When they say you shouldn’t medicate with food, what they really mean is that you shouldn’t medicate with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia.
Of course, today’s medicine is a miracle, and these recommendations should not replace your prescriptions or doctor’s advice. But for a few common ailments, consider giving natural remedies a try. Here are a few conditions and some foods that can help.
Anxiety. Have three papers due and are still recovering from a No Doze overdose? Chill out with a steak — the B vitamins found in red meat help regulate the nervous system. The best mix of B vitamins are found in red meat, particularly liver, but other foods that include various B vitamins are seafood, sunflower seeds, black beans, corn, mushrooms and bell peppers. Tryptophan, found in spinach, beans and most famously turkey, as well as magnesium, present in dark chocolate, seeds, beans and most greens, both promote relaxation and better sleep.
Bloating. Tonight you have a hot date but your stomach’s looking eight months pregnant. Save your boyfriend a heart attack and drink some tea. Basil, peppermint, chamomile and ginger teas can all ease the gastrointestinal tumult associated with an upset stomach.
Hangover. If you can do more than groan from your fetal position on the bathroom floor, head to the kitchen. Start guzzling water to rehydrate, and, in between chugs, grab some toast and bananas — the starches will settle your stomach, the potassium will help with hydration and the magnesium will soothe your pounding headache. Add some peanut butter and honey for extra magnesium and better taste.
PMS. If you scoff, “Bah, all I need is chocolate,” when contending with your monthly symptoms, you’d be right. Dark chocolate, especially raw chocolate (cacao), is high in magnesium and manganese, two nutrients that reduce irritability. Other sources for these nutrients are sunflower and pumpkin seeds, peanut butter, pineapple, potatoes and spinach. Calcium and vitamin B-6 will also allay the PMS demons. Get your calcium from low-fat dairy and dark, leafy greens, and score B-6 with meat, oatmeal and fortified breakfast cereal. So yes, a bowl of Lucky Charms with peanut butter and chocolate chips can be medicinal — but best keep it on reserve for Dawn of the Dead-level cases.
Headache. When a tapping pencil sends waves of agony down your neck, it’s time to get your inner fatty on. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish such as salmon and sardines as well as flaxseeds and walnuts, are scientifically shown to reduce headaches. Also potent are calcium and magnesium, especially when taken together. For calcium, eat dairy products, blackstrap molasses, collard greens and kale. For magnesium, go for nuts (especially almonds), halibut, spinach, dark chocolate and potatoes.
Constipation. Don’t give yourself hemorrhoids — just upgrade your diet. Many fruits and leafy green vegetables will help get things moving because of a mix of antioxidants, fiber and juice. The best fruits for constipation are grapes, figs, pears, guavas, papayas and oranges. Three other keys to free-rolling glory are insoluble fiber found in oatmeal, whole grain bread and high fiber cereals such as Kashi GoLean; lubricating healthy fats such as olive oil and almond butter; and water, for hydrating your organs.
Diarrhea. At the more explosive end of the spectrum is the tail end of a night of drinking and Chano’s. In some ways, it’s best to let nature run its agonizing course, but a few foods can help. Starchy vegetables and legumes, especially carrots and lentils, replace lost nutrients and limit fluid loss. The tannin found in pomegranate, blueberries, blackberries and persimmons act as an astringent and will also help. If you aren’t lactose intolerant (a frequent cause of diarrhea), the probiotics in yogurt will strengthen your gut and replace beneficial flora. Translation: hit up Red Mango or Yogurtland.
Toothache. What if it’s Saturday and your mouth is throbbing? To make the wait for a Monday dentist appointment more bearable, chew on some cloves — they are natural pain relievers and have antiseptic properties. Another pain reliever is garlic, especially when sprinkled with salt. Also, for a preemptive strike, chewing on onions kills oral bacteria.
Common cold. You might have heard the old saying, “Feed a cold, starve a fever.” It’s time to get more precise. Indulge your Indian or Thai craving and order takeout. Turmeric, pepper, ginger, lemon and garlic are all great cold relievers. Turmeric is one of the most healing spices in the world — it’s an antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and detoxifier. Garlic is also antibacterial. Vitamin C-rich lemon can shorten the duration of a cold while ginger settles the stomach. In general, strong spices are great for opening up the sinuses. Just keep some tissues handy.
Sunburn. Blame it on falling asleep to good music. Either way, when your sexy summer tan becomes lobster-fied, it’s time to hit up the dairy aisle. To relieve pain, apply full-fat yogurt or a milk-soaked cloth to the skin for 20 minutes, then rinse. Starchy potatoes do the same thing. Prevent blisters by applying avocado, apple cider vinegar or lemon. For a simple cooling effect, apply chilled cucumbers, spa-style.