Have you ever heard the saying “Let Food Be Thy Medicine, and Medicine Be Thy Food”? It’s a simple statement that gives us much to think about. It was written over 2,000 years ago by Hippocrates, who is considered the “Father of Western Medicine.” Do we think this quote remains relevant today? Was Hippocrates onto something?
I don’t think most of us would think of food as medicine, but maybe we should. When Hippocrates made his statement, the food choices were natural farm-raised livestock, hunted game, fresh wild-caught fish, and local seasonal fruits, vegetables, and grains. Today, much of what we eat is highly processed “food-like” products.
Would we consider today’s food to be medicine? We probably haven’t put much thought into it. We should. Why? It might help us bend the healthcare spending curve. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average American spent $5,689 on healthcare in 2013 and that doesn’t include the average $4,565 spent on premiums for health insurance.
Let me tell you my story...
For much of my life, I paid no attention to the foods I consumed. If it tasted good or I had a craving, I ate it. The Standard American Diet (SAD), which consists of an excess consumption of calories from refined carbohydrates and grains, processed meats, and added sugar, was just fine for me. I experienced a myriad of normal American health problems, including gastro-intestinal issues, repeated colds and infections, headaches, and acid reflux – all consistent with research that suggests the SAD diet is associated with numerous health complications. In fact, for many years, I took 4 to 5 aspirins a day and 4 to 5 antacid tablets as chasers for the aspirin. I treated the symptoms and figured everything was normal. Even so, it didn’t feel so good. It became expensive with visits to physicians and, in several instances, surgeries.
Then one day, as was a regular occurrence, I was back to see my physician for another problem. During our discussion, he suggested I might want to eat more whole food fiber. Well, that was a concept I had never considered. The food I eat might be affecting my health issues? Indeed, an accumulation of evidence suggests that high dietary fiber intake reduces the risk of gastrointestinal issues, including colorectal cancer. That was an eye opener and started me on my journey to better health.
I’ve learned three things that might help you…
1. Be aware. This is a gradual journey that happens over time as I have learned and become more aware of how healthy lifestyle behaviors, including physical activity, sleep, and nutrition, can impact my health and wellbeing. I start by being aware of the food, sleep and exercise choices I make on a daily basis.
2. Read ingredient labels. I know what I am eating. Research has shown a consistent link between the use of nutrition labels and healthier diets, so I pay particular attention to whether the package is made of real, whole foods. Ingredients that I can pronounce and recognize are what I look for.
3. Include more fresh raw fruits, leafy greens and vegetables in my diet. There is convincing evidence that eating more fresh fruits, leafy greens and vegetables decreases risk for hypertension, coronary heart disease, and stroke, and there is probable evidence that risk of cancer decreases with the consumption of fresh fruits, leafy greens and vegetables as well.
For the past 6 years, I have paid close attention to these 3 things. My wife and I also prepare as many of our meals as possible from scratch. Not coincidentally, it has also been 6 years since I’ve taken an aspirin, antacid, or antihistamine. My cholesterol is now in excellent range and the only visits to my physician have been for annual physicals. So, is food medicine? For me, the answer is most definitely yes.
Now it’s your turn! Have you made a major change to your diet? Has eating differently impacted your health? Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.