4 Foods That Have Surprising Medicinal Benefits

Bitter Melon“Let food be thy medicine,” said some old Roman guy, I think. Whoever he was, he was right. Food is the foundation for preventive medicine. It’s the first thing we examine when figuring out a health issue, and successful changes to what we eat usually have the most profound effect on our health. If we don’t eat well, we won’t be healthy – simple as that.

But what if food literally was medicine? What if certain foods had specific, established pharmacological effects that rivaled certain pharmaceuticals?

Some foods do all that, and I’m going to talk about a few of them today. This isn’t an exhaustive list, of course. That would require an entire book. Nor is this medical advice. Rather, it’s me relaying interesting information about some foods with novel properties and benefits. If you have a serious medical condition, don’t drop your medicine in favor of pharmacological foods. Just be aware of these next time you hit the market.

Lion’s Mane Mushroom

In Asian cuisine, the dense meaty flesh and subtle lobster-esque taste of the Lion’s Mane makes it a popular replacement for animal protein. That’s well and good, but what about those of us for whom the best animal protein substitute is more animal protein? Any reason to seek the Lion’s Mane?

Yes. This insane-looking fungus contains unique compounds that stimulate the biosynthesis of nerve growth factors (NGFs), whose degeneration during the aging process is thought to contribute toward neurodegeneration and cognitive impairment. According to several studies, these NGFs and other compounds in the mushroom may be able to promote neurogenesis (growth of neurons), hasten recovery from nerve damage, and improve cognition in people suffering from cognitive decline (and maybe even in healthy people):

Lion’s Mane is also a popular nootropic – a supplement designed to improve brain health and function – among people apparently free of cognitive decline. There’s no published research in support of this function, but it’s plausible.

Lion’s Mane supplements exist, but they’re best absorbed with food. Probably because they are food. Fresh Lion’s Mane is apparently delicious sautéed in butter and deglazed with white wine. Dried Lion’s Mane – which you can find in most Asian markets in the jawdroppingly expansive dried mushroom section – can be soaked in water until saturated or tossed dry into soups and stews. You could even treat the dried mushrooms like a supplement and mix them into smoothies.

Bitter Melon

If you ever go to a legit Asian supermarket, you’re bound to see a bin full of long, green, ribbed cylindrical vegetables that look like rejected cucumbers. Old ladies will pore over the pile for the best specimens and every spry looking senior in the joint will have one or two in their cart. What are these mysterious objects? These are the bitter melons, a staple anti-diabetic food in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. Even African hunter-gatherers frequently use wild bitter melon (not that they have a diabetes issue, but perhaps their bitter melon habits help explain it).

Does it actually work as an anti-diabetic agent? Yes, according to several lines of evidence.

  • Four compounds with AMPK-stimulating activity have been isolated from bitter melon. AMPK regulates fuel metabolism, and diabetics need ample AMPK activity because it helps move glucose from the bloodstream to the muscles. Exercise is another potent stimulator of AMPK (and effective counter to diabetes).
  • A recent study compared bitter melon to metformin, the popular and effective diabetes drug. While it wasn’t as effective at reducing fructosamine and blood glucose as metformin, its effects were significant in type 2 diabetics.
  • Diabetic rodents saw the stirrings of beta-cell regeneration following long-term consumption of bitter melon powder. Liver function was also improved.

Bitter melon is extremely promising. If you don’t have diabetes, you can still benefit from the improved insulin sensitivity and AMPK release. Plus, bitter melon is excellent in a stir-fry. It’s a vegetable, not a drug.

Dark Chocolate

I’ve gushed over high-cacao dark chocolate many times before, but I’m going to do it some more. Why? You already love it. Heck, you’ve probably got cocoa flavanols in the crannies of your fingerprints and a cocoa butter sheen on your lips as we speak. Don’t lie. Don’t be ashamed. I have the same problem.

So, why more chocolate talk? It’s a substance with effective medicinal qualities that also happens to be a tasty form of candy:

Dark chocolate improves blood pressure. In fact, dark chocolate actually acts as an ACE-inhibitor in its own right, similarly to pharmaceutical ACE inhibitors but more modestly (a 2-3 point reduction, both systolic and diastolic) and without side effects. Unlike other ACE inhibitors, cocoa also improves vascular function via another mechanism: increased nitric oxide availability. Targeting nitric oxide, which dark chocolate does, may be effective against drug-resistant hypertension.

Dark chocolate improves blood flow (reduced arterial stiffness, increased vasodilation, that sort of thing) in many different populations: diabetics, smokers, the healthy young, the healthy old, overweight people, postmenopausal women, and people with elevated risk factors for heart disease. The increase in nitric oxide availability likely mediates much of this effect.

The improved vascular function may have effects on the brain, too. Cocoa flavanols increase blood flow to the brains of healthy young people during a cognitive task, without improving performance. In elderly patients with mild cognitive decline, high doses of cocoa flavanols improved brain function, blood pressure, and insulin sensitivity. A similar group using lower doses saw no benefits to cognitive function, although they did get improvements in overall mood. Cocoa is most effective in people who need it – people with cognitive decline – and higher dosages are more effective than lower dosages.

Furthermore, the cocoa butter part of dark chocolate is an extremely stable fat with hepatoprotective effects, particularly when alcohol is consumed. Rats on a cocoa-butter diet could consume 27.5% of calories as alcohol without incurring liver damage. The cocoa phenols are also protective against alcohol-induced liver injury, so it’s (as always) the total package that works best.

