5 min read
The Connection Between Nutrition & Disease: How to Use Food as Medicine
By: OHI on Aug 31, 2023 5:00:00 AM
Healthful food has a HUGE impact on mental and physical health. So why isn’t food treated with the same importance as prescription medication? In breaking news, this line of thinking is actually making headlines. The “Food is Medicine” Initiative, announced in September 2022 by the American Heart Association and The Rockefeller Foundation at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, seeks to ensure patients receive medical prescriptions for healthy food to prevent and manage chronic disease. This initiative would include piloting programs for medically tailored meals, medically tailored groceries, and produce prescription programs. The vision of this initiative is to accelerate to a future in which millions of patients receive the benefit of a more holistic approach to diet and health.
The Food is Medicine Initiative is a revolutionary change in thinking, considering food to be just as potent a defense as medication or physical therapy in improving an individual’s health. It’s a quantum leap forward in holistically caring for a person’s wellbeing.
So if the American Heart Association is taking real steps to galvanize health care professionals to put the power of healthy food to work for their patients, are you ready to adopt a healthy diet as the first step toward better health and wellbeing? Let’s learn more about the idea of Food as Medicine, discover the benefits of Food as Medicine, and find out how to best use Food as Medicine. Read on!
What is Food as Medicine?
Hippocrates is really the father of the Food as Medicine school of thought. He is quoted as saying “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be they food.” One of every five deaths across the globe is attributable to a less-than-optimal diet, more than any other risk factor including tobacco. The data points to the potential for food and nutrition to play a prominent role in the prevention, management, treatment, and in some cases even reversal of disease.
The Benefits of Food as Medicine
The choice of food you put into your body clearly impacts your short-term energy levels and your long-term health and wellness. Research on nutrition and disease has garnered some noteworthy results:
- Individuals who eat a healthy diet are more likely to have a strong immune system, a safer pregnancy and childbirth, a lower risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and a longer life expectancy.
- Some research has shown that diets that include added sugars, saturated and trans fats, and excess sodium may induce chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is an underlying risk factor in the development of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, poor gut health, and other chronic diseases.
- The American Heart Association recommends a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, low-fat dairy and plant-based or lean animal protein to support cardiovascular health. This diet has the potential to reduce the development of cardiovascular disease risk factors including inflammation, elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, and poor sleep.
- Research shows that carotenoids — antioxidants naturally found in some fruits and vegetables — can improve the blood metabolites of people with liver disease.
How to Use Food as Medicine
Proponents of the Food as Medicine practice focus on the increased consumption of whole, minimally processed, nutrient-dense, plant-based foods. Many who practice Food as Medicine also focus on eating functional foods. Functional foods are foods that are purported to have a health benefit beyond their basic macronutrient content due to high levels of a particular micronutrient or biomolecule. Health benefits can include:
- Foods rich in antioxidants have molecules that help neutralize harmful compounds known as free radicals, helping prevent cell damage and certain chronic conditions including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Antioxidant-rich foods include blueberries, broccoli, pumpkin, legumes, dark leafy greens, garlic, grapes, tomatoes, and flaxseeds.
- Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include a healthy type of fat shown to reduce inflammation, boost brain function, combat depression, reduce cholesterol, and promote heart health. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, brussels sprouts, chia & hemp seeds, seaweed, wild rice, winter squash, and spinach.
- Foods high in fiber promotes better blood sugar control and protects against conditions like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and stroke. Fiber may also help prevent digestive disorders, including diverticulitis, stomach ulcers, hemorrhoids, and acid reflux.
Examples of functional foods include:
- Fruits: Berries, kiwi, pears
- Vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, kale
- Nuts: Almonds, cashews, pistachios
- Seeds: Chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds
- Legumes: Black beans, chickpeas, lentils
- Whole grains: Barley, buckwheat, brown rice
- Fermented foods: Tempeh, kombucha, kimchi
- Herbs & Spices: Cinnamon, ginger, cayenne
Here are the top 5 functional foods:
- Sauerkraut: This sour fermented cabbage dish is high in vitamins A, C, K, and folate, to boost your immune system and support brain health. It’s also high in fiber which can help support your gut bacteria and improve digestive health. Sauerkraut also contains glucosinolates and ascorbigen, compounds that are known for their anti-carcinogenic properties.
- Blueberries: Blueberries get their rich dark blue color from their abundance of anthocyanin which is high in antioxidants. Anthocyanins reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, and cancer. Blueberries are also low glycemic so they won’t have a big impact on blood sugar.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: A combination of yeast and beneficial bacteria called the “mother” are produced through fermentation. Apple cider vinegar contains B-vitamins, probiotics, and polyphenols. Research has found that taking 20 grams of apple cider vinegar significantly lowered post meal blood glucose levels.
- Turmeric: Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, a potent anti-inflammatory, that may also help with chronic disease and depression, and also possesses anti-carcinogenic properties. It has also been shown to boost brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), a type of growth hormone that functions in your brain.
- Oats: Oats contain 9 different phytochemicals which are believed to protect cells from damage that could lead to cancer. Oats are also an extremely rich in a fiber called beta glucan, which has been shown to reduce inflammation, enhance immune function, and improve heart health.
Food as Medicine at OHI
Many centuries ago, Hippocrates, known as the “father of medicine,” taught that wholesome, natural food could help restore physical health. Following that line of thinking, Food as Medicine is the idea that food and nutrition should play a prominent role in the prevention, management, treatment, and in some cases even reversal of disease. Proponents of the Food as Medicine practice focus on the increased consumption of whole, minimally processed, nutrient-dense, plant-based foods. Many who practice Food as Medicine also focus on eating functional foods. Functional foods are foods that are purported to have a health benefit beyond their basic macronutrient content. Some of the best functional foods are sauerkraut, blueberries, turmeric, and oats.
At OHI, we believe when given the proper food your body can restore itself to its natural balance. We provide guests with the healthiest of meals made from fresh, certified-organic, raw fruits and vegetables. And to help you maintain a healthy diet after you leave our healing center, our program includes classes that teach you how to ferment foods, soak and sprout nuts, seeds, and grains, and combine foods to optimize digestion. We believe that your body is self-healing, and when you cleanse and restore it by eating the healthiest of foods, you will be truly living a life of holistic health and wellbeing.
Give yourself the gift of a healing retreat at OHI and jumpstart your holistic healing journey. Book your next visit to OHI today. Call OHI at (800) 588-0809 to learn more about our holistic approach to health and wellness.