I look forward every spring to harvesting and eating stinging nettles (Urtica dioica), an herbaceous wild plant native to Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America. If you’ve ever encountered nettles and suffered their sting, you may be doubtful as to their edibility. Nettle leaves are armed with tiny needle-like hairs filled with irritating compounds, including formic acid (the same compound secreted by red ants). But a simple quick sauté neutralizes the irritants, allowing us to enjoy a tasty, nutritious vegetable with a flavor similar to spinach.
Although it’s often said, “You are what you eat,” it’s more accurate to say, “You are what you absorb.” You may be eating a perfect diet and taking handfuls of supplements, but if you aren’t absorbing what you’re consuming, your body won’t have the raw materials needed for energy, maintenance, and repair. Without proper absorption and assimilation of nutrients, health problems inevitably arise.
One of my favorite botanicals for improving digestion and absorption is black pepper (Piper nigrum), which is the dried fruit of a flowering tropical vine. I find it interesting that black pepper plays such a prominent role in our cuisine, and that so many of us enjoy grinding fresh black pepper onto our food at the table. Along with adding flavor to our plate, we’re taking advantage (perhaps intuitively) of the health promoting benefits of this ancient spice, which include the ability to enhance the absorption of many of the medicinal nutrients in food. Although black pepper is well established in Western cuisine, the use of the spice originates in south India, where it has been appreciated for thousands of years not only for its culinary appeal, but also for its myriad health benefits.
Whether it’s sauerkraut from Eastern Europe, miso from Japan, or yogurt from Bulgaria, cultures worldwide have appreciated the unique benefits of fermented foods for thousands of years. Traditionally, people have used fermentation to preserve foods or to make them more digestible; in the process, they found that these foods also kept them healthy.
The recent detailed U. S. national report on cancer (released every two years) revealed that despite the billions of dollars poured into cancer research and innovative treatments, current approaches are not delivering on their promise of a cure. In fact, progress against the disease is excruciatingly slow, and much of the decline in cancer deaths in the U. S. is the result of decreases in smoking, not cutting-edge technological treatments.
After 25 years of research and working with thousands of people with cancer, I am convinced that the search for a “magic bullet” that will cure or eradicate cancer is misguided. As long as we continue to focus primarily on eradicating cancer, we are missing the bigger picture—the terrain in which cancer evolves.
Vitamin and mineral supplements can be found almost everywhere these days—grocery and convenience stores, big box discount stores, and drugstores commonly carry a plethora of supplements, and online retailers offer thousands of choices of every supplement imaginable. The supplement industry is enormous—it’s estimated that one of every three American adults uses nutritional supplements on a regular basis.
As I write this, our home is filled with the welcoming scent of home-baked cookies. Over the past few weeks, Jen and I (with plenty of help from our children) have been busy baking treats for the holidays, which we enjoy sharing with family, friends, and neighbors. I believe that treats can be a part of a healthy diet, if made with good quality ingredients and eaten in moderation.