Better blood flow equals better arterial function equals less hypertension equals better thinking and fewer senior moments. Red wine goes well with dark chocolate which protects the liver against the alcohol in the wine. It’s all quite elegant. And delicious.

Red Meat

Really, red meat? Not Shetland sheep liver, moose thyroid, or cow brain? Just plain old red meat?

Those are all great, powerful foods, but standard red meat (of any ruminant) is quite medicinal and, more importantly, highly available and widely palatable. There’s just something invigorating about eating red meat, especially after a workout or a period of abstinence.

Beyond the protein, iron, zinc, B-vitamins, and other well-known nutrients, red meat is the best source of carnosine, a nutrient with a host of brain benefits. It improves cognition among schizophrenic patients, reduces glycation, protects against cataracts, and scavenges reactive oxygen species and mitigates the toxicity of malondialdehyde, methylglyoxal, hydroxynonenal, and acetaldehyde. Vegetarians have the least amount of carnosine in their muscles. Beta alanine supplements, which increase the amount of carnosine in the muscles, increase the total amount of work an athlete can do.

Or maybe it’s the creatine, which doesn’t only come in tubs of white powder. Red meat is perhaps the most potent natural source of the brain – and muscle-boosting nutrient.

This all adds up to red meat being an extremely important medicinal food, especially for the people at the greatest risk of cognitive and physical decline. Sure enough, elderly women who ate a diet high in red meat experienced the largest gains in cognitive functioning and muscle strength, and vegetarians – but not omnivores – who supplemented with creatine improved their scores of brain function.

Many other foods offer many other benefits that complement red meat, but I argue that red meat is almost irreplaceable. It’s hard to say that about any other single food. Hate kale? You can get by okay eating spinach, chard, and broccoli. Ruminants are special. We’ve enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship for hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of years. Even if you’re only eating it sparingly, we could all benefit from at least a modicum of ruminant flesh in our lives.

These are just four examples – two commonplace, two a bit more exotic – that showcase the power of food to heal as well as sustain us. As I said earlier, there are many more. There are likely many foods with as-yet undiscovered medicinal effects. You’ve probably eaten several today. The best part about this “food as medicine” thing? You don’t have to know the ins and outs of everything to get the benefits. You don’t have to read the studies or get a prescription or worry about drug interactions. You just have to eat it.

What about you guys? What are your favorite medicinal foods?

Thanks for reading, folks.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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156 thoughts on “4 Foods That Have Surprising Medicinal Benefits”

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    1. It was hypocratis three hundred b.c. He was greek and he said. Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.

    2. I have MS and have been in search of any brain food benefit. This is Great Info. I was heading to a strong veggie diet and not enjoying the task. Thanks Mark! From anotherMark

        1. Thanks, been trying to follow her standards for past 2 yrs, No improvements to me. But I like eating healthy and will take what ever benifits come. Between Mark and her I think it helps me figure out what works best. Thanks again

      1. I was diagnosed with MS and myasthenia gravis 22 years ago and was forced to take a 6 month leave of absence from work due to disability. The bleak diagnosis was confirmed by multiple docs. Coincidentally, I started going vegetarian about that time and have been vegan (veggies, fruit, beans, whole grains, etc. – not junk food vegan) for the last ten. Today, at age 72, I enjoy vigorous good health – doctors told me I was in remission 19 years ago and at my recent physical said MS and MG are “non-issues” for me. Since neither disease is considered curable, I guess they can’t say “cured” but I’ll take “non-issue”! Docs concur that my whole foods vegan diet is the reason for my good health and absence of any sign of MS or MG. Dr. Roy Swank, a neurologist, wrote a book advocating a near vegetarian diet for MS way back in the 50’s. For me, it has worked.

        1. Sounds great, as long as your happy without red meat. Keep well

        2. Barb, I tended to gain weight on a 6 month vegan diet. Were you able to control weight? How did you deal with wheat issues?

        1. Laverne, Thank you for your help. Im very interested and doing the research.

  1. Fermented cod liver oil is my go to whole food. Having two preschool age children and a 2 month old I used to fall ill several times a year. Now that I consume FCLO I rarely come down with more than a sniffle.

    True, I also switched to a mainly primal diet a couple of years ago, so maybe the red meat consumption is helping as well. I didn’t see FCLO on your list and thought it should be included.

  2. Informative post and a good compilation of studies (intriguing anti-aging studies on the carnosine especially). I also love to eat red meat for the choline, which is arguably a medicine itself. Choline intake helps prevent some cancers, lowers inflammation, and protects against fatty liver. And…as a precursor to acetylcholine, choline acts as a dream enhancer!

    1. John Kiefer talks about how heavy whipping cream actually has phosphoryl choline which is a precusor to acetylcholine – raw cream is obviously better but you can mix in your coffee for improved brain function in the morning

  3. Sadly, bitter melon supplements do not sustain their sugar-killing abilities with continued use, and you HAVE to make sure to get the ones that say bitter melon EXTRACT, or all you end up with is powdered bitter melon without the sugar-killing ingredient in it. Amazon is a minefield of faux supplements.

    The more I used them on Hubby, the weaker the sugar-killing effect got. If I thought I could get him to eat the actual food, I’d have bought that instead. As it is, he has trouble with dill pickles (for sour taste). Yogurt is right out!

