How to use food as medicine – know the properties in foods can cure you
he idea of using food as a medicine is a very old one, so old we could say it is part of our DNA. We as animals know what we should be eating and know what not to eat. This knowledge for the most part have been lost. Some are trying to bring back the concept of food as medicine. Perhaps one of the first pioneers of food as medicine is Dr. Henry G. Bieler writer of “Food is Your Best Medicine” published in 1965. Still a relevant work with many followers to this day.
Most of us associate healing with taking drugs and it doesn’t even enter our minds that eating the wrong foods might have a lot to do with why some of us are sick in the first place. In hospitals and in long term care homes, food is only a industrial preparation that is suppose to meet the “dietary requirements” of proteins fats and minerals. I sometimes tell other nurses and doctors, patients should not be eating donuts, some look at me as if I had two heads.
Even though there have been vast improvements since the natural food revolution of the 1960’s we still have a long way to go. The problem is that food as medicine needs more research and more big gun government money but that is less lucrative than producing and researching new drugs to treat disease. Big health is in bed with big pharmacy, this is hardly news. The problem is that we are spending about 80% of health care money trying to quick fix diseases with drugs because we think educating patients and feeding them well is too expensive. Prevention is cheaper and that is a well researched and known fact, not mention the reduced suffering for patients which is priceless. If you don’t think food changes our bodies think again. We eat 3 or 4 times a day and ingests substances that have a profound impact on our metabolism 24/7. We are actually more aware of what we need to eat than we think; the body knows.
We don’t need to search too deep to know we sometimes seek food as medicine without even thinking. When we feel like eating something or craving a particular food is our body telling us we need that food. I know what you going to say “my body is telling me I need chocolate” but hold on to that though you are actually right. We do crave food for a reason and we know this to be a medical fact. Pregnant woman end up eating pieces of the wall, a phenomena called “pica”which is attributed to a iron deficiency creating a crave for chalky or sandy materials. If we are more in tune with our bodies we know just the foods we need and it makes us feel better after we eat but propaganda get the best of us. Animals have the same instincts and early man have observed this behavior, also the concept of food as medicine is rooted in the most ancient healing traditions of Greek, Chinese and Indian medicine to name a few.
Nowadays we are so not in tune with our body that we might need some help to either become more in tune or simply learn about what foods can help us. There are a few sources of information available and this is certainly a worthwhile subject to investigate and something I’ll research more in the future. What worries me is that so many people specially the ones who are old and sick in hospitals and homes eat nothing with any medicinal value. This only makes their health conditions worst and their medication list larger with every passing year. But what foods are they not getting and what nutrients they are not absorbing properly?
According to food as medicine concept patients are most likely affected by what they don’t eat rather then what they eat. The idea is that you might not absorb nutrients in sufficient amounts or you might not be getting these nutrients at all so illnesses is rather from malnutrition. Patients are getting fed enough quantity but they are not getting the right foods in the combinations that produce protective and healing results or they might not be absorbing these nutrients due to a lack of the right food combinations. Research have indicated that 80% of cancer patients are malnourished, chemotherapy increases the body need for proteins and many other nutrients. Caloric intake drops among the elderly and cancer rates rise so the importance of understanding more about the nuances of how the body absorb nutrition is very important. We need to understand the mind and body connection to the gut and how combinations of different foods and spices and herbs can promote digestive health. There are 90 million Americans who suffer from digestive diseases. There are several reasons why food is not absorbed and that involves the “Cephalic” phase of digestion.
The Cephalic phase are the gastric and saliva secretions that occur when appetite is stimulated before eating begins. Many things can lead to impairment of the cephalic phase including stress and poor eating habits. The impairment of the cephalic phase leads to diminishing blood flow to the gut and the result is less absorption of nutrients. The food which is not absorbed can wreak havoc in our bodies making us even more miserable and stressed which generate a feedback loop only making things worse. So the function of spices and food that is well prepared and well selected is more than just a simple case of style but it impacts how we digest and absorb nutrients which is the pillar of health, and disease immunity. Absorption can also be augmented by the combination of foods we use.
