Using food as medicine is something I am passionate about and I was reminded this week by a friend just how many of our food traditions are “medicinal foods” and how intuitive our ancestors were with food.
Before the industrialisation or commercialisation of food became the norm, our society was a lot more connected to food through practices of storing and prolonging the life of the food, or passing down accumulated wisdom about foods and health or healing.
To stop foods from spoiling and give them a longer “shelf life”, milk (from cows, goats and sheep) was cultured into yoghurt or buttermilk while vegetables and fruits were fermented or preserved in different ways. These food practices created natural probiotics (or live bacteria) and by consuming them regularly people were looking after their gut health without understanding the health benefits and science behind the practice.
My friend mentioned she’d made stewed apple and I remembered how this was offered to me by my mother and grandmother at times when I was unwell or recovering from illness. This is another example of food wisdom passed down through generations and is a fantastic example of how our ancestors used food as medicine.
Apples have some extraordinary health benefits and when you look into what we know about the nutrients and medicinal compounds contained in apples, it makes perfect sense that we would use this food in times of illness and digestive upset.
Apples are high in fibre – over 4 grams in one apple – and a diet high in fibre helps to decreases the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, colon cancer and diabetes. Fibre plays a role in helping our gastrointestinal environment stay healthy by providing food for our friendly gut bacteria, helping modulate the different species and keeping a healthy balance of friendly and unfriendly bacteria, and improving our stools.
Pectin, the soluble fibre found in apples, regulates the body’s use of sugars, helps keep you regular and also helps with the elimination of toxins and cholesterol.
Apples also contain compounds called antioxidants, like quercetin and catechin, that help to prevent oxidative stress in the body which can over time damage cells and DNA. Apples also provide anti-inflammatory benefits with the polyphenols they contain protecting our gastrointestinal wall from inflammatory damage.
Raw and fresh is an excellent way to consume apples but you can also make delicious stewed apple and enjoy it as part of your diet or as a “medicinal food”. Have a couple of tablespoons daily if you need to boost your immune system, relieve digestive symptoms like diarrhoea or constipation, abdominal pain and bloating or if you’d like to keep your gut health in top shape!
(Please note some people are allergic to apples, or may be sensitive to the fermentable sugars – FODMAPs – contained in apples and some other fruits and vegetables. It’s important to seek help from a qualified practitioner if you think you have food sensitivities and get some help working out the cause of your symptoms.)
Stewed Apple Recipe
6 cooking apples (Choose organic apples such as Granny Smith, Golden Delicious. I buy organic juicing apples as they are cheaper.)
1/2 cup water (or more)
2 tsp. cinnamon
Wash, peel and core the apples. Take two of the peels, chop into pieces and add to saucepan (the peel is high in soluble fibre pectin). Chop the apples into small evenly sized pieces. Add the apple, water and cinnamon to heavy-bottomed pan, put the lid on and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring regularly. Add a little bit more water if pan becomes dry. Cook until soft and the colour should be a golden brown.For more just double the quantities. The stewed apple will store in the fridge for up to 10 days.
Eat two large dessert-spoons daily as a medicinal food.