    Bitter melon must either be eaten raw, or juiced to achieve the sugar-killing effects. Cooking it will kill off the effect.

    1. Wendy – any good recipes that you like for preparing bitter melon?

      1. I dunno if you like ethnic dishes, this is an indian side dish (my family recipe from west india),
        Cut bitter melon length wise and scoop out the seeds/flesh & discard. Now cut the hollowed out bitter melon in thin slices and soak in salted water (this helps to cut down the bitterness). In a pan heat some coconut oil, season with cumin seeds, once they pop add thinly sliced onion and cook till it caramelizes. Add the drained bitter melon and soft till it softens a bit. Then add 1/4 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp chilli powder (or less as per taste), 1/4th cup grated coconut, 1 tbsp jaggery (or any unrefined sugar), 1 tsp tamarind extract (or any souring agent) and salt to taste. Final taste should be bit of hot/sweet/sour!! Cook for 2-3 mins, sprinkle some chopped cilantro and enjoy!!
        Alternatively you can make a stuffing out of above mentioned ingredients and stuff it in hollowed and slit bitter melon, tie it with a string or skewer and steam them or bake them!!

        1. One common Pakistani dish using bitter melons also uses the salting method and then it is stir fried with ground beef. Absolutely delicious.

      2. Beef with Bitter Melon in Black Bean Sauce is one of my favorites… google it… you will have to adapt it somewhat (usually contains cornstarch). Soaking the cut up bitter melon will usually reduce the bitterness somewhat… experiment ! You can use pork, chicken, etc.

    2. a phillipino nurse told me they use the leaves of the bitter melon for diabetes. I grew the melon several yrs ago and sh wanted to harvest more leaves than fruit. she says they par boil the fruit before putting in stir fry to take a good deal of the bitterness away. It definitely is bitter, but a prolific grower.

    3. Bitter melon is only recommended 3 months on 3 months off unless under a doctors supervision. There isn’t a lot of information on its ling term use. Can you recommend the brand you are using or perhaps the ones you are NOT using. Im looking at Solaray because I like the company. Their Glucoreg has 75 mg bitter melon and a few other ingredients Im familiar with that support glucose regulation. And they suggest 1 tab 2x day with food. Any input on any of this? Thank you.

    1. Yes, I thought the same thing. The full quote is “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” And I’m sure there’s more Hippocrates wrote on the topic. Maybe someone knows a link?

    2. Oy vey Ismeir!! All of these comments about Mark’s very obvious joke ” some Roman guy” , when he knew he was quoting from Hippocrates, just shows that eating a primal diet is no guarantee of a good sense of humor. Too bad that doesn’t come along with your increased cognitive functioning. Happy Pesach to you.

      1. lol I can’t believe the amount of people who thought Mark was being serious XD

    3. Um, it was a joke. Tongue in cheek. Being silly, considering that quotation is used often around these parts…

  4. Chicken noodle (gasp!) soup and Sprite (gasp!) to settle your stomach flu! Somehow, I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about…

    1. One time I had a GI bug that was pretty nasty. We happened to have some goat bone broth in the slow cooker. I drank it liberally. I got better REALLY fast.

      There’s no reason to insult your digestive system and intestines with wheat and corn syrup when there are so much better (and tastier) foods out there.

      We can get goat here easily because there’s a large African immigrant population and several African and Middle Eastern groceries around town, but you could certainly get by with a rich beef bone broth.

    1. Do nettles help you with allergies? I need to find a natural remedy. Non-drowsy Claritan makes me drowsy!

      1. I’ve started using nettles for my allergies. You have to take a high dose because the small dosage on the bottle is no where near enough – 3,000 mg – it’s great for relieving my itching (nasal, eyes, throat) and helps me stop sneezing. The affect only last 2-3 hours and I’m glad for ANY relief when I’m in full fledged allergy attack mode! But in the mornings when I wake up itchy, it gets me through until I get to work and out of the pollen. I also started using Xlear (xylitol nasal spray) – amazing how open my sinuses feel when I use it. Because there’s no “drugs” in it, you can use it as needed and does a great job cleansing when it’s not convenient to use my neti pot. I’ve also upped my Vitamin D – since allergic reactions are an inflammatory/immune response, anti-inflammatory supplements can help lessen the body’s response to the perceive invasion.

        1. We make large amounts of nettle tea, and add some horsetail for extra minerals. We call it ‘green milk’. Delicious!

          I like Xlear, too. Very good addition to my neti pot arsenal.

        2. I get the fresh, whole leaf, at the farmers market and saute’ or make a nice tea. Works well for allergies and it helps about 20 other things as well. It’s a superfood in my book.

      2. Local honey is a great allergy remedy raw if possible… think local pollen causing it, local honey from that same pollen… Some where we got turned on to local Buckwheat honey as it is supposedly better that regular, so that is what we use, personally I think as long as it is local it will help. We have seen great results in NJ.

        1. I’ve heard that about raw, local honey, and that is the only kind of honey I use, but I’m guessing I need to use it like a supplement–taking it every day, not just when I’m baking goodies.

        2. Stephanie, if you cook/heat it, it is not raw anymore and lost some of its properties.
          My son takes a tablespoon every morning and it works great! Like Ryan, I buy it at the farmer’s market, 6-8 months in advance (when the honey has been produced by bees feeding on my son’s allergens – California wildflowers), and start giving him a month or two before allergy season. So far so good.