Knowing how to combine foods can increase the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Carrots and avocados are a nice combo because beta-carotene is better absorbed in the presence of fat if you don’t have avocados olive oil will do. Apples and blueberries, spinach and blueberries makes a powerful nutrient-dense dynamic pair. The idea of eating specific and restricted diets is not part of “food as medicine” because every family of foods have highly nutritional content but is often not absorbed because they may need to be paired correctly supporting absorption. Individuals may also absorb food nutrients in different ways and we simply don’t have the tools to find out exactly why, but research have indicated that to be true. The best way to ensure these combinations is to make sure we have a rich and as varied as possible diet. Lack of absorption is a big item in food as medicine but equally important is inflammation.
Scientists believe that what we do eat or rather the quality of foods we eat can cause chronic inflammation in our cells tissues and organs. This condition puts our immune system in a constant attack mode with serious impact to our health. We can make improvements using a range of anti inflammatory foods that are available. This is very important since 35% of cancers have a relationship with inflammation. In this case it does matter what we do eat because even if you take care of the cephalic phase of your digestion it is not going to be any good if your stuff your selfves with junk junk 24/7. The body can only take so much. Processed and packaged foods are at the top on the list of “inflammation foods” and that goes to baked goods, pies, cookies. Hospitals and long term care facilities usually offer nothing but industrialized foods and everything is laced with sugar. Since 80% of all packaged foods have sugar it becomes very serious matter because it is nearly impossible to control how much sweets one ingest. The body can only tolerate about 50 gm of sugar per day, but the average American consumes over 100 gm/day. The other factor is how we cook our foods.
A lot of carcinogens can be created by the heat we apply to foods specially when cooking meats. One of these carcinogens are called heterocyclic amines which are formed by the heat-catalyzed interplay between creatinine found in meats (muscles) and amino acids. When these heterocyclic amines are given to male rats they immediately develop prostate cancer and females develop colon and breast cancers. Another myth busting straight from “food as medicine” camp is getting cancer from pesticides found in fruits and vegetables. Lynda McIntyre a registered dietitian with a specialty counseling cancer patients at both the Kimmel Cancer Center at Hopkins and the Sibley Hospital Center for Breast Health in Washington D.C. says “Less than 2 percent of all cancers can be directly related to what the additives are in food.
Up to 60 percent can be related to what we’re not eating.” The right approach she said is to “eat the rainbow” meaning eat the widest variety of colors you can find; the brighter the food the richer the color and the higher the amount of antioxidants it contains. We can change who we are by making changes on how we eat and what we eat and when this concept is further extended to cure diseases, it becomes a revolutionary concept. There is so much doctors could do if they used more food as medicine rather than relying solely in heavy duty big gun drugs.
While drugs treat the symptoms food can help the body achieve health equilibrium on its own which produces better long term results. Treatments that heavily depend on drugs require increasingly higher doses and often does not lead to a cure. Healing takes time, participation and work, hard to get supply items. For example doctors could be using peppermint as a irritable bowel syndrome medication which works so well relaxing the esophagus you have to be careful not to use too much risking a heartburn due to acid reflux. Many common kitchen staples can be used effectively for prevention or relieving of gut related maladies. Caraway oil have been well studied in the treatment of gastroparesis and slow motility problems in the upper GI tract.
According to Gerald Mullin a top expert specialist in food and gut disorder physicians can easily use ginger for patients suffering from gastric dysmotilities or other GI problems. Ginger works just as well as Zofran a commonly used anti-nausea drug. Caraway has also been well studied; its oil can be beneficial in the treatment of gastroparesis and can help those with slow motility and problems in the upper GI tract. Fennel, ginger, dill, cumin can also be helpful on everyday basis. It is unfortunate that most medicine today does not include food as a healing component.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” is Hippocrates famous quote but has grown to be a distant memory in the minds of most physicians today. Instead of investing in the basics there is a continued support for treatments that involve drugs and addressing the symptoms which only leads to more drugs and worst; surgery. Food as medicine conduces to practices that look at patients whole wealth and aim at a permanent cure and balance that the patient can achieve on her own with. It is time to return to basics if we are to achieve health and wellness for individuals. Food is the most basic yet the most critical for maintaining health and preventing disease.
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