Food as medicine


Credit: Louise Lister

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Buy nuts unsalted, and preferably still in their shell. A small cup of mixed nuts contains about 3780 kilojules, most from fat. It’s good fat, but moderation is still required. A handful (about 10) is enough for one serve per day. These good oils are wonderful for your health. So many things will improve – hair and skin, cardiovascular and reproductive systems, immunity and more.


Oats aid the nervous and reproductive systems, strengthen heart muscles and remove cholesterol from arteries and the gastrointestinal tract. They are helpful for indigestion, sexual dysfunction, abdominal bloating, diabetes, nervous tension and dysentery, bone density and renewing connective tissue.


Pulses are an extremely good plant-based source of protein and fibre and among the top 10 foods recommended for longevity. Pulses include kidney, haricot, pinto, navy, lima, butter, adzuki, mung and broad beans, as well as garden peas, protein peas, chickpeas, black eye peas, soy, peanuts and lentils. Soaking pulses overnight before cooking improves digestibility and removes carbohydrates that cause bloating.


Cook quinoa as you would brown rice. Quinoa strengthens the whole body and has the highest protein content of any grain. It contains more calcium than milk, is a very good source of iron, phosphorus and B and E vitamins, and is great for vegetarians. As it grows in popularity, it is becoming unaffordable for the indigenous people of South America. Source locally grown.


Rice expels toxins from the body. It is high in vitamin B, so will help with nervous tension and depression. It replenishes vital energy of the spleen and stomach (improving digestion), and helps to relieve thirst, nausea, diarrhoea and diabetes. Avoid white rice, as it lacks fibre and nutrients. Opt for organic or pesticide-free brown rice. Soak overnight for easier digestion.

Sesame seeds

A great source of calcium. They lubricate the intestines, easing constipation. They strengthen the liver and kidneys, ease a dry cough and help with lower back pain. Tahini, a sesame seed paste, is also very high in calcium. The seed husks contain oxalic acid, preventing calcium absorption, so buy hulled tahini.

Tempeh & tofu

Tempeh is traditionally made from cooked soybeans bound with a mould that increases resistance to infection. It contains just under 11 per cent protein. It contains omega 3 fatty acids, and if made right it contains vitamin B12. Tofu involves combining soybeans with a solidifier like lemon juice and is low in kilojoules and high in nutrients.

Umeboshi plums

Highly alkaline and antibiotic, these salty pickled fruits ease diarrhoea, dysentery and indigestion, as well as food poisoning, constipation, too much or too little stomach acid, motion sickness and headache. They neutralise sugar, alcohol and toxins and are said to help prevent stroke. They help to remove worms from your body and have a positive effect on the liver. You can also get umeboshi vinegar and paste.


Vitamin A is found in kale, spirulina, egg yolks, and red, orange and yellow fruits and vegies. Used for eyesight, bone growth, tissue repair, skin and dental health, and to fight infection. B vitamins are in leafy dark green vegetables, bran, wholegrains, legumes, seeds and avocado. Good for fatigue, depression, constipation and heart function. They are destroyed by cooking and ingesting sugar, coffee, nicotine and alcohol. Vitamin B12 aids the nervous system and is found mostly in trout, mackerel and eggs. Vegetarian options are miso, tempeh, shitake mushrooms, sourdough bread and sea vegetables. Vitamin C is found in citrus, chia seeds, strawberries, rockmelon, capsicum, leafy dark green vegetables, seeds and beans. Used for formation of collagen, wound healing, protection of other vitamins, protection against colds, allergies, fatigue and the effects of ageing. It increases immunity and sperm mobility. Vitamin D is harnessed through exposure of skin to sunlight. It’s also found in mushrooms, oily fish, egg yolks and leafy greens and promotes healthy bones and teeth, heart function and calcium metabolism. Vitamin E is found in nut and seed oils and is useful for fertility, good skin, circulation and as an antioxidant. Vitamin K is useful for blood clotting, and relief from heavy menstruation, period pain and morning sickness. The best source is our own intestinal flora, so keeping it healthy is important. Also in leafy greens, yoghurt and egg yolks.


Just 30 ml of freshly squeezed wheatgrass juice contains as much nutritional value as 1 kg of fresh green vegetables. A complete food, it is an abundant source of B vitamins and includes vitamins C and E and carotene. These destroy free radicals, which can lead to the degeneration of the immune system and body. The bio-available chlorophyll in wheatgrass juice protects us from carcinogens like no other food or medicine.


Yeast is highly nutritious, containing all the B vitamins and 16 of the 22 amino acids. It’s high in phosphorus and contains at least 14 minerals. Be sure to buy a food-grade nutritional yeast known as ‘primary’ yeast. Bakers’ yeast contains live cells that cause depletion of essential vitamins and other essential nutrients. These live cells are not present in nutritional yeast.


Zinc is vitally important for prostate gland function, reproductive organ health, acne control, collagen formation, protein synthesis, healthy immune systems, wound healing, acuity of taste and smell, liver protection from chemical damage, and bone formation. Helpful foods are wheatgerm, miso, pumpkin seeds, legumes, mushrooms, soybeans, sunflower seeds and wholegrains.

This is an extract from Elixir: How to use food as medicine by Janella Purcell, $29.99, Allen & Unwin.

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