        3. Honey and lemon mixed together work wonders for a tight cough. As long as the honey is raw, it also helps to get rid of flu. I was working in a hospital a few years ago and got the worst dose of flu I’ve ever had. I bought raw honey, lemons and rooibos tea and drank a “hot toddy” with the three together several times a day. Both my husband and I were over our flu in 4 days, while everyone at work was sick for at least 2 weeks and had numerous doses of antibiotics. We were very sick for the 4 days, but completely over it afterwards, with no ill effects.

          1. Antibiotics you say, but I those don’t work against flu (a viral illness).

      3. My dr., a DO, recommended quercetin for allergies. She said its best to start it before or as soon as you feel symptoms. I haven’t since had any allergies so I haven’t really tried it. Could work; can’t hurt (at least I dont think so. 🙂 here’s a link:

        1. Nettles contain quercetin (a bioflavanoid with anti-histamine properties) & both are good for histamine allergies. It is the quercetin in the nettles that make them good, so you may be better taking quercetin & supplementing that with cups of nettle tea for a stronger effect.

    2. Yes to nettles! I use dried nettles to make tea (Frontier is a good brand and often available in bulk section at natural foods stores). Sometimes add dandelion leaf or root. Let it steep for a few hours and leftovers can be refrigerated for a day or two. Liquid extract is good too.

      My other favorite is dried chickweed combined with skullcap, great anti-inflammatory brew.

      I was surprised a while back to learn that nettles are so rich in minerals and vitamins. I always feel stronger and more energized when I drink my nettle tea, it’s a great boost this spring after a long winter.

      And dandelion leaf is high in Vitamin C, drinking dandelion tea always kicks a cold for me.

      Local farmers markets sometimes have fresh nettles this time of year as well as fresh dandelion greens.

  5. During a brief failed experiment as a vegetarian years ago, during which I increasingly felt like crap, I began to crave red meat. I actually dreamed about it. My body wasn’t just talking to me, it was screaming for me to dump the vegetarian nonsense. I came to my senses and ran out and bought a lovely rib-eye steak that I prepared with a salad and some veggies. I think that was probably the most delicious meal I’ve ever eaten. Granted, some people subsist quite well without animal protein, but I’m definitely not one of them. For me, red meat is a dietary mainstay, regardless of what the “Food Police” might think.

    Regarding kale… It’s delicious and very healthful. That said, It’s also the latest “in” thing and therefore shouldn’t necessarily be regarded as superior to spinach (a superstar in its own right), broccoli, chard, etc. All veggies have something good to offer, and the best diet is one that’s filled with a wide variety.

    1. I had a similar experience. After a year or so as a vegetarian, I became pregnant, and my body demanded meat, in no uncertain terms! That was the end of it.

    2. Your body is not asking for meat just for the protein. That’s a myth. There are several other nutrients present in meat that are low to nonexistent in vegetables except as plant precursors. And not everyone can convert those. I have a considerable amount of trouble with beta carotene, and there was this study in Rotterdam a few years back showing that the K1 in vegetables had pretty much no effect on heart attack rates but that the K2 in dairy foods helped reduce risk. I think that was an epidemiological study and therefore needs followup, but all the same.

      (You can also find K2 in eggs and organs. There’s a version you can get from natto, or fermented soybeans, but I have questions about how much it’s really worth, since I heard it doesn’t cross a human placenta, and the vitamin’s very important in prenatal development as well.)

    3. I had incredibly disturbing dreams after a month of vegetarianism – something involving biting into human flesh. Got off the vegetarian diet really fast (and no, I didn’t actually become a humanitarian as a result).

  6. I recently read that another benefit of dark chocolate. It’s highly beneficial to the gut microbiome. Did we really need another reason to indulge??

  7. I really love my 90% dark chocolate! I have the 99% too, but it is at the bottom of the pile and it is a “just eat it, it is good for you” choice. The package says I will acquire a tasted for it, that has not happened yet! But I go through phases of craving grapes..?? Usually red ones, and then it goes away and comes back. Not sure why, but I listen to my body because they are delish! I also tried the meatless thing, for 3 weeks, more of a discipline thing to see if I could actually do it. I was strong but on the 22nd day at 10:00am I was eating a BBQ’d cheeseburger(no bun) the size of my face…that felt like medicine to me! lol

    1. I do 90 percent dark. I can’t imagine 99 that’s just 1 percent away from full lnow baking chocolate right? I think there’s a youtube video/challenge to eat an entire bar of the stuff and most people can’t do it. 90 for me!

      1. Haha…yeah, I like challenges but I will skip that one. I gave a small square of it to someone over visiting. I said “here, eat this, it is healthy for you”, he stuck it in his mouth and carried on his convo with someone else and 10 seconds later jumped up saying “why am I eating dirt?” and spit it in the sink. Ahhhh….good times, good times.

      2. Easy challenge. I can eat at least two full 100% (3.5 oz each) baker’s chocolate bars. No problem. I love my theobromines 😀

  8. Should dark chocolate be consumed daily, weekly,… what? for it to be beneficial?

    1. Since dark cacao (organic/fair trade) contains high levels of phytonutrients and antioxidants, you could perhaps eat a few bars a week. I’ll throw in blackberries and blueberries into my big ass salad one day and then the next day, I’ll indulge in a >85% full bar. Mix that tish up!

