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Food is Medicine

Food is Medicine

Food is Medicine

We have known for thousands of years that the food we eat can affect our health. Hippocrates, who is considered by many to be the father of modern medicine, is famously credited as saying ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’.

Many years later, Thomas Edison stated that ‘The doctor of the future will give no medication but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease’, which of course is what we are all about here at WISE!

I must stress that we still very much believe in the benefits of medication, so if your doctor or other qualified health care practitioner recommends it then please do follow their advice. But food really can harm or heal us, depending upon the choices that we make.

There is good evidence that an unhealthy diet is a big contributor to heart disease, diabetes, many forms of cancer, bowel problems and many other conditions besides, and that following a healthy diet can help to prevent these conditions, to slow down their progress if you already have them, and sometimes even reverse them.

Equally, if you or someone you love has these conditions, this isn’t the time to start feeling guilty. There are many factors that contribute to these things, and diet is only one.

But there’s so much information and misinformation out there. Everyone is an apparent expert, and it’s particularly difficult to know who to believe when it’s very clear from the medical literature and social media that even the people who really are experts in nutrition continue to disagree! 

So what should you eat? Well, there are some things that all the experts agree on, and thankfully they are generally fairly easy to follow. And the good news – generally speaking, what works for heart disease also works for diabetes, which also works for bowel problems, and so on.

It seems that most of the time, a generally healthy diet helps to improve our health regardless of the exact problem we are trying to deal with. There is a lot more to it than that, which is why the experts continue to have heated debates and millions gets spent on research in this general area.

If you have received specific advice from a dietitian about your own diet relating to your own condition then please do follow it, but here are some simple ideas:

  1. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. The recommended amount is 5 servings per day, and one serving is 80g, or one piece of fruit for example. Please don’t believe the myth that you should avoid fruit because it contains sugar (unless a dietitian has advised you to in your specific case); it’s healthy sugar and comes packaged with fibre, water, vitamins, antioxidants and loads of other good things that make fruit a great choice.
  2. Eat less salt. Salt is associated with high blood pressure, and it’s also something that encourages us to overeat once we get a taste for it. You can reduce salt by not adding it at the table, and making careful choices when you’re eating outside of the home.

    Most restaurants and food manufacturers like to add salt to food to make it more tasty, which makes it more likely that you’ll buy more of it in future. I don’t blame them, they are a business who are just trying to sell their product, but be wary of the salt content of pre packaged foods.
  3. Eat less refined sugar. Naturally occurring sugar in food is fine, as you would find in fruits and vegetables, and if a small amount of ordinary sugar sprinkled over your favourite healthy breakfast cereal or fruit salad encourages you to eat it then that’s fine. It’s when we start eating it as a meal in itself, so in cakes, biscuits and sweets etc that it becomes a problem.

    Refined sugar makes our own blood sugar go shooting up high very quickly, which means that our metabolism kicks in quickly to try to reduce it, and often overdoes things a bit so that our blood sugar comes crashing down again just as quickly, and often too low.

    This can make us hungry and often grumpy, and also means we are likely to crave sugary snacks as we try to correct it. Avoiding sweet treats (not always, obviously!) and choosing wholegrain bread, brown rice and brown pasta instead of their white alternatives are simple switches to make here.
  4. Eat less refined fat. Again, naturally occurring fat in healthful food is fine, our body needs us to eat fat in order to function. But if you’re eating large amounts of processed foods that contain refined vegetable oils, that’s probably not a healthful choice.
  5. Reduce your consumption of processed foods and takeaways. So things like ready meals and snacks, and meals from fast food outlets. They typically contain a range of unhealthy ingredients and they are also carefully designed to get you eating large portions of them, and going back to buy more in future. Food made from scratch at home may look the same as something ready made, but on average it will be a lot healthier.

There are so many more things to write about on this subject, but anyone who just follows these top five tips will already be doing themselves a massive favour in terms of keeping themselves healthy. It’s not about depriving yourself, it’s about finding healthy food you love and obviously having the occasional treat too.

It’s what you do on average that matters. The odd cheat meal here and there won’t make a massive difference in the long term.

Author: Sue Kenneally