Defining Food as Medicine

Start with a definition. A food that acts like a medicine is one that increases or reduces your risk of a specific medical condition or cures or alleviates the effects of a medical condition. For example:

1 Eating foods with lots of beta carotene (the natural chemical in deep yellow and dark green fruits and veggies that your body converts to vitamin A) — along with vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc — protects your vision by reducing the risk of age-related degeneration of the macula, the organ at the back of your eye that enables you to perceive light.

1 Eating foods, such as wheat bran, that are high in insoluble dietary fiber (the kind of fiber that doesn't dissolve in your gut) moves food more quickly through your intestinal tract and produces soft, bulky stool that reduces your risk of constipation.

i Eating foods such as beans that are high in soluble dietary fiber (fiber that dissolves in your intestinal tract) seems to help your body mop up the cholesterol circulating in your bloodstream, preventing it from sticking to the walls of your arteries. This reduces your risk of heart disease.

i Eating sufficient amounts of calcium-rich foods ensures the growth of strong bones early in life and protects bone density later on.

i Eating very spicy foods, such as chili, makes the membrane lining your nose and throat weep a watery fluid that makes blowing your nose or coughing up mucus easier when you have a cold.

i Eating (or drinking) foods (or beverages) with mood-altering substances such as caffeine, alcohol, and phenylethylamine (PEA) may lend a lift when you're feeling down or help you chill when you're tense.

The joy of food-as-medicine is that it's cheaper and much more pleasant than managing illness with drugs. Given the choice, who wouldn't opt to control cholesterol levels with oats or chili (all those yummy beans packed with soluble dietary fiber) than with a drug whose possible side effects include kidney failure and liver damage?

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