  9. I can say that I don’t eat lion’s mane mushroom or bitter melon, and rarely dark chocolate, but I do eat a lot of red meat! A steak can solve anything…

  10. Red meat is TOTALLY medicinal. I always feel best when my main protein is red meat, and if I go “off” if for a few weeks and eat mainly poultry or fish instead, I just don’t feel as good. I’ll never understand why some women develop this aversion to red meat and prefer “lighter” meats. It seems like a kind of false consciousness to me. I am a woman and I feel red meat helps me thrive.

    1. Same here. If nothing else, when we’re in our reproductive years we shed iron monthly and need to keep up our intake. And heme iron’s a lot more bioavailable than the stuff in spinach.

      1. Exactly, we don’t need all that extra mass, we are much more efficient so really don’t need all that extra gray matter. However, to keep our brains running in tip top shape we take chocolate and red wine, for medicinal purposes of course……. yeah, that’s why, I remember now, yeah.

    2. Yep. Plenty of red meat keeps the red blood cells healthy and the RBC count where it should be. Much to their own detriment, some of the women I know have bought into the recently circulated myth that red meat is bad for you.

    3. ditto.

      the “lighter” meat tastes not as flavorful to me, esp. chicken breast, has to be the blandest of all.

      (couple years ago, i was diagnosed with anemia, that explain of my preference of red meat all my life)

      when we eat out, occasionally, hubby orders chicken (breast), & i order red meat, the waitron would typically put chicken in front of me. XD

  11. Ah, dark chocolate, coffee, red wine, garlic, avocado, grass-fed meat… I can’t get enough of studies saying stuff I love is actually good for me.

    Though I’ve never had a clearly “medicinal” experience where I was able to cure a particular physical complaint with some sort of specific food. But I’m happy to keep quaffing my favorite beverages and scarfing up the foods I love for completely theoretical benefit. Mmm, chocolate, is that you I hear you calling?

    1. Thanks for sharing the Lion’s Mane pics. I live in the Adirondacks, I think we have them here too. Going to be on the lookout for them!!

      1. Have fun searching for this mushroom. It is truly amazing to find. I had never seen one before and took an over abundance of photos. I see two pictures showed up on my link. The second one only is mine with the two mushrooms, one on either side of the fallen log, looking like a fountain of “manes”. The first one, a single mane, I saw on the web. Don’t know how it attached itself to my link lol. Both pictures are Lion’s Mane…or bearded tooth.

  12. What type/brand/source of Dark Chocolate are you folks referring to?

    1. You can do a search on this site and find several posts on dark chocolate, including listing specific brands. I like Theo 85%, and a Whole Foods Market brand called Tanzania School House Project that is I think 72%. The Tanzania one comes either plain, or with almonds. I’m not a big fan of dark chocolate so I go for the milder ones that are at least 70%. I just have a square, or two before my boxing sessions.

  13. Interesting article. I didnt know that red meat was considered to be “medicinal” by some, but I did know that Grass Fed Beef is healthy & that it’s certainly very tastey! YUM!!! Probably should start eating a bit more dark chocolate & the other 2 items might be worth a try. Thanks for the interesting read!

  14. Healthy food!

    I liked the: “For those who need it…”

    ……and even then, there may be those of us, who have some adverse reactions to some natural substances. Even though most people are fine with eating bitter melon and bitter melon products, I developed severe adverse reactions to this fruit (?)/substance. I also react very badly to stevia, unless it is very low dose and combined with other sugars or sugar alcohols.

    Nevertheless, thank you for sharing these great additions to the diet, and for explaining their benefits.

  15. Ginger, garlic, lemons, greens, mushrooms, all of it amazing and to remember “food can either be the best medicine or the slowest poison”

  16. “Old ladies will pour over the pile for the best specimens and every spry looking senior in the joint will have one or two in their cart.” (bitter melons)

    What do they pour over the pile, Mark? A transitive verb must have a direct object.

    1. …a critical visual and reasoning search for the best speciman… I would say…

    2. The saying is actually “pore over”–the verb “to pore” means to study or read closely. (In this case, the old ladies are studying the pile.)
      So it’s misspelled, but Mark’s usage is correct.

    3. Oh please save the grammar lessons for a writing blog! Pour…pore…I understood his point. Contact Mark directly about the typo so he can edit the spelling. He may appreciate the heads up. Leave the finger wagging behind (-:

    4. Trevor , take two transitive verbs and use as you would a suppository ! Oh, oh , first pull your head out !!

  17. I found a lovely 98% cocoa sweetened with Stevia called Dante’s confection…best stuff ever!

    1. I love Dante’s 98% too! It is like nothing else – intense!

      Question: Are bison beef burgers considered “red meat?”

      1. Are bison ruminants? (These questions have the same answer, by definition, apparently.)

  18. How much dark chocolate should one consume to get the health benefits? Is good quality cocoa powder acceptable?

  19. I read that dark chocolate made with alkali is not good for you. So if you are buying the Lindt 90% it has Alkali and the 85% Lindt dark chocolate bar does not. So that is why I am eating 85%.

    1. Joe, that was my pick too until I tried Green & Black’s 85%….. mmmmm creamy.

  20. Ah, yes…Bitter Melon. Had quite a bit of it when I traveled to China for 18 days. I didn’t care for it at first, but it grew on me. I found out about a year later what it was, but it’s hard to find where I live. Not many Asian markets.

