Food As Medicine

What we eat and what we drink really are vital parts of what we are – and what we will become. From before we are born all the way into old age, sustenance isn’t just survival, it is our strength, our size, our short-term health, our long-term health – and all other factors being equal – the length and quality of our lives. Every time we choose a meal or snack, a food, a drink, we’re making a decision that affects our body and mind in a positive or negative way. We know that heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and many other major and minor ailments and diseases, including cancers, are often, at least in part, linked to poor nutrition.

The fact is, food is not only vital fuel but also vital medicine. It can heal the body, treat symptoms and prevent disease. When we hear the word ‘malnutrition’ the majority of us would probably automatically think of the impoverished world. However,  loads of us in developed nations such as New Zealand are in fact, suffering from malnutrition too! Malnutrition doesn’t just apply to those who are famished. It’s a condition that can result from eating an unbalanced diet in which certain nutrients are lacking, in excess (too high an intake), or in the wrong proportions. We can be eating an abundance of food and yet still suffer from malnutrition if our diets lack the nutrients required for healthy cell development or our food contains artificial ingredients which put extra stress or burden on our systems.

Individual nutrients differ in form and function, and in the amount needed by the body; however, they’re all vital for our health. If we don’t give ourselves the proper nutrients, we can impair the body’s normal functions and cause ourselves great harm. Even if we don’t show obvious signs of illness or mineral or vitamin deficiency, we may not necessarily be healthy.

It can be disheartening for many when they may be eating an abundance of healthy foods, yet be lacking in certain nutrients and suffering signs of mineral and vitamin deficiencies. This can be caused by a number of reasons, and if you consider your diet to be healthy but still feel fatigued or unwell, it is worthwhile to speak to a health professional to get to the root cause of your symptoms and to ascertain whether vitamin and mineral absorption issues may be at play.  It may be that you need to make some small changes in your diet, or further tests may be undertaken to ascertain what exactly is going on. Intervention, supplements or pharmaceutical drugs may be needed to help you get back your health, but never underestimate the power of good food as your first port of call.

While supplements have their place in the modern world, foods in their whole form (‘wholefoods’) contain a number of substances that work synergistically (together) and in a way that your body is familiar with. In contrast, supplements may deliver just one vitamin and in a synthetic form.

Don’t forget either that our nutritional requirements are all unique. While your friend may be vegetarian and yet have adequate stores of B12, you may eat red meat multiple times a week and yet be deficient in B12. However, you may require far less zinc in your diet than your friend and so it goes on. Experiment with what makes you feel your best. It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg, filling your grocery trolley with ‘superfoods’ and organic this and that. Go back to basics, and always choose foods in a state as close to their natural form as possible (ie. with minimal processing or additives). Googling to find out what constitutes a ‘healthy diet’ can be overwhelming in this day and age, when it seems there is a never-ending smorgasbord of options available. Paleo, vegan, gluten-free, Atkins, Whole30…the list goes on. If you feel overwhelmed by choice, consider speaking to a nutritionist or naturopath to help you work out what is best for you. Food shouldn’t be stressful, so try and use common sense and listen to your body and note how it responds after certain foods. Be gentle and choose intuitively where you can.

One of the most influential figures in the history of medicine, the Greek physician Hippocrates, said it the best, “Let your food be your medicine and let your medicine be your food”.

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