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Would you change what you eat if you considered food medicine?

Posted Sep 22 2008 11:06am

Want to get healthier? Eat better? Feel fitter? Have your “numbers” more in line with where they should be? Try this: look at what you eat as medicine, each morsel providing the nutrients that either increase your health or decrease it, because actually it does. I’m not advocating that you can’t eat a plate of French fries or a bowl of ice cream, but I am suggesting that if you approached what you eat differently, that everything you eat is either making you healthier or having the opposite effect, would you make healthier food choices?  While vitamin and mineral supplements are useful, particularly for certain conditions, they are not quick fixes or substitutes for a healthy diet. In fact they've been shown to be less healthful than eating the real food that contains them because supplements contain only one trace element extracted from a whole host of nutrients that work together in the foods where they naturally exist.

Also, I have to say the notion of “fortifying” foods is somewhat misleading. It leads us to believe those foods become super healthy, but you can’t spray a nutrient on basically white bread (with a little caramel coloring or tablespoon of whole wheat flour and call it whole wheat bread) and then tell people it’s uber healthy.   I firmly believe, in case you haven't gotten it yet, that what we eat, along with physical activity and our genetics forms the building blocks of our health. 

I got to wondering whether it would inspire us to eat healthier if we considered food medicine the other day when I got my annual report from my endo: A1C, cholesterol, triglycerides, microalbumin, blood pressure. I sat across the desk from my doc shrouded in worry, I always find these things worrisome, and then found out that I’m fit as a fiddle. My A1c is in the 5’s, my HDL (good cholesterol) is as high as my LDL (bad cholesterol), my microalbumin which is supposed to be under 30 is 0.3 and on and on, one great result after another. My doctor, in fact, needing to fax my A1c report to the group I do the A1c Champion presentations for wrote on his report patient in “excellent control.” Seeing "excellent control" I had a flash of insight why I'm in excellent control--my numbers are by and large the direct result of what I put in my body, and what I don’t, and that I walk an hour a day. I translated "excellent control" not merely into blood sugar as he meant it, but something bigger: my overarching diet and exercise routine. Everyone with diabetes keeps hearing the mantra, "diet and exercise" and I really got it in that moment, yep, it makes all the difference. But diet doesn't mean low calories, or the debate between low carbs and low fats: it means healthful, nutrition-rich foods, which are basically vegetables, grains, fruits, beans, and a bit of the rest, largely unrefined foods and where fats are concerned the healthy ones.

I’m not discounting the role genetics plays, you may be more prone to one thing or another based on your genes. I’m on synthroid for my underperforming thyroid, my thyroid failed me at exactly the same age it happened to my mother. And, while my HDL is 105 and my LDL is 106, some would say my LDL should be lower, like 70 often quoted as the target for diabetics. I in fact think  it should be lower as a result of my diet, but I know it’s 106 because of genetics, both my parents have high cholesterol. But genes are often triggered by our poor diets.

I’m also not saying in considering your diet as medicine that there's no room for fried calamari, bread sticks or a piece of incredibly delicious New York cheesecake, but consider that a day you skip your meds and know that the bulk of what you put in your body on a daily basis forms the health of your bones, your blood, your tissue, the foundation that you rest upon, and if you put in whole and wholesome foods, you know the ones that grow out of the ground and on trees, your house is going to stand on a stellar foundation.  Whereas when we stuff ourselves with less healthy foods, lots of sugar and fat, refined carbs and animal protein, rather than plant protein, we cause inflammation of our body's tissues, the stimulus for disease and premature aging. Too many people are eating weak, not nutrient dense, foods and believing that “fortified” on a product label is the seal of approval. The real reason portion control has become so big is we're eating the wrong things and rather than pushing the right foods, some self invested organizations are trying to solve the problem by limiting the amount of bad things you eat. In the end, this is not the solution.

If there’s room for you to do better with your “numbers” those target ranges for all your vitals, instead of thinking about another medication to add to your regimen, think about what you eat. I’m not giving any medical advice, or telling you not to take your medication, I’m just saying in addition try viewing the foods and beverages you put in your body, your engine, as either premium, super, leaded or leaded and to for the ones that will give you the most mileage so you're running like a fine tuned lamborghini. Leafy greens, b roccoli, kale, salmon, walnuts, spinach, blueberries, ginger, tumeric, these are not "fortified" foods, these are whole, real foods, and among the most healthful, and I like to think medicinal foods you can feed yourself. Ask yourself: W ould I make healthier food choices if I viewed everything I put in my mouth—well almost everything—as having a high or low rating of medicinal effect? I would, I do, and I can't go back, not when I've seen the results of an ironically fabulously tasty and satisfying "medicinal" diet.

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