  21. but i thought red meat is high in fat and gives you heart disease? won’t it clog my arteries?

    some of this “primal” stuff sounds interesting, but i have to caution against any diet that doesn’t involve a significant amount of heart healthy whole grains. how will you get enough fiber without them? and don’t forget to limit your meat intake to the lean cuts. and only go for red meat 1-2x per week; chicken breasts are probably a better source of lean protein on a daily basis.

    and don’t forget the statins. definitely get your statins in.

  22. Lion’s Mane is just one of 3 edible mushrooms of the tooth fungus group in North America’s eastern forests. All are white (at the correct time for harvest; then they turn yellow – becoming bitter) and look like coral. The other 2 are Bear’s Head Tooth and Bearded Tooth. All are common in my backyard – national forest. All are free. Finding them is not difficult in the fall, but there are not many. They do recur on the same log or dead tree year after year. The more time you spend in the forest the more recurring locations you will find – remember them (GPS them). All 3 varieties of mushrooms freeze well after sauteed in coconut oil, sea salt, and onions. I usually get about 30-40 pounds of them each fall for our family. But on a year with a very rainy, humid, and hot fall the total increases dramatically.

  23. Coconut oil. I wash my face, moisturize my skin, cook with it, and put it in my coffee every day. I LOVE it!!!

  24. Hi Mark. I would like you or one of your staff to comment on achieving eternal life. Thank-you Jim.

    1. I’m not on the staff but if you are wanting to live forever all you need to make sure you do is NOT die. That’s my plan.

  25. Thanks for another great read! Many great Asian markets here in South SF Bay Area so I will look into the Bitter Melon & Lions Mane mushroom. I’ve been buying the Lindt brand 90% Dark Chocolate, but will now look for the reduced alkali 85% (thanks Joe). Grass fed red meat, for myself, is a staple. I read that some people travel to S. America to live there for a short time because feedlots are not used there, (all beef is grass fed). The beef I buy from the Sprouts chain is imported from Uruguay (& they have Kangaroo meat imported from Australia.) The Whole Foods I frequented in NY carried locally- raised grass-fed meat from nearby New Jersey.

  26. I find it so depressing to read about how good dark chocolate is for you. I love it and often crave it, but it is a sure-fire migraine trigger for me. Nobody ever said life is fair!

    1. have you tried making your own with cocoa powder (not dutch processed) and coconut oil? I sweeten it with either maple syrup or honey and add nuts/seeds toasted with bacon and a dash of red pepper. To keep it from seizing mix everything into the oil before adding the cocoa powder.

      1. I’ve tried Equal Exchange organic baking cocoa (processed with alkali) and had the same migraine response. I don’t know much about cocoa powder so if you have some recommendations I’d love to hear about them as I’d love to have a go-to dark choc option. Is that what Dutch processed means, that it’s processed with alkali?

        1. Find the best non-Dutch processed cocoa you can find (read the ingredients for alkalai just in case) and then it’s 1:1 coconut oil to powder. You should add 1tsp vanilla extract for each 1/4c oil and sweeten to taste starting with 2T of honey or syrup. I add nuts, seeds bacon etc. I’ve also made orange chocolate using orange extract. there’s a really good recipe for jr mints on swisspaleo.com and civilizedcaveman has a recipe for Haupia that’s pretty tasty. I also add espresso powder and red pepper at times (-:

          To keep the whole thing from seizing put everything in the oil – I melt mine on the stove in a pan – then whisk in the cocoa in one go and then dump it into something to harden. I use parchement paper in a jelly roll pan and into the freezer. We break chunks off when we want to much.

        2. sorry – left off the bit about dutch-process – I have no idea what it does, but it uses alkalai. But I’ve also seen cocoa that doesn’t say Dutch-processed with alkalai in the ingredients so look at the ingredients.

  27. “Let Food be Thy Medicine and Thy Medicine be Thy Food”

    The above quote is attributed to Hippocrates, the father of Western Medicine, 460 -377 BC. Hippocrates was not a Roman guy but he sure was very perceptive. According to Wikipedia “Hippocrates of Cos or Hippokrates of Kos, was an ancient Greek physician of the Age of Pericles, and is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine. Unfortunately he knew nothing about “lectins” grass fed, grass finished beef, plant foods low in lectins but Mark Sisson does. This fact by itself makes Mark the smartest man in the USA, and he (Mark) did save me from various illnesses propagated by our current food delivery system.

  28. I love the Endangered Species Dark Chocolate (88%). It has a wonderful taste and isn’t bitter. I also enjoy the grass-fed meats at Tendergrass Farms.

  29. Mark is spot on in recommending the whole food rather than supplements. Oh, there are so many medicinal foods! I will add apple cider vinegar, lemons, and cayenne pepper to the list. The above mixed in warm water and a smidgen of honey will knock out an inkling of cold or flu in a hurry.

  30. “but i thought red meat is high in fat and gives you heart disease? won’t it clog my arteries?…..
    and don’t forget the statins. definitely get your statins in.”

    What? – a Troll, an innocent or just joking? Extreme enough to make me believe it’s a troll or joke.

    In any case, there’s always one of these that shows up and somebody else will surely need to respond in earnest to this.

