Open any newspaper and you will likely read about the latest food claim, such as “blueberries cure cancer” or “turmeric has great healing powers”.
It’s true that many foods contain useful “bioactive compounds” – chemicals that act in the body in ways that might promote good health. These are being studied in the prevention of cancer, heart disease and other conditions but we need to stand back and unpack the quality of the evidence. Stories in the media are often based on studies done in a lab, testing concentrated extracts from foods. The effect seen in real people eating the actual food is going to be different to the effect in a test tube or the effect on animals.
For example, cinnamon is claimed to aid weight loss, control appetite and reduce cholesterol. The studies are based on the active compound in the spice, not eating the spice per se. You would have to eat half a packet of cinnamon each day to get the claimed benefits! Turmeric contains curcumin, which appears to reduce inflammation. However, we would have to eat more than 30g turmeric (1 packet) to get the minimum active dose of curcumin.
We all want food to heal us, but focusing on a single food or nutrient is not the answer. Instead, eating a wide variety of foods will provide the different nutrients and bioactive compounds you need.