Food as Medicine
There are many reasons why we should pay attention to what we eat. The processed, low-variety foods many of us consume regularly may be convenient and tasty, but they compromise our health.
We especially need to pay attention to what we eat when we are sick so we can give our bodies the nutrients it needs to heal. And if you want to be even more deliberate in improving health—perhaps to address a chronic disease or condition—a Functional Medicine approach can yield great benefits.
Overall, seeing your food as medicine helps you make better decisions about what (and how) to eat in order to make the best decisions for your own wellbeing.
The role of food:
Can prevent disease.
Allows body to function
Gives cells information
What does food do in our bodies?
The nutrients in food enable the cells in our bodies to perform their necessary functions. This quote from a popular textbook describes how the nutrients in food are essential for our physical functioning.
"Nutrients are the nourishing substances in food that are essential for the growth, development and maintenance of body functions. Essential meaning that if a nutrient is not present, aspects of function and therefore human health decline. When nutrient intake does not regularly meet the nutrient needs dictated by the cell activity, the metabolic processes slow down or even stop."
In other words, nutrients give our bodies instructions about how to function. In this sense, food can be seen as a source of "information" for the body.
Thinking about food in this way gives us a view of nutrition that goes beyond calories or grams, good foods or bad foods. This view leads us to focus on foods we should include rather than foods to exclude.
Instead of viewing food as the enemy, we look to food as a way to create health and reduce disease by helping the body maintain function.
What is the connection between food and disease?
As a society we are facing significant health problems.
The United States ranks ninth in life expectancy among nations in the developed world.
We have a workforce plagued with absenteeism and reduced productivity because of chronic health problems, including depression.
78 percent of healthcare expenditures are for the treatment of chronic disease.
Many researchers now believe that these problems are partly related to diet. While they used to believe that diseases-such as type II diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers - were caused by a single gene mutation, they are now generally attributing these conditions to a network of biological dysfunction. And the food we eat is an important factor in that dysfunction, in part because our diets lack the necessary balance of nutrients (Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 2004).
To prevent the onset of these diseases, we need to know how multiple nutrients in a diet interact and affect the human body's functions, according to the Nutrition Society, Europe's largest nutritional organization. Functional Medicine is a dynamic approach to assessing, preventing, and treating complex and chronic diseases using nutrition. This area of healthcare also conducts research on the role that nutrition plays in health.
Expert Contributor: Carolyn Denton, LN