5 foods that heal

Health writer Matt Mostyn chooses ingredients everybody ought to love for their nutritional benefits and medicinal properties

It’s no coincidence that as diets have shifted from natural whole foods towards processed, chemically treated fatty and sugar-laden substitutes, food-related illnesses and diseases have skyrocketed. But food can be just as much a friend as a foe, particularly when used as a safe, powerful form of medicine. Here are a few key ingredients you may want to keep to hand in your kitchen:


This unassuming-looking knobbly root has been proven to have a number of extraordinary properties. Not only is it an anti-inflammatory – making it excellent for treating rheumatoid arthritis – it’s also an antioxidant, antiseptic, analgesic (pain-reliever), immune-booster and anti-carcinogen. Among other benefits, turmeric is championed for helping to maintain healthy cholesterol levels, detoxify the liver and improve both brain function and digestive health.


In a pan, combine twice the amount of water to ground turmeric and add a grind of black pepper (which boosts the potency of the active compound curcumin, found in turmeric). Simmer, stirring occasionally, until a paste forms. Add a teaspoon of the paste to hot milk sweetened with honey and flavoured with coconut oil.


These immensely popular seeds originate from Mexico, with history showing they were highly prized for providing fuel during long-distance journeys or in battles; in fact, chia seeds were once eaten by Aztec warriors for energy and endurance. Beyond this, they provide a host of other benefits.

They’re an exceptional source of fibre (both soluble and insoluble) and help create a gelatine-like substance in the stomach that drastically improves bowel function. Rich in protein and antioxidants and believed to protect the heart by regulating cholesterol, chia seeds are also instrumental in boosting the metabolism and reducing the onset of diabetes.


Soak chia seeds in fruit juice or milk overnight. Add grated apple, nuts and seeds then top with natural yogurt and a drizzle of honey for a great start to the day.


Oats contain beta-glucans, a form of soluble fibre that slows down the absorption of carbohydrates into the blood stream and guards against spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. This has several key benefits: it ensures you feel fuller for longer – thus reducing the desire to snack – stops the body from producing and storing fat and helps lower cholesterol levels.

Recent studies have also shown that oats can help prevent cardiovascular disease and the development of diabetes, as well as regulating blood pressure. To get the maximum effect, choose fibre-rich whole oats, or even better, steel-cut oats. Eat them regularly and ideally at breakfast.


Cover oats with your favourite nut milk, stirring in a little honey or agave syrup and a squeeze of lemon juice. Leave overnight, then add chopped pears and a sprinkling of cinnamon to serve.


Honey has been used for medicinal and nutritional purposes since ancient times, when it was valued for its antibacterial and antiviral qualities. As a natural sweetener, honey can take the place of processed sugar in cooking.

Thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, there is also evidence to suggest honey can be used topically to reduce itching from insect bites and stings. While it won’t cure a cough or cold, a warming honey, lemon and ginger drink will help to keep you hydrated, soothe a sore throat and loosen nasal congestion.


Combine water, honey, lemon juice and roughly chopped ginger in a pan set over a medium heat. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, then strain through a sieve into a cup.


Aromatic ginger has long been recognised for its health benefits, not least its ability to ease digestive issues and alleviate stomach pain, as well as relieve nausea and dizziness. Fresh ginger is an excellent source of potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure levels and allows the nervous system to function efficiently, while ground ginger contains manganese, which contributes to the normal function of connective tissue in the body.


For a healthy, low-fat dinner, wrap white fish, sliced ginger, garlic and lime and soy sauce in a foil parcel. Steam in the oven and serve with wilted greens.