Big Pharma or Big Mac? | Food As Medicine

Our world revolves around food. We gather around tables together to eat; we travel to taste different culture’s cuisines; we drop off baked goods and treats at our loved ones’ houses for comfort and celebration. 

“We have on average over 200 thoughts per day about food.” The Brain Doctors

Almost every event, gathering, or festival gathers around food in some form. We need it to survive, but we also crave it to engage our senses, soothe a broken heart or elevate an exciting experience. 

What if food was more than just something we put into our bodies to survive? What if food had the ability to transform our minds and bodies, to heal them, and protect them from illness. Well, allow me to let you in on a little secret – it does. Food is medicine and can be more effective than the big powers of big pharmaceutical companies to keep up your strength and wellness. 

The Chronic Disease Dilemma

Robert T. Jones, the founder of Roots Food Foundation (an organization with the goal to bring unprocessed, clean-label food products to those in need, in an effort to improve health and wellness for people while reducing the cost of healthcare for all), speaks about food in an interesting way. “Food is medicine. Food is poison.” 

The influx of chronic diseases in the United States, as well as globally, is largely a result of processed foods being the only reliable and accessible form of sustenance for the majority of the population. These are forms of food that are loaded with sodium, saturated fats, and sugar, and contain little to no fruits, vegetables, or nutrients. Therefore, “cheap food has created a very expensive problem” and has caused a rise in chronic disease for people all across the country, and the world. 

Dr. David Katz, a specialist in Preventive Medicine and Lifestyle Medicine with a globally recognized expertise in nutrition is the founder and former director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center and founder of the True Health Initiative shares the fundamental principles of healthy eating.

“Lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and less of everything else.” Dr. David Katz. “Staying healthy can actually be quite simple. You should eat healthy foods, spend time with loved ones, exercise regularly, connect with nature, and sleep well.

According to the National Institute of Health, over 50 million adults in the United States have hypertension, abnormally high blood pressure. Additionally, over 24 million children and adults suffer from Type 2 Diabetes. These diseases cost thousands of dollars to combat and put a heavy burden on the health care system. For example, heart diseases and strokes cost the industry $216 billion per year, as well as $147 billion in lost productivity on the job, diabetes costs $327 billion in medical costs and lost productivity, and obesity costs the healthcare system nearly $173 billion a year. 

And that is just the financial cost. The cost of lives is far greater, with one in every five deaths in the world resulting from a subpar diet. This is a loss larger than any risk factor, including tobacco usage. 

Food as Medicine

The idea that food is medicine is being experimented with and largely accepted by many healthcare professionals. Dr. Katz states- lifestyle choices are medicine. Simply put, there is no magic pill to help us live a longer life. Instead, lifestyle is a great alternative – the choices we make define us. The food we eat can help us add years to our life and life to our years.

This movement has gained so much momentum that it has reached the federal level of government in an effort to create the essential changes in legislation needed. This September, The White House is holding a hunger, nutrition, and healthcare conference to gain more information and take action steps to address the issue of chronic disease in relation to food. The federal legislation that is pending, HR-5370, is a bill that makes medically tailored meals available nationwide.

It is common knowledge that when processed foods, sugary beverages, and too much red meat are consumed, they can have detrimental effects on cholesterol and heart health. An option many people have gravitated to is that of a plant-based diet. Plants at the forefront of your diet have many benefits to the body, giving you essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that the body requires to prevent diseases and maintain a healthy heart. Furthermore, choosing a diet powered by plants can be a relief to the planet and decrease your environmental footprint. 

How to Incorporate “Food as Medicine” in your Life

Although it would be awesome if everyone decided to go vegan, cold turkey (no irony intended…), that is not necessarily a realistic option for everyone. People’s bodies require different levels of nutrients and protein in order to maintain and sustain energy levels, and daily life. We all have foods that we do not and should not have to give up. Finally, events, life, busyness, and convenience can get in the way of a plant-fueled life. 

So, in lieu of a full rebrand for your diet, allow us to offer up some ideas to incorporate more of a daily dose of good into your diet. 

  1. Most of your nutrients can and SHOULD come from your diet. Try to implement foods that have multiple vitamins and minerals in them. One strand of kale can be much more beneficial to you than a dozen supplements. 
  2. Try “Meat Free Mondays”. According to a study conducted by Oxford University’s public health department, eating meat no more than three times a week could have the potential to prevent “31,000 deaths from heart disease, 9,000 deaths from cancer, and 5,000 deaths from stroke.” 
  3. Don’t overthink it. In today’s health-food-obsessed culture, we receive a lot of noise and opinions from influencers, bloggers, and friends that a certain diet is the best diet or everyone needs to cut dairy out of their diet or gluten is public enemy number one. In reality, balance is the key to a healthy diet and healthy mind. If we do not honor our cravings to a certain extent, the likelihood that we are going to binge on not-so-healthy options later in the day or week increases. 
  4. Focus on adding foods in, rather than taking foods out. If your diet normally consists of cereal, burgers, and pizza, it will not be a sustainable choice to cut all of your favorite foods out and switch to a juice cleanse. Instead, think about adding more fresh vegetables to your favorite meals to increase the value of your meals. 
  5. Shop local! According to Michigan State University, shopping locally can benefit the environment to maintain farmland and greenspace within your community. Local foods also promote a safer food supply. When food moves through a lot of hands, machines, trucks, and stores to make it into your fridge, there is a higher chance of food contamination and depletion of nutrients.  

Give your body some tender love, care, and medicine with the foods you love!

For more information about food as medicine, check out our interview with Robert T. Jones!