This is part two of the series, following up on last month’s article, Spices You Should Incorporate for Your Health. Besides spices, food works in many ways to help the body through natural or unnatural maladies. Certainly a well-balanced meal will be good for your body, and eating certain foods will help specific issues.

The old adage about warm milk helping you sleep has some truth behind it. Dairy that is high in calcium is a sleep aid, but the fallacy of this “cure” is that it needs to be warm. Calcium-rich dairy along with mild exercise will speed up your time to doze off. Other sleep aids include eating foods with a high glycemic index. These foods are not necessarily good for your blood sugar levels unless you want to lower it. Eating them about four hours before bedtime will help you fall asleep. An example of this is jasmine rice. Tryptophan, commonly associated with turkey is also readily available in pumpkin seeds. This amino acid synthesizes melatonin, which regulates sleep.

If you have inflammation there are many foods you can eat that will help with this ailment. One item is tart cherry juice. Another benefit of tart cherry juice is that it also helps with sleep. A cure for inflammation, especially food related inflammation, is avocado. Spinach which is high in vitamin K helps, as do berries which are packed with phenolic compounds. Chia seeds, which are very fiber rich help lower markers associated with inflammation.

“Brain food” is a very popular piece of a diet for those that are aware of the benefits of such a diet. Most of these foods are very common in the mainstream diet. Foods such as salmon which is high in omega-3 fats are known to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia and cognitive decline. Kale, like all dark leafy greens, protects brain cells from oxidation. Extra virgin olive oil with high anti-oxidant compounds can help with memory and learning. Turmeric, although a spice and mentioned last month, also helps with memory and protects against a buildup of amyloid plaques which have been connected to Alzheimer’s disease.

If digestion is an ailment you can relate to you should eat more sauerkraut. All foods that are high in lactic acid will help you with digestion. If you are buying sauerkraut to up your lactic acid make sure you buy the fresh refrigerated version. Shelf-stable sauerkraut has been heated to make it stable; the heating kills the bacteria that create the lactic acid. Another food high in lactic acid is kefir. Kefir is a cultured dairy product: fermented milk from cows, sheep or goats. Besides digestion, kefir is known to treat irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis. The other digestion aid is food high in prebiotics. Prebiotics feed the more than 1,000 healthy bacteria, probiotics, in your stomach. Foods include broccoli, garlic and onions.

If you get sick often you may want to eat foods that boost your immune system. Some of these foods include beef, garlic, mushroom, green tea, ginger, broccoli, yogurt, spinach and sweet potatoes. A 3½ ounce serving of beef supplies 50% of the zinc your body needs on a daily basis. Zinc helps white blood cells thrive. White blood cells fight bad things in your body. Garlic does not contain zinc, but the sulfur it contains helps the body to absorb zinc from other sources. Luckily I am a fan of stir fried garlic beef with broccoli. To prevent harmful bacteria from operating, you should have vitamin D. Mushrooms are a great source of vitamin D being one of only a few foods that when exposed to sunlight produce it. Green tea helps produce T-cells which are a type of white blood cells.

Ginger, which probably should have been in last month’s column, is one of the healthiest foods on earth. Ginger root, which originated in China, contains gingerol, a substance with powerful medicinal properties. Because of this substance it has been used to help digestion, reduce nausea and help fight the flu and common cold. It is very affective in lessoning morning sickness. Ginger has also been shown to ease muscle pain and lower blood sugar levels and has been used to lower cholesterol and help with indigestion, as well as fight infection, help brain function and prevent certain cancers.

Fresh parsley helps with inflammation, anemia, bladder infection, digestion, kidney stones and bad breath. It also has properties that help with arthritis, bloating, edema (the abnormal accumulation of fluid in certain tissues within the body), constipation, poor immunity, acid reflux and some skin problems.

Next month in the last of the series I will talk about tamarind, the African seed that has so many medical uses.