The phrase “Food As Medicine” has been tossed around quite a bit in the past few years and with the growing popularity of diets such as Paleo, Whole30, Keto, Veganism etc and the hundreds of thousands of people swearing by a massive turn around in their health surrounding a change in diet, it’s a phrase that can no longer be ignored by the medical and research community. But what does it really mean to use your food as your medicine?
When you stop to think about the fact that our body gets all of its nutrients and energy from what we eat, it only makes sense that when we choose to fuel our bodies with whole foods like fruits and vegetables, our bodies function at their highest capacity. This is the idea behind using food as medicine, eating in line with your genetic programming. Our bodies and digestive systems evolved over hundreds of thousands of years alongside the produce that we eat today meaning that choosing a diet of whole foods benefits our bodies down to a genetic level. This is a massive reason why the Paleo diet has gained such popularity. While there is controversy over the amount of protein this diet encourages, the basic idea of eating the way our ancestors would have, meaning whole unprocessed foods, makes perfect sense.
So what do we mean when we say whole unprocessed foods? The answer is pretty simple, any food that is in its natural form, the way you would find it out in the wild. Of course, this means that really only fruits and vegetables count as whole unprocessed foods, but the fact is that most of us don’t get enough of whole produce into our diets. A study conducted by Tufts University found that Americans get nearly 58% of their daily calories from highly processed foods with only about 28% coming from whole foods like produce, eggs, and fish. Compare that to the diet that our bodies evolved on and you’ve got a recipe for inflammation, digestive issues, heart disease, diabetes, etc.
Even foods that are only slightly processed can wreak havoc on our bodies. This is the reason that so many people don’t respond well to eating processed grains and gluten, because our bodies never evolved to properly digest these foods. In fact, a study conducted in 2011 found that people who ate a diet of whole rye showed a reduced risk of developing diabetes based on their gene expression, while those who ate a diet high in processed carbs like pasta switched on certain gene expressions linked to diabetes. Understanding how foods interact with our genes in this way is known as nutrigenomics. Knowing how genes can be switched off and on by what we eat is crucial for the treatment of disease as well as attaining a healthy balanced diet for our bodies.
The best approach to using food as medicine is to get in an extra serving of fruit and veg every day. Swap out that bag of chips for some carrots and cucumbers. Eat a bowl of fruit instead of that sugary Poptart. Use whole foods as your supplements to treat and prevent illness rather than relying on over the counter drugs after you’ve spent your life eating a diet of overly-processed foods. Do your research, fill your plate with colors and ask yourself what your food had to go through to get on your plate. If the answer is “nothing”, then eat away. After all, there’s a reason Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.