A Prescription for Produce?

Why hospitals are beginning to recommend the kind of remedy you can find at the farmer’s market.

The Mayo Clinic recently estimated that a staggering 70 percent of Americans are on prescription drugs. Which makes it especially nice to know that some docs have started scribbling a different kind of Rx on their note pads: one for fresh produce. 

The Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program—which has launched in places like Lincoln Medical Center and Harlem Hospital Center in NYC and Unity Health Care/Upper Cardozo Health Center in D.C.—prescribes "Health Bucks" to be redeemed at local farmers' markets. The goal is to reinforce the idea that "feeling better" can be as simple as eating better, explains Jennifer Cook, a clinical nutritionist involved in the program. 

After all, filling up on the right foods provides your body the best armor against disease, the vitamins and minerals it needs to age well, and the nutrients that help your brain and organs perform at their peak. Scientists and doctors have long known the medicinal power of foods, and while standard medicine has it's place, going back to the basics can do wonders, too.

Add these to your shopping list to strengthen your body from the inside out.
 
For a Healthy Heart: Garlic
“The protective effect is mostly derived from garlic’s high phytochemical content,” says Cook. Animal studies have linked a regular garlic intake to more heart-protecting antioxidants in the bloodstream, too.

For a Healthy Brain: Avocado

“You hear about avocado as a superfood—and that’s because it has a good 10 different beneficial qualities,” says Cook. But when it comes to your brain, the green fruit has the perfect combination. It’s packed with folates (of which low levels have been linked to depression), omega-3s (which—when in low supply—have been linked to a smaller brain), and mind-protecting vitamin E.

To Fight Cancer: Broccoli and Cauliflower
Cruciferous vegetables can reduce your risk of cancers through their high levels of sulforaphane, a molecule with cancer-fighting properties, says Cook. “They help to attach to cancer-causing cells before they can transform into anything.” These foods are also rich in vitamin K and C and have fiber to help remove waste from the body.

For a Strong Immune System: Leafy Greens
Vitamins in leafy greens basically work throughout the digestive tract to protect your body from different harmful pathogens (like the common cold), says Cook. “They also give a balance between good and bad gut bacteria, and can help control different food allergies and inflammatory diseases.”

For Healthy Looking Skin: Tomatoes, Red Peppers, Carrots
“Compounds called carotenoids deposit under the skin and give you a nice glow,” says Cook. In fact, people who packed more red, orange, and yellow veggies into their diets had more of a healthy hue than those who ate less of the veggies, according to a 2011 study.

To Never Get Sick: Blueberries
“They’re filled with antioxidants that help neutralize DNA that get attacked by free radicals that cause cell damage,” says Cook. Hit the farmer’s market if you can—wild blueberries pack more antioxidants than conventional.