen must be willing to adopt an entire health-promoting lifestyle.”³ While wheatgrass falls short of elixir status, it is still one of the best ways on earth to give your body a fresh start.

Bonus food!

I recently discovered this fruit, which has become a tremendous favorite due to its taste and incredible health benefits.


A time consuming fruit to enjoy, Pomegranate is often overlooked yet it contains a treasury of goodness within its unique interior. While wisdom has long known the medicinal value within this fruit, science has only recently discovered why this is so. According to a 21st century study, Dr. Michael Aviram informs us that, “pomegranate juice contains the highest antioxidant capacity compared to other juices, red wine, and green tea,” even up to two to three times the potency found in the green tea and red wine varieties that used to top the charts of antioxidant activity.¹ Studies undertaken from India to the U.S. have revealed more benefits in the prevention of heart disease and even cancer, while studies done in Israel show promising results that pomegranate juice may help to slow the aging process.¹

The edible part of pomegranates are the seeds within, so don’t go biting into any like an apple. Once properly picked, pomegranate seeds can be eaten as is, tossed in salad or fruit bowls, and even blended into smoothies. The juice, available in many stores, is also a viable option for those seeking to obtain the benefits of the pomegranate; however, having tasted both, I find the seeds fresh picked to contain a more robust, purer flavor than the juice one finds in supermarkets.

While these are some of my favorite medicinal foods, I am always on the search for new foods to try on my palate. Thoughts, ideas, etc.? I’d enjoy hearing from you in the comments section below!

Eat well!


1. Bowden, Jonny. The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. Fair Winds Press. 2007.

2. Brandon, Britt. Apple Cider Vinegar for Health. Adams Media. 2014

3. Dégraff, Loraine R. The Complete Guide to Growing and Using Wheatgrass. Atlantic Publishing Group Inc. 2011. (33-34, 126)


photo credit: Sara Dubler

2 thoughts on “When Food is as Medicine

  1. Hi Stephen: Unfortunately, coconut oil or milk is loaded with saturated fat and even though it’s a “good” fat, some peeps (like myself) have a GI aversion to saturated fat.
    I’ve been told that “wild rice” is not actually rice at all, but a grass. Is this what you mean by “wheatgrass” or are they two different things?
    BTW, love your articles.
    Carol Rowe


    1. Hi Carol, thanks for your input! Thankfully coconut oil isn’t the only oil out there. Perhaps olive oil would be a better choice for you? Finding the right foods can be a challenge, not everyone responds the same.

      Wild rice is also a grain, longer and darker than regular brown rice, and once cooked it has a stronger, coarser texture. Wheatgrass on the other hand is grown from wheat berries, the same type we use to make breads, and once the grass is a week or so old it is cut and juiced. It’s hard to find in regular grocery stores, but if you’d like to try it out there are some juice bars in the area that serve it up fresh!


      S. J. Dever


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