Food as Medicine: The Essentials

16 February, 2017
Turmeric-tonic making at Jamu Kitchen. Photo credit: Jamu Kitchen

Once considered hocus-pocus or the preserve of plant-eating hippies, the concept of food as medicine, with roots in ancient Chinese medicine, Alchemy and Ayurvedic tradition, is being embraced as a voice of reason in perhaps an overcomplicated food age.

In direct contrast to the now-declining clean-eating movement, foods in this context are not demonised but instead are celebrated for their unique virtues and health-promoting properties. There is also an important element of personalisation present, with a food prescribed for a condition or specific body type, and not a blanket diet recommended for general use.

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Modern food as medicine essentials. Photo credit: Jamu Kitchen

Here in London, Jamu Kitchen first captured our attention, as reported on food-and-drink trends platform Flavour Feed, with their brightly (naturally) coloured and boldly designed line of tonics, including the revitalising turmeric tamarind tonic – known as a potent hangover cure, and ginger lemongrass tonic ­– touted as “proper Lemsip”. Borrowing heavily from Indonesian diet and culture, where these tonics are brewed at home and used to treat all manner of ailments, these tonics are striking a chord with the health-conscious… look out for a chai turmeric tonic coming to in-the-know stockists soon.

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Popular beauty, brain, power, spirit, dream and sex dusts from Moon Juice, LA. Photo credit: Moon Juice

As profiled by globe-trotting designer Aleksandar Taralezhkov in Flavour Feed, in California, Moon Juice provides a somewhat extreme but fascinating apothecary of dusts, plant-protein powders and cosmic provisions for nourishing and elevating body, beauty and consciousness. A temple to food as medicine, the more accessible end includes activated nuts and seeds (for heightened nutrition) and popular superfoods like bee pollen and cacao nibs, while the more abstract stretches to beauty, brain and sex dusts, which are powdered herbal supplements including ingredients like goji, rehmannia, schisandra, shilajit, maca, lion’s mane, rhodiola, and ginkgo. These magical dusts have both loyal fans (like health guru Gwyneth Paltrow) and harsh critics; but the important thing for us is how they’ve harnessed the power of Chinese medicine for the modern age.

Herbs and spices can relieve a myraid of ailments, according to Chinese Medicine

And if this sounds like too much of a leap, all you’ve got to do is glance at the menus on the high street for everyday uses of food as medicine. Pret’s proudly serving mineral-rich bone broths and gut-healthy ferments in the form of miso soups, plus flu-fighting grated ginger for an extra medicinal boost. And as demand grows for foods that heal and serve a specific purpose, menus will adapt to clearly communicate the composite benefits of drinks and dishes. That said, here’s our starter kit for countering three popular ailments at this time of year: with foods for flu-fighting, mood-boosting and vitamin-D-enhancing during these sun-sparse days.



– Bone broth – gives a much-needed mineral boost and contains healing compounds like gut-friendly collagen

– Garlic – great for the immune system and provides congestion relief

– Ginger – amongst a plethora of benefits, contains anti-viral properties, and helps flush-out toxins

– Cumin – alleviates the common cold

– Dark leafy greens – spinach, kale, Swiss chard and rocket contain cold-fighting vitamin C

– Raw onions – contain powerful antimicrobial compounds and antioxidants

– Turmeric ­– antiseptic and a powerful anti-inflammatory

– Blueberries – contains flu-fighting antioxidants

Coconut: modern and ancient superfood favourite



– Dark chocolate – stimulates endorphins, a natural mood-booster

– Whole carbs – carbs boost the production of serotonin, the “feel-good” brain chemical

– Beans, citrus, dark green vegetables – assist neurotransmitters which help improve mood

– Oily fish – like mackerel, tuna, sardines and mussels. Increases dopamine and seratonin

– Saffron – contains anti-depressant properties

– Coconut – just the scent of coconut has been shown to relieve anxiety, and the flesh contains medium-chain triglycerides that improve brain function


Vitamin-D Enhancers:

– Mushrooms – maitake, morel, chanterelle, oyster

– Oily fish – swordfish, trout, herring, salmon, etc.

– Fortified dairy products

– Liver

– Egg yolks

– Red meat