Food: the First Medicine

December 5, 2015 // Kate Welch

Food: the First Medicine

As we get closer to the new year, I am preparing myself for everyone’s New Year Resolutions and the onslaught of questions I get from patients about the best diet and dietary supplements for weight loss and improved health.

I counsel on diet almost every time I dispense a new prescription, not just during the month of January. Most of the pills I dispense are to treat some symptom of cardiovascular or heart disease, diabetes, or depression. Some folks take pills for all of these conditions and more. I tell patients: “these pills can make you feel better and prolong your life, but they can’t do as much as eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise. If you can’t do that, then yes, take these pills. But if you can eat a healthy diet and increase your exercise, not only will you feel better and live longer, but you may actually be able to reverse your disease and eliminate the pills entirely!”

This is a broad generalization, of course; there are always individual issues and components to any disease state and course of therapy. Please do not stop taking any medications or start any diet without first consulting your health-care professional!

But it remains true that diet and exercise are the foundations for our health. Food is our first and most basic medicine, and almost any acute or chronic disease we encounter can benefit in some way by increasing our consumption of fresh, whole, unprocessed, fiber-rich, added-chemical-free, nutrient-dense food.

Hippocrates, the Ancient Greek physician is quoted as saying: “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” He said this sometime in the 5th century BCE, i.e., a long, long time ago. His words have persisted because they reflect truth.

There is not, however, only one perfect and true diet to obtain perfect, true health and complete freedom from disease. The human organism is much more complicated than that, as is the world we live in. Even science rarely offers us 100% incontrovertible certainty about anything, including what the best diet for humans should be.

Science does, however, give us compelling evidence that suggests certain foods are healthier for us than others, and that some diets are better at promoting health and reducing disease than others.

Any diet will promote weight loss if calories consumed (food) are consistently less than calories expended (exercise). So, when the latest book or diet guru proclaims that you can lose weight by eating only grapefruit/all meat/low fat/low carb/glazed donuts, they are probably right! You can lose weight by counting calories.

However, in my next post, I hope to convince you that all calories are not equal, and that weight loss/healthy weight should be only one goal of an improved diet.

We eat every day. Think of food as a message you send to every cell of your body every day. Too many bad messages will inevitably lead to feeling bad and poor health, but consistent, daily good messages will lead to good feelings and better health.