Although it has been argued for so long that food is medicine, I am sorry to disappoint. (Wait Wait before you shoot!) It is true that dietary habits influence disease risk however diet alone cannot and should not replace traditional medicine in all circumstances. You need to be ware of misleading advertisements of ‘wonder’ foods because although many illnesses are capable of being prevented, treated, or even cured by dietary and lifestyle changes, many others cannot.
Diet and nutrition can be used to promote health and decrease risk of disease or illness and health practitioners from ancient times have used diet as an integral component of their holistic health approach. Many nutrients in food are known to promote health, protect the body from disease, reduce the risk of reoccurrence of a disease or even reverse chronic disease. While certain foods offer strong medicinal and protective qualities, others may trigger chronic health conditions.
How does food influence health
Food has properties called nutrients that are necessary for the proper functioning of the body. From the time food interacts with the body through the mouth, it begins to undergo a number of changes through a process known as digestion. The body being a complex system, it relies on accurate ‘information’ to function as it should. This ‘information’ I am referring to in regards to food or nutrition are the nutrients. If the food eaten lacks this good information, has the wrong information or even provides too much information, there is bound to be a problem and the body will malfunction.
If there are one or two small glitches of misinformation in the system here and there, your body can most likely handle that. However, a constant overload of the body with poor food information is a recipe for disaster and will end up in negative health consequences. On the other hand, if the body is fed with the kind of information that it is designed to digest, absorb, and metabolize, you have the opportunity to prevent, manage, and even treat chronic diseases.
This “good information” is found in nutrient-dense foods; foods containing a large quantity of nutrients relative to their weight in the right proportions. These disease-fighting foods are high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals, fiber, proteins, healthy fats, and water as these nutrients nourish your body, help it function efficiently, and protect against chronic illnesses.
Nutrients in food that influence health
- Vitamins: these are essential, organic compounds found in a variety of foods that promote metabolic and structural processes. Deficiencies in these vitamins can substantially increase risk of disease for example insufficient intakes of vitamins C, D, and folate may harm your heart, cause immune dysfunction, and also increase risk of certain cancers, respectively
- Water-soluble vitamins (require water to be properly absorbed and utilized in the body): thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, pyridoxine, folic acid, cobalamin, Vitamin C
- Fat-soluble vitamins (require fat to be properly absorbed and utilized in the body): Vitamins A, D, E, and K
- Minerals: these too are essential but inorganic compounds found in foods that as well promote metabolic and structural processes
- Major minerals include: calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, sulfur
- Trace minerals include: iodine, iron, manganese, copper, zinc, chromium, selenium, fluoride, molybdenum
- Phytochemicals: these are natural compounds that give plants color and provide health benefits beyond basic nutritional contributions. For example:
- Lycopene (red pigment) – watermelon, tomatoes, etc. These inhibit cancer cell growth, reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and boost immunity
- Carotenoids (orange/yellow pigment) – sweet potatoes, mangoes, carrots, etc. These have a similar function like the lycopenes.
- Lutein (green pigment) – dark leafy greens like nakati, dodo, broccoli, spinach, etc. These promote eye health
- Anthocyanin and Isothiocyanates (red/purple/blue pigment) – purple cabbage, blueberries, red onion, etc. These lower blood pressure and protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease.
- Fiber: these are non-digestible complex carbohydrates found in a wide variety of whole foods and their major role is to stabilize blood sugar, regulate bowel movements, benefit healthy gut bacteria, increase satiety, and promote healthy cholesterol.
- Healthy Fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (specifically omega-3 fatty acids) essential for brain and heart health and absorption of certain vitamins and phytochemicals
- Protein: create antibodies, maintain blood pH, provide structure, create enzymes, act as hormones, aid cellular growth, balance fluids, transport nutrients, and provide energy
- Water: the fluid in which all metabolic processes take place; a normal-weight adult is made up of 60% water
How food can be ‘poison’
Remember how we talked about food being a source of harm to the body when it is fed with ‘wrong or not enough information’ thereby leading to the onset of life threatening diseases? The foods that increase the risk of disease that you need to be ware of include;
- Unhealthy fats and oils; these promote chronic inflammation and are linked to many physical and mental disorders. You need to limit their consumption
- Fried foods; these foods are high in unhealthy oils and salt as well as carcinogenic compounds hence the need to limit their consumption. They are correlated with increased risk of cardiovascular diseases
- Processed & red meats; these are correlated with increased risk of colorectal cancer, gout as well as cardiovascular diseases. Limit their consumption
- Refined grains; are low in fiber, vitamins and increase blood sugar thereby diminishing gut function . For these it is advisable to consume less than 50% and consume more of the whole grains.
- Fast foods; just like the fried foods and processed meats, they contain unhealthy fats, increased levels of salt because it is used alot in preservation and associated with increased disease risk so limit their consumption
- Refined sugars; these increase insulin levels, fat storage in the body and cause inflammation often associated to increasing the risk of kidney failure and liver malfunction
In conclusion, food can be an vital solution to disease prevention, reoccurrence and even potential cure to some ailments. Research has shown a nutrient-dense diet of whole organic foods to prevent and even treat or reverse many chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and other cardiovascular diseases but it is important to keep in mind that you should not rely on food to replace traditional medicine. Diet and traditional medicine compliment each other