Chicago Health | Homepage
You are what you eat: Let food be your medicine, too

You are what you eat: Let food be your medicine, too

By Carrie Dennett, M.P.H., R.D.N., Environmental Nutrition Newsletter

In the 4th Century BCE, the Greek physician Hippocrates authored the famous oath, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” We now know that foods like berries, green tea, and mushrooms are more than just a delicious source of energy; the nutrients inside can indeed be powerful medicine to help prevent and even manage disease.

Synergy in foods

Unlike drugs, foods are not isolated substances. Every food we eat contains a symphony of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (plant compounds that may reduce the risk of disease) that interact to help fend off disease.

“Without sufficient amounts of these nutrients, the body simply cannot operate at full capacity; our function is impaired and chronic disease can result,” says Mary Purdy, M.S., R.D.N., a private practice dietitian and adjunct clinical faculty member at Bastyr University in Seattle, WA.

Kathie Madonna Swift, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N., education director of the Food As Medicine training program at the Saybrook University Center for Mind-Body Medicine, Oakland, Calif., and author of “The Swift Diet,” says that sunflower seeds are an example of a food that may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease.

“They contain the family of vitamin E compounds that are important for brain health. Popping a vitamin E pill does not afford the same protection–the whole food does it best,” she notes.

The power of dietary patterns

Numerous studies have identified dietary patterns that consistently decrease our risk for chronic disease. For example, diets high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other plant foods–such as the Mediterranean diet–are associated with a reduced risk of inflammation, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.

When the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee looked at dietary patterns that prevent disease, the evidence consistently showed that diets rich in vegetables and fruits, such as Mediterranean and vegetarian diet patterns, are linked to lower rates of chronic disease.

Foods with medicinal benefits

While many plant foods have been linked with health, here are some of the most promising disease-busting foods you should include in your diet:

1. Berries. Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are a rich source of numerous phytochemicals that research suggests have a variety of positive effects on human health, including reducing chronic inflammation and cancer risk.

2. Broccoli. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables contain a number of phytonutrients that have been shown to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, which has benefits for cardiovascular health, healthy blood sugar and cancer prevention.

3. Cinnamon. Swift cites cinnamon for its blood sugar-balancing attributes, even with just 1/2 teaspoon a day.

4. Cranberries. Research suggests that cranberries may prevent urinary tract infections, possibly because they prevent bacteria from adhering to cells inside the bladder. Opt for pure cranberry juice, rather than juices adulterated with other juices and sweeteners.

5. Fish. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish have anti-inflammatory properties. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fatty fish each week, such as salmon or black cod, to help prevent cardiovascular disease.

6. Fermented foods. Swift and Purdy are both fans of fermented and cultured foods (yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, and miso) to support digestive function and a healthy immune system.

7. Garlic. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, there’s probable evidence that garlic and other members of the allium family (onions, leeks, shallots, scallions) reduce the risk of developing common cancers.

8. Ginger and turmeric. Swift likes these spice relatives for their anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties. Ginger also can help ease nausea and vomiting.

9. Green tea. The phytochemical EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) in green tea has been shown to have some anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects, and may have heart health benefits. Swift points out that its antioxidant quality also may help protect the skin from sun damage.

10. Shiitake mushrooms. In human studies, shiitakes have demonstrated anti-cancer, immune boosting, and cholesterol-lowering properties.

11. Nuts. “Numerous studies have shown nuts to be helpful for cardiovascular function and healthy blood sugar and weight levels,” Purdy says. “Plus, they are super transportable and can be thrown into just about everything, from yogurt, smoothies, and cereals to salads, soups, and stir fries.”

Nutrients combat disease

One of the first confirmations of food as medicine came in the 1700s with the observation that sailors who ate citrus fruit were able to avoid scurvy. That connection led to the discovery of vitamin C (scurvy is caused by vitamin C deficiency) some 200 years later, ushering in an era of discovery about connections between nutrients and diseases

Gene-diet interactions

The mapping of the human genome has opened the door to personalized nutrition, which someday may move us from “you are what you eat” to “how to eat for who you are.” The emerging field of nutrigenomics looks at the connection between our genes, the nutrients in the foods we eat, and our health.

“Food contains a unique portfolio of bioactive ingredients that inform our genes to express health,” says Swift. In other words, if compounds in broccoli can stop a cancer-promoting gene from expressing itself, eating lots of broccoli may be truly “medicinal” for people with that gene.

(Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384.


Similar Articles

Fighting Obesity With Calorie Counts and Community Efforts

Fighting Obesity With Calorie Counts and Community Efforts

By Kevin Sterne A federal regulation that would have given consumers a better idea of their

Food as Medicine

Food as Medicine

How what you eat affects your mood By Nancy Maes “You are what you eat” may seem

Gut Relief

Gut Relief

Low-FODMAP diet may help those with stomach ills By Victoria Shanta Retelny, RDN Let’s face it, when

Make your diet more nutrient-dense

Make your diet more nutrient-dense

Environmental Nutrition By Matthew Kadey, M.S., R.D., Environmental Nutrition Newsletter There is only so much food you

Gluten related symptoms: Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity?

Gluten related symptoms: Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity?

The Medicine Cabinet: Ask the Harvard Experts By Howard LeWine, M.D. Q: I seem to be very

Articles By Category

Family Health

In The Know

CH Lifestyle

May 2017
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
April 30, 2017 May 1, 2017 May 2, 2017 May 3, 2017 May 4, 2017 May 5, 2017 May 6, 2017
May 7, 2017 May 8, 2017 May 9, 2017 May 10, 2017 May 11, 2017 May 12, 2017 May 13, 2017
May 14, 2017 May 15, 2017 May 16, 2017 May 17, 2017 May 18, 2017 May 19, 2017 May 20, 2017
May 21, 2017 May 22, 2017 May 23, 2017 May 24, 2017 May 25, 2017 May 26, 2017 May 27, 2017
May 28, 2017 May 29, 2017 May 30, 2017 May 31, 2017 June 1, 2017 June 2, 2017 June 3, 2017


Recent Comments

Fund a Cure Night | The Griffith Family Foundation

Fund a Cure Night | The Griffith Family Foundation

Enjoy a great night of baseball at Peoples Natural

Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Enjoy a great night of baseball at Peoples Natural