As a physician who integrates modern medicine with Eastern practice, I love that the benefits of so many ancient powerhouse foods are now backed by scientific research.
These foods have been used for thousands of years, but now we are realizing just how important they really are for our health. If you want to optimize your digestion, cool your body's chronic inflammation, and balance your hormones, here are the foods I recommend eating every week:
1. Cinnamon and pepper
Add these spices to your sweet and savory cooking at least three times a week to aid digestion, reduce bloating, and help manage stress in your body.
Why pepper? Black pepper has antibacterial properties. It's also rich in manganese, iron, potassium, chromium, vitamin C, vitamin K, and fiber. It stimulates our taste buds, signaling hydrochloric acid secretion and improving digestion. Bonus: The outer layer of peppercorn stimulates breakdown of fat cells.
Cayenne and other hot peppers also have capsaicin, which relieves aches and soreness, improves circulation, and aids heart health.
As for cinnamon, it's one of the richest sources of antioxidants. I love it because it reduces inflammation and lowers blood sugar and triglyceride levels. It's also a good source of manganese, iron, and calcium.
How to use it: My favorite way to include these is in chai tea. The blend of medicinal herbs—like ginger, cinnamon, clove, cardamom, and black pepper—make chai a healing powerhouse.
Turmeric has an active ingredient called curcumin, which has strong anti-inflammatory effects, which may be comparable to potent anti-inflammatory drugs. The great thing is that it aids in digestion, too, reducing flatulence, bloating, and indigestion.
How to use it: I love using it in Indian cooking, like soups and stews, as well as in my gluten-free turmeric garlic naan.
3. Chia seeds
Chia seeds have long been prized in South American cultures for their ability to sustain energy. In fact, chia literally means "strength" in Mayan language.
In modern medicine, we also love it because of it offers lots of omega-3s, which support mental and behavioral health, lowers inflammation, and helps with diabetes. You've probably heard of the traditional sources of omega-3, like fish, but chia seeds are a great source as well. It's even better than flax for vegans or vegetarians who don't consume fish.
How to use it: Chia seed pudding, of course! Mix a half cup of coconut milk with two tablespoons of chia seeds, and blend it up. Top with nuts and berries.
Ginger has been used for over 5,000 years ago in Asian cultures for its medicinal properties. It contains gingerol, a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It's an ancient aid for digestion (speeding up stomach emptying), muscle pain, and cognitive function. It also may have anti-diabetic properties and has been shown to lower fasting blood sugar.
How to use it: To incorporate more ginger into your life, drink it in a tea, or grate it into just about anything: stir fries, vegetables, soups, burgers, roasts, eggs, muffins, oatmeal, and desserts. You can also add a grated piece to green drinks and smoothies as well as to the jar when you're pickling or culturing vegetables.
5. Fenugreek seeds
This herb has long been used in ancient medicine for its dramatic effects on constipation, reflux, and improving blood sugar control. It's also considered a natural aid for boosting breast milk in new moms.
How to use it: The best way is to sprout them. Here's how: Soak the seeds in water. Then, two to three hours later, drain the water and put seeds between two moist paper towels. Put the towel and seeds in an airtight container, such as a Mason jar. They will be sprouted the next night or the morning after. Take one heaping tablespoon each morning.