Food as Medicine

by Brittyn Howard, MS, RDN/LD

“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”. This famous quote was uttered more than 2,000 years ago by Hippocrates, the man still known as the father of modern medicine. Over the years, this sentence has been scientifically proven time and time again. The foods we eat directly prevent, treat, and reverse disease, and help our bodies perform optimally (or else, not so optimally). Nutrient-dense foods help combat depression, fatigue, inflammation, acne, and weight gain. They also prevent diseases such as high blood pressure, sleep disorders, digestive complaints, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and even cancer.

The foods we put into our body can be anti-inflammatory, decreasing inflammation in our bodies, or pro-inflammatory, increasing inflammation. Inflammation in the body means arteries, organs, and other parts of your body are inflamed, forcing the body to continually try to heal itself, repair damaged cells, and remove harmful stimuli. This response to inflammation is our body’s defense mechanism when we get sick. If you are continually eating foods that are pro-inflammatory, your body is constantly in defense mode against the foods you are consuming. This causes your body to tire and can put you in a state of constant inflammation, which decreases your defense to sickness. Basically, your body is fighting what is supposed to be fueling it rather than fighting the real enemies... You can see the problem here. 

On the flip side, when we eat foods that are anti-inflammatory, it is letting our body rest, recover, and re-build. It allows our cells to operate at their optimum level, which is good news for the rest of your body, like your circulatory system and all of your organs, to name a few important bodily components. Your body is no longer constantly fighting inflammation and is able to have the best defense to pathogens and sickness. In fact, this even prevents or halts the growth of cancerous cells and decreases inflammation in the blood vessels that contribute to heart disease. 

So what are these pro and anti-inflammatory foods? Pro-inflammatory foods include meat, eggs, dairy, sugar, alcohol, oil (yes, all oils! Even “healthy oils” like olive oil have inflammatory properties), refined grains and flour, artificial sweeteners, and saturated and trans fats. Do these look familiar? These are practically the staples of a Standard American Diet (do you think it’s any coincidence that the acronym is SAD?). Heck, think of a meal you get from McDonald’s. A Big Mac meal has (1) processed meat patty(s) (2) refined grain bun (3) processed cheese (3) fried french fries (4) a sugar or artificially sweetened soda and (5) you KNOW the entire meal is drenched in oil - check out the completely oil-drenched yellow paper wrapping. Yikes. In that one meal you have quickly hit FIVE of the inflammatory foods I have listed above. Not to mention the meal contains tons of cholesterol, saturated and trans fats, and well-over your day’s worth of calories.

Now let’s get to anti-inflammatory foods. These include all plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, beans and legumes, and nuts. These are naturally very high in fiber, which aids in digestive and intestinal health, helps with lowering cholesterol, managing blood sugars, and as an added bonus, keeps you fuller longer. They are naturally cholesterol and saturated fat free, which are major contributors to heart disease. They also contain antioxidants which fight free radicals (molecules that harm the body and damage cells and DNA). These foods come with all of the benefits you see on vitamin labels, but they taste delicious and you don't have to swallow them without chewing first. 

By opting for more plant-based foods, you are practically investing in preventative medicine, and at a fraction of the cost. One common misconception is that a plant-based diet costs more than a typical diet (this could be another whole post), which is first of all, not true - but second of all, can be viewed as an investment in health rather than paying for a triple bypass surgery down the road. As Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, one of the fathers of the whole food, plant-based diet, says “Many people call the plant-based diet extreme, half a million people each year will have their chests opened up and a vein taken from their leg and sewn into their coronary artery. Some call that extreme”.

Most Americans simply do not know the impact that their food has on their bodies or their well-being. Some choose to blatantly ignore it. My hope for you after reading this post is that you will make a change for your body, become a healthier version of yourself, and spread this knowledge with others.

If you are interested and would like to know more about a plant-based diet, you can check out “Forks Over Knives” on Netflix or some other resources listed here:

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