Beth Joscelyne, 2018 SPCNM Graduate Practitioner
“Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food…”
Hippocrates, the ‘father of Western medicine’, first coined these famous words around 431 B.C., as he firmly believed good nutrition to be fundamental to good health. This is as true today as it ever was; and no amount of exercise or nutritional supplementation can release you from the need to eat a healthy diet and minimise your consumption of unhealthy foods, if you desire long term good health. Indeed, many foods act as medicine, supporting and promoting good health, while on the other side of the coin, many foods are detrimental to our health, particularly if we are eating these foods on a regular basis.
As a general population, today a large portion of our total daily calories comes from nutritionally depleted foods – think highly processed foods, foods that have been sitting in storage and/or travelled a long way from where they were grown, and foods that have synthetically derived flavours and preservatives added to make them look good and extend their shelf life. Further, a huge body of research confirms that many common chronic diseases, for example type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer, are directly linked to unhealthy diet and lifestyle.
Some good news please…?
The good news is, incorporating a ‘food as medicine’ approach to the way you eat is not difficult, and it doesn’t mean you have to live on a bunch of superfoods grown in the Andes or the Amazonian forest. While there is no one way of eating that is perfect for everyone (we are all unique), here are some straight forward, and economical examples of how you can use your food as medicine to promote optimal health and wellbeing:
- Eat a rainbow every day! Colourful fruits and vegetables contain thousands of natural chemicals known as phytonutrients, which are known to help prevent disease and enhance our health when we eat them! Different colours are associated with different phytonutrients, and therefore offer different health benefits, so eating a rainbow of plant foods every day will serve your health extremely well!
- Eat lots of greens daily! Yes, greens deserve a special mention… just look what they did for Popeye. Green veggies are an excellent source of folic acid, minerals (including iron and calcium), antioxidants, fibre and chlorophyll. They also contain omega-3 essential fatty acids, have anti-inflammatory properties, and help the body to detoxify! But wait there’s more… Greens are high in lutein and indoles (phytonutrients), with regular consumption shown to reduce the risk of skin cancer, prostate cancer and macular degeneration. So your mother was right – eat your greens every day!
- Garlic: A fabulous example of a super food, garlic is anti-microbial (a natural antibiotic), contains cancer-preventative chemicals, it thins the blood, reduces blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides, stimulates immune function, relieves chronic bronchitis, and acts as an expectorant and decongestant.
Just half a clove of raw garlic daily provides effective anti-blood clot activity, while 1-2 cloves raw daily lowers cholesterol.
- Oats: Loaded with vitamins, minerals, a type of soluble fiber known as beta-glucan, and antioxidants, oats are known to lower cholesterol, stablise insulin and balance blood sugar when half a cup is eaten daily. What a great way to start your day!
- Brazil nuts: Best known for their selenium content (super important for prostate and thyroid health), Brazil nuts are also high in protein, healthy fats, fiber, thiamine, ellagic acid, copper and magnesium. Best of all, they are extremely delicious!
Just 2 – 3 brazil nuts daily provides the recommended daily intake of selenium.
- Cold pressed olive oil: Olive oil well known for its health benefits. Rich in monounsaturated oleic acid which is known to offer anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic actions, it has been shown to support cardiovascular health and lower the risk of dementia.
Eating just 1 tablespoon daily has been shown to lower blood pressure; and 4 to 5 tablespoons daily is known to improve the blood profile of heart attack patients.
- Broccoli: Broccoli is loaded with fiber, B vitamins, vitamin A & E, minerals, protein, and even contains omega-3 fatty acids.
Just half a cup of broccoli daily has been shown to reduce risk of cancer, especially colon and lung cancer, as well as support the liver detoxification pathways.
A quick word on foods best avoided…
When we focus on the positive we feel empowered, so the best strategy is to focus on increasing more of the health-promoting foods like those listed above. However, it is important know the key foods detrimental too good health, so we can work towards minimising or eliminating these foods. That said, the key dietary things to avoid are:
- Highly processed foods which are generally very lacking in nutritional value and usually loaded with the below ingredients that have negative health consequences.
- Hydrogenated oils and trans fats, found in take away, processed foods, margarine and refined oils.
- Foods high in added sugars or artificial sweeteners.
- Food additives – artificial colours, flavours and additives; all added to processed foods to extend shelf life, or improve their look or taste.
At the simplest level, just aim to limit highly processed and refined foods!
Fueling up on medicinal foods, especially fresh fruit and vegetables, is a great way to flood the body with health-promoting nutrients, and so important for anyone wanting to optimise their health and wellbeing. The beauty is, regardless of where your health is at right now, medicinal foods are going to serve you well and it is never too late to introduce healthy improvements to your diet. If this is all new to you, how about starting today with one of the suggestions above.
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