  31. I like mushroommatrix.com for their mushroom formulations. The company originated as an attempt to treat high-value performance horses – Olympic level hunters/jumpers – who had ailments vets could not cure. Their success treating these crippled equines with mushrooms was truly amazing! The company – backed by the expertise of an impressive science team – offers a variety of formulas for humans, horses and dogs. You can add their mushroom powders to shakes. Among their organic mushrooms is Lion’s Mane. This is an example of animal science outpacing modern medicine.

  32. More importantly, I asked this years late on another chocolate post with no response, so I’ll ask again:

    I wonder about the aflatoxins etc. supposedly found in chocolate…. and coffee. I don’t know if I buy this as a major issue, but I do wonder what Mark’s (and other’s) take on this is. Obviously the “bulletproof” guy is staking it out as a market niche, but might there be some foundation to it or can safely ignore that dimension ?

  33. I’m sitting in bed reading this post and drinking my hot chocolate made from 100 per cent dark chocolate, coconut milk and a spot of honey. Delicious! It has stopped my insomnia after many years of sleepless nights.

  34. If I get chilled or feel like I’m coming down with a bug, I crave beef soup (preferably made with a nice fatty grass-fed beef bone). I grew up with the chicken soup cure-all, which I still love, but there’s something special about beef soup.

    I also learned to love oxtail soup when I lived in Hawaii, local cure for what ails you, and they serve it in so many places, from chain coffee shops to upscale hotels. My favorite version was at Kam Bowl. I found a local butcher for oxtails but have trouble finding the Chinese red dates that add just the right touch:


  35. I can testify that bitter melon lowers blood sugar. I am a type one diabetic and tried bitter melon supplements. It was a slippery slope to low blood sugar–very hard to control using bitter melon when on insulin. Yes it did the job TOO well in my case. But I would bet that if you having issues with high blood sugar (other than being a type 1 diabetic) your chances a good for lowering with bitter melon. Yucca supplements will also lower blood sugar.

  36. EESH! I still have nightmares about bitter melon!

    I grew up on the island of Okinawa, and locals would take great amusement at watching my face when I innocently tried some bitter melon. It IS bitter. My mouth still puckers thinking about it as I write this.

    I laugh when I read so-called experts claiming the long lives of Okinawans are because they are mostly vegetarian (they are NOT–they eat plenty of meat, mostly pork, seafood, and fish, and don’t skimp on fat, either!). My guess is that Okinawans’ intake of seafood, sea veggies, bitter melon and astringent green tea has more to do with health and longevity than the amount of starch or veggies they consume.

    I should try bitter melon again as an adult (they sell it at the local farmers market) but just can’t bring myself to do it. That’s a very strong negative memory!

  37. Interesting article and thanks for sharing! Food is medicine!

  38. Hi,
    the complete sentence is “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food” and is being credited to Hippocrates, referred as ” the father of western medicine” (funny enough).

    I personally have experienced an improvement in my health condition when I change my diet into a more aware way of eating. My health issues were not major problems however it was not nice to often cope with gastritis and another problem related with a very bothering pain when I had to sit down (I am sure you understood what I am talking about). After I changed my diet I realized that these issues were disappeared. It’s 5 years that I changed my diet and so far I haven’t got any more symptoms.

    What really surprised me was the fact that when I shared my experience with other people having similar issues, they were not thankful at all, instead they were trying to convince me that I was wrong, that there are so many other reasons that could affect their healing and that after all they were having a “balanced” diet.

    So I decided I wanted to share this experience on the web, were chances to help someone were higher.

    My idea of healthcare is not related to what governments can improve to make healthcare system work better and cost less, I am asking myself what each of us can do for improving it. I believe that by eating healthy foods can decrease in a substancial way percentages of new cases for a lot of diseases. For example, there are several studies, demonstrating the reduced risk of cancer by eating an apple a day http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121002143220.htm but there are not many people doing it! Eating healthy is the most important factor that affects healthcare costs. It’s not the cost of medicines – these costs would not ffect so much if there are much less sick people. Service will improve because doctors will no longer have to visit an endless stream of patients.

    The second most important element of healthcare is the right for every citizen to know exactly how things are going healthcare-wise. If you live in a world where everyone is trying his/her best to live healthy, and you do have a problem, you want to know who is the best doctor in your area. This is an information in a community and people who are judging others without focusing on facts, but rather expressing their feelings, are not helping their community to grow. I am referring to the importance of having an efficient doctor ranking, where all reviews are examined before publishing them. They can affect future decision and they have to be consistent.

    Last but not least, every single person that is willing to work at every level in the healthcare business, should consider how to give back to healthcare apart for the service provided.
    There are new type of marketing strategies that can support the healthcare system instead of enriching publishers and advertisers online.

    We need to stop expecting someone else to help us if we are the first ones who are not helping ourselves. It’ll never happen.

    So… thanks for reading all of it ( I really hope I didn’t bore you) and have a look at the summary of my thoughts in this project:http://drsocial.org/pages/about-us

    1. Isn’t it interesting how so many people consider grains and sweets to be part of a “balanced” diet. Many in the dietary/nutrition business still believe this and frown on eliminating these “food” groups, even though they clearly cause so many health issues.

  39. As much as I love dark chocolate (I consume about 300cal worth of 85% daily), I wonder about the studies linking cacao to Parkinsons. Can anyone comment on that?

