Mixed messages in the world of food lead to confusion. Vegan or carnivore? Vegetarian or pescatarian? Keto or Mediterranean? Paleo or Atkins? And what about the multitude of processed foods with their misleading health claims? The secret: ignore over-hyped food marketing, stop counting calories, and stop trying unsustainable diets. Instead, learn how to use food as medicine to optimize your health.
I listen to many health podcasts where doctors and researchers discuss boosting immune function, and preventing chronic diseases like heart disease, some cancers, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
Recently, I’ve noticed a consistent, unifying thread.
It’s best summed up with an intriguing quote from Dr. Dean Ornish, a pioneer in preventive medicine.
“We tend to think of chronic diseases as being fundamentally different from each other. Heart disease is different than diabetes or prostate cancer or Alzheimer’s. But they’re really the same disease manifesting in different forms because they all share the same underlying biological mechanisms: things like chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, changes in the microbiome, telomeres, gene expression and so on. In turn, each one of these mechanisms is directly influenced by what we eat, how we respond to stress, how much exercise we get, and how much love and support we have.”
Identifying chronic diseases as having the same underlying biological mechanisms spurred a related thought. Is that why clinicians who study food and nutrition provide amazingly consistent advice? If so, that’s refreshing. Straightforward recommendations from research studies eliminates confusing food marketing messages, and provides simple information that we can all follow.
10 Ways to Use Food as Medicine
A healthy microbiome can boost your immunity and help prevent chronic diseases. Here are ten recommendations that I hear repeatedly:
1) “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” This is Michael Pollan’s famous quote from his book, In Defense of Food.
When Pollan says “eat food,” he means real whole food that your great-grandparents would recognize and purchase.
“Mostly plants” means whole plant foods. Not processed, plant-based foods with added sugar, or a lengthy list of unrecognizable ingredients.
2) Nourish with plenty of vegetables, fruits (especially berries), legumes, seeds, and whole grains.
Tip: Have you tried farro? It’s a nutty whole grain rich in fiber and protein, and a wonderful replacement for brown rice. And, it’s great in salads, too.
Here’s a link to the one I purchase. If you’re gluten-free, this whole grain is off limits unfortunately.
3) Significantly reduce consumption of trans fat as well as saturated fat found in fried foods, red meat, and poultry. And use coconut oil sparingly. The fattier the diet, the harder it is to maintain high immune function. Even olive oil use should not be overdone.
4) Moderate amounts of fish are fine, especially those with a good omega-3 profile like salmon, sardines, anchovies, Pacific oysters, and mackerel.
5) Be mindful of portion size when consuming nuts. The portion size is ¼ cup or an amount that fits into the palm of your hands.
6) Limit intake and portion size of dairy products. If possible, purchase plain yogurt and cheese that’s organic/pasture-raised. Be sure to check the ingredient label for added sugar, starches, and gums on alternative, plant-based dairy products.
7) Reduce consumption of added sugar and products made with refined grains that have been stripped of bran, fiber, and nutrients (white flour, most processed cereals, pizza dough, white rice, many desserts). Remember: Added sugar and simple carbohydrates are pro-inflammatory.
8) Limit high-sodium/salt intake. But don’t eliminate iodized salt completely. Iodine is important for good health. According to the FDA, 70% of the sodium in the American diet comes from packaged, processed, and restaurant foods. For more details, check out this link.
9) Enjoy modest alcohol intake, mostly wine, consumed primarily with meals.
10) Rely on natural sources of zinc to boost immune function. Healthful sources of zinc include oysters, cashews, chickpeas, kidney beans, oatmeal, almonds, and pumpkin seeds.
Boosting your immune system and thwarting chronic disease is increasingly understood to be directly related to the health of your gut microbiome.
So what are you feeding your gut?
Here’s a WEEKLY grocery challenge to easily ascertain if you use food as medicine.
- Do you purchase at least FIVE different fresh or frozen fruits?
- Do you purchase at least SIX different fresh or frozen vegetables?
- Any nuts or lentils or beans?
- How about whole grains such as oatmeal, quinoa, farro, brown rice, bulgur wheat?
- Any seeds? Ground flaxseed meal, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds?
Take an inventory of the food that enters your home. Whole plant foods are best, but read the labels on every packaged product that you purchase.
And remember that using food as medicine is one of five pillars for optimal health. The other four pillars are: exercising at least 3-4 times per week, eliminating “bad” stress, getting restorative sleep, and engaging in-person with friends and family.
If you’d like to optimize your health, be sure to check out the habit-changing, high accountability Lady Moxy Plans.