Food as Medicine: Start making healthy diet choices

“Let food be your medicine, and medicine your food.” So said Hippocrates, considered the father of modern medicine, some 2,500 years ago.

Sadly, in recent centuries, his advice has been either avoided or minimized. Considering that recent statistics reveal that 8 out of 10 leading causes of death in the United States are directly related to diet, it may be time to re-visit his advice. It is clear that our inadequate diets are literally killing us.

With recent books like Michael Pollen’s “In Defense of Food,” the film and book entitled “Food, Inc.,” and noted TV food celebrity Jamie Oliver, people are hearing about the health, economic, and environmental reasons to re-frame our ideas about food. Many are changing their habits of eating out of boxes, cans, frozen tins, and not questioning the ingredients on the label that they can’t pronounce.

We eat primarily for pleasure, to supply energy, and to rebuild tissue. Damaged tissues turn over periodically and can re-build new and healthy cells if given the proper nourishment. The entire lining of our guts is replaced with new cells every three days while heart cells take up to 30 days and bone and nerve cells up to a year.

Food processing became big business in the 1970s. Nutritional quality became less important than extending shelf life. Improving texture and appearance by adding toxic additives and preservatives became commonplace. Grocery store shelves were filled with sugar and fat-laden foods that didn’t even resemble their natural origins so more money could be made. It worked; large food corporations like Nabisco, General Mills, Pillsbury, and others are some of the wealthiest companies in America. Chemicals and hormones were added to live food and livestock, creating a toxic overload on our bodies and the environment, and we are only now seeing the consequences

Like religion and politics, the subject of food and nutrition provokes controversy and dogmatism. The Internet and book stores are filled with the “new facts,” some of which are helpful but many of which are fads not based on any scientific evidence. It is confusing enough to the consumer to know which food plans are healthy, let alone determine what to eat.

Without going into biochemical details, I can tell you that we all need adequate carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that include vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals from real foods. Sugar is not a nutrient, but glucose obtained from complex carbohydrates like vegetables, legumes, and whole grains is necessary for brain function. Insoluble and soluble fibers are both necessary and deficient in the American diets. Only plant foods have fiber.

Trans-fatty acids (partially hydrogenated fats) like margarine are not only unhealthy but dangerous for our health. Four grams is considered a health risk and one doughnut has three grams. Essential fatty acids from fish and flax oil are vital for our brains and our hearts. Wild salmon and walnuts are good sources.

Protein makes up the largest part of our body, so it is clearly essential. Animal protein has all the essential amino acids, while vegetable proteins need to be combined to be considered “complete." Consuming 30 percent of your diet as protein is considered a preventative measure for diabetes and atherosclerosis. The best animal protein foods are organic chicken, eggs, wild caught salmon, mackerel, and halibut and wild game.

Beware of thinking that you can substitute synthetic vitamin and mineral supplements for real food. More and more scientific studies show that they are not having the effects that they promoted. All real foods come from living things. All living things are extremely complex. The components all have specific functional purposes and are kept in balance within the food matrix. If we consume the food, they all work together to benefit our cellular biology. If we take the food apart, and isolate certain components into capsules and pills, they don’t have the same biological effects. They act more like drugs than nutrition. This puts extra strain on organs like the liver and kidneys that have to work to detoxify them.

So, what does the average person do to improve their nutritional habits? First, come out of denial about your diet, your weight, and your health. Consult someone that can give you a good nutritional evaluation. Begin to educate yourself about food. Keep a food diary to see what it is you’re putting in your mouth daily. Begin to withdraw off all non-foods, replacing them with whole foods. Buy organic from local farms.

Get some whole food cookbooks and practice new recipes. Learn to juice fruits and veggies. Begin your day with smoothies you make yourself with fresh foods. If you take nutritional supplements, make sure they are made out of whole foods without artificial ingredients. Consider a whole food cleanse and purification to help you withdraw off processed sugar and fat-laden foods. Find an accountability partner or group that will support your diet changes. Express your emotions about food, withdrawal symptoms and feelings of deprivation. Find substitutes for non- foods to use as snacks and to curb cravings. Incorporate some sort of movement exercise into your daily routine. Drink half your body weight in ounces of pure water a day. Begin to view the preparation of fresh foods as a meditative experience, where you slow down and spend time caring for yourself.

Remember, every day you have food choices. No one is holding a gun to your head to make you eat certain foods — you choose them. Your life may depend on making new, healthier choices about what you choose to put in your mouth.

• Leslie Bedell is owner of Agape Chiropractic in North Bend. Call her at (425) 888-1670.

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