ISLAMABAD, (Online) – “Food as medicine” may be an emerging concept in the Western world but has existed for centuries as the cornerstone of health for many cultures around the globe.
However, the role of diet and food in disease prevention and management compared to conventional medicine has been questioned. This Honest Nutrition feature explains the benefits and limitations of a “food as medicine” healthcare approach.
The fact that diet can impact an individual’s health is well acknowledged by healthcare providers worldwide. People with access to adequate nutrition are more likely to have strong immune systems, safer pregnancy and childbirth, lower risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and live longer.
The reasons for this are complex and not yet well understood. Some research has shown that a diet rich in added sugars, saturated and trans fats and excess sodium may induce chronic inflammation. Trusted source — is an underlying risk factor in the development of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, poor gut health, and other chronic diseases.
Experts think this diet supports good health through its potential to reduce harmful risk factors of cardiovascular disease, including inflammation, elevated cholesterolTrusted Source, high blood pressure, and poor sleepTrusted Source.
The World Health OrganizationTrusted Source (WHO) links nutritional status to immune health.
Furthermore, research also shows that carotenoids — antioxidants naturally found in some vegetables and fruits — in the diet can improve the blood metabolites of people with liver disease Trusted Source.
Decades of scientific findings support the integral role of diet in health management trusted Sources, which should not be understated.
According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for AmericansTrusted Source. The core of a healthy diet is built on high intakes of a variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages, including:
- whole grains
- low and non-fat dairy
- lean protein
- healthy fats and oils.
Should limit sugar, salt, saturated fats, and alcohol for good health.
Some distrusted Sources that may bring health benefits include the Mediterranean distrusted source, dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASHTrusted Source), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Healthy Eating MyPlate approach.
Food as medicine
“Food as medicineTrusted Source” is a practice built on the knowledge that food and diet play important roles in disease prevention and management.
There is no single definition of the “food as medicine” concept. Still, it generally refers to prioritizing food and diet in an individual’s health plan to prevent, reduce symptoms, or reverse a disease state.
It is focused on the increased consumption of a variety of whole, minimally-processed plant-based foods and limited intakes of highly processed foods rich in added sugar, oil, and salt.
These include a variety of herbs and spices, legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables.
The “food as medicine” approach to health management challenges the construct of conventional medicine, which relies primarily on technological medical advancements to manage health and disease with pharmaceutical drugs.
It is worth noting that conventional, Western medicine does prescribe dietary and lifestyle changes as a first-line treatment for some conditions, notably polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOSTrusted source).
Here are some benefits of a “food as medicine” healthcare approach.
Medical nutrition therapy is a trusted source of evidence-based health practice that uses diet and food to support the treatment of diseases. It clearly demonstrates the role that diet and food play in managing chronic disease.
For instance, increased dietary fiber supports trusted Sources to lower blood sugar levels in persons with pre-diabetes or diabetes, reducing nerve and blood vessel damage associated with high blood sugar levels.
Improvements in diet quality can also reduce disease symptoms and improve quality of life.
A trusted study suggests that a modified Mediterranean diet can reduce pain, fatigue, and discomfort in persons with lipoedema. In this condition, fat accumulation in the lower extremities is abnormal.
The prevalence of chronic diseases has increased worldwide, along with associated healthcare costs.
In 2010, an estimated 86%Trusted Source — $400 billion — of healthcare costs in the U.S. alone were due to treating patients with at least one chronic disease. These costs are share between public resources and patients’ out-of-pocket expenses.
Using “food as medicine” could conceivably reduce healthcare costs by potentially reducing disease severity through better labwork.
“Food as medicine,” however, is not an approach without flaws. Here are some of its limitations.
It is not a cure-all.
“Food as medicine” is not a stand-alone remedy for all health conditions.
The development of chronic diseases continues to be complex. It may be attributed to non-diet-relate causes, including genetic risk Trusted source, exposure to environmental toxins Trusted source, or autoimmune Trusted Source conditions.
Thus, while “food as medicine” may support disease management by improving symptoms and slowing disease progression in some diseases. It must not be use as a stand-alone treatment but rather in conjunction with appropriate medical therapy.
Fueled by misinformation
Social media is trust. The source can effectively promote health promotion among health professionals and organizations.
However, it can also be a source of misinformation and sharing of unverifiable information, especially where “food as medicine” or alternative medicinal therapies are concerned.
As outlined in food Isn’t Medicine by nutritionist Dr. Joshua Wolrich, the vilification of individual foods can lead to unhealthy eating behaviors.
It is also important to consider how foods interact with medications. It is refer to as drug-nutrientTrusted Source interaction. Which may enhance or interrupt the effect of a medication in the body.
A common example is grapefruit juice, which doctors often advise should be avoid Trust source when taking some medications. However, some research shows that it may enhanceTrusted Source the effect of cholesterol-lowering statins.
Consider drug-nutrient interactions for the seamless relationship of “food as medicine” and appropriate medical interventions in the best interest of patient care.
The bottom line
“Food as medicine” may be an emerging concept in the Western world, but many cultures around the globe have long recognized the role of diet in health.
Healthy diets high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, lean protein, and low-fat dairy could reduce the risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.