    Here’s a bit more to flesh out what I’m talking about:

    “A review published in the Neuroscience Bulletin by Borah et al. at the Assam University in India said that Beta-phenethylamine (Beta-PEA), a naturally occurring component found in cocoa beans and its by products, may be a cause of Parkinson’s Disease.

    Phenylethylamine is a natural alkaloid, a chemical related to amphetamines, which functions as a neuromodulator or neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. In addition to its presence in all mammals, phenethylamine is found in many other organisms and foods, such as chocolate, especially after microbial fermentation. It is also found in wine and cheese. But the highest trace amounts have been reported in chocolate. “

  40. i recently heard that phytate content of raw cacao is very high? any links to any research/literature?

  41. I sprinkle turmeric powder on a lot of stuff, especially my lunchtime salad with whatever kind of protein. I heard of a recipe (from Suzanne Somers I think) where you rub olive oil on chicken, season with salt, pepper, and turmeric, then cook. Simple and good.

  42. R cacao nibs a good source to get the same benefits u speak of with dark chocolate?

  43. If I ever feel a cold coming on on, I drink apple cider vinegar, cinnamon, honey, and hot water.

  44. I think we could learn a lot from our Asian friends. Their life spans are often longer than that of us Americas, and for good reasons. Get back to the basics of eating lots of vegetables and fruits and watch your ailments resolve themselves. Great post as always.

  45. We stumbled over here by a different web address and thought I may as well check things out.

    I like what I see so i am just following you.

    Look forward to looking into your web page repeatedly.

  46. I have hip dysplasia in both hips and I literally can’t stand and walk in the mornings. It takes at least half an or better to stretch and loosen my joints. I stumbled across reishi mushrooms when I was searching for natural ways to combat chronic bronchitis. I started reading the very long list of medicinal uses and decided to try it for my hips. After ordering them online and taking them daily, I can now jump right out of bed without an issue AND I haven’t had bronchitis since!! Truly a miracle mushroom got arthritis

  47. I’d heard that dark chocolate was very good for you in various ways, but always told by my fitness friends to stay away from red meat. This has given me something to talk with them about now, and make me slightly less guilty when I consume the stuff.

  48. cucumber: Mark, I watched a video you did on making a big-ass salad, and you said something about adding cucumbers for “crunch” and I think you said cucumbers didn’t really add much nutritionally. However, I’ve been drinking cucumber with my lemon water because cucumber is supposed to be good for detoxing and anti-inflammation.

    Cucumber “helps the body flush out toxins because it contains the organic compound citrulline, which is an amino acid that has been shown to help the liver and kidneys filter and get rid of ammonia. Ammonia comes in external forms, but is also a by-product of the proteins our bodies are burning up constantly for energy, and it’s quite damaging to our cells.”

  49. Keep in mind Metformin, the drug he quotes is nothing more than an extract of the French Day Lily.

    1. You know, honestly I’m not sure why metformin isn’t used more widely by crossfitters. It is truly the ideal drug for them. Just saying.

  50. I buy raw organic cacao nibs, toast them in the oven for 15 minutes at 350 degrees, then process in my Vitamix. For one blend, I stir in dates, coconut oil, macadamias, and raisins… makes an excellent “fudge” loaded with all those chocolate benefits, but with no refined sugar (just from the dried fruit). A great way to get my chocolate fix!
    For another blend, I just add coconut oil, vanilla, and a touch of palm sugar- to make a “chocolate smoothie” (by adding ice, whey protein, and maybe banana to). I love it!

  51. Mark, 1 ounce of dark Cocoa 90% Lindt brand has about 12 grams of carbs and also about 12 mgs of caffeine. Are you concerned about the caffeine? Also, isn’t chocolate inflammatory? Is this a daily or an every-once-in-a-while food? Thank you.


  52. So much good information in the article and comments below. I always like to tell patients that in the long run, your bets are generally safe with real food. Of course there can always be exceptions to this, but if I had to bet between a processed ingredient/drug or a whole food, whole foods always win out in the long run. While they may not have as much “clinical testing,” they have been out in the wild so to speak for thousands of years and have kept us going. When we introduce new foods, new ingredients, or new drugs into the system, it could take even 100s of years (like acetaminophen) to find out harm or unintended consequences they may cause. We are only now beginning to understand the importance of epigenetics and gut flora – how can we be sure we aren’t shooting ourselves in the foot with all that we are doing?

  53. I like peppermint. It’s soothing, calming, and it always helps when I am having digestive problems. Ginger is pretty awesome too.

  54. I’ve been researching cacao and the world of fine chocolate for the past 4.5 years and am aware of the extensive health benefits of dark chocolate. But I’d never heard about the cocoa phenols actually having a protective effect on our liver when consumed with red wine! That’s great news to me,as I love to consume my daily square of pure dark chocolate with a fine glass of Malbec.

  55. There is plenty of evidence that red meat is ruinous for health, causing atherosclerosis, stroke and elevated blood glucose (leading to diabetes).

    The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified red meat as a human carcinogen: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28450127
    Red meat contains Neu5Gc, which incorporates into tissues and causes autoimmunity: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5035214/

    All this evidence you ignore, even the ones you knew about. “Red meat is almost irreplaceable”, ie you really, really want to eat it, and promote this biased opinion on others just to make yourself feel better.
    “Ruminants are special. We’ve enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship for hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of years.” So that means we should treat them with love and kindness, like the Hindus do. Not slaughter and eat them. That is morally unhealthy.