Can food act as medicine? All you need to know

    Abdulaziz Sobh

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    What you choose to eat has profound effects on your overall health.

    Research shows that eating habits influence the risk of disease. While certain foods can trigger chronic health conditions, others offer strong medicinal and protective qualities.

    Therefore, many people argue that food is medicine.

    However, diet alone cannot and should not replace medicine in all circumstances. Although many diseases can be prevented, treated or even cured with changes in diet and lifestyle, many others cannot.

    This article explains the medicinal effects of foods, including foods that should and should not be used for healing.

    How food nourishes and protects your body
    Many nutrients in food promote health and protect your body from diseases.

    Eating whole and nutritious foods are important because their unique substances work synergistically to create an effect that cannot be replicated by taking a supplement.

    Vitamins and minerals
    Although your body only needs small amounts of vitamins and minerals, they are vital to your health.

    However, Western diets high in processed foods and low in whole foods such as fresh produce are typically deficient in vitamins and minerals. Such deficiencies can substantially increase your risk of disease.

    For example, insufficient intake of vitamin C, vitamin D, and folic acid can damage your heart, cause immune dysfunction and increase your risk of certain types of cancer, respectively.

    Beneficial plant compounds
    Nutritious foods, which include vegetables, fruits, beans, and grains, have numerous beneficial compounds, such as antioxidants.

    Antioxidants protect cells from damage that could otherwise cause disease.

    In fact, studies show that people whose diets are rich in polyphenolic antioxidants have lower rates of depression, diabetes, dementia, and heart disease.

    Fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet. It not only promotes proper digestion and elimination but also feeds the beneficial bacteria in the intestine.

    Therefore, fiber-rich foods such as vegetables, beans, grains, and fruits help protect against disease, decrease inflammation and boost the immune system.

    On the other hand, low fiber diets are associated with an increased risk of diseases, such as colon cancer and stroke.

    Proteins and healthy fats
    Protein and fat in whole and nutritious foods play several critical roles in your body.

    Amino acids, the basic components of proteins, help immune function, muscle synthesis, metabolism, and growth, while fats provide fuel and help absorb nutrients.

    Omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods such as fatty fish, help regulate inflammation and are related to better heart and immune health.

    Whole and nutritious foods contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, proteins, and fats, all of which promote health and are key to optimal body function.

    A healthy diet can decrease the risk of disease
    In particular, nutritious foods can lower your risk of disease, while the opposite is true for highly processed foods.

    Choosing unhealthy foods can increase the risk of illness.
    Unhealthy diets high in sugary drinks, fast food, and refined grains are the main contributors to conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

    These processed foods damage intestinal bacteria and promote insulin resistance, chronic inflammation and the general risk of disease.

    A study in more than 100,000 people found that each 10% increase in the intake of ultra-processed foods resulted in a 12% increase in cancer risk.

    In addition, a study on mortality and disease worldwide showed that in 2017, 11 million deaths and 255 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) were probably due to a poor diet.

    DALYs measure the disease burden, with a unit that represents the loss of one year of full health.

    Nutritious diets protect against diseases.
    On the other hand, research indicates that diets rich in plant foods and low in processed products strengthen your health.

    For example, the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in healthy fats, whole grains, and vegetables, is related to a lower risk of heart disease, neurodegenerative conditions, diabetes, certain types of cancer and obesity.

    Other eating patterns that protect against the disease include plant-based diets, whole foods, and paleo.

    In fact, some diets can reverse certain conditions.

    For example, it has been found that plant-based diets reverse coronary artery disease, while very low-carb lifestyles can help eliminate type 2 diabetes in some people.

    In addition, nutritious eating patterns such as the Mediterranean diet are linked to a better self-reported quality of life and lower rates of depression than typical western diets and may even increase their longevity.

    Such findings prove that robust diets actually work as preventive medicine.

    Following a healthy diet can increase longevity, protect against diseases and improve your overall quality of life.

    Can food treat diseases?
    While some dietary options can prevent or increase the risk of disease, not all diseases can be prevented or treated with diet alone.

    Many other factors affect your health and disease risk.
    The risk of disease is quite complex. Although a poor diet can cause or contribute to diseases, many other factors must be considered.

    Genetics, stress, pollution, age, infections, occupational hazards and lifestyle choices, such as lack of exercise, smoking and alcohol consumption, also have an effect.

    Food cannot compensate for poor lifestyle choices, genetic disposition or other factors related to the development of the disease.

    Food should not be used as medication substitutes.
    Although switching to a healthier dietary pattern can prevent disease, it is essential to understand that food cannot and should not replace pharmaceutical medications.

    Medicine was developed to save lives and treat diseases. While it can be prescribed in excess or used as an easy solution for diet and lifestyle problems, it is often invaluable.

    Since healing does not depend solely on diet or lifestyle, choosing to give up potentially vital medical treatment to focus only on diet can be dangerous or even fatal.

    Beware of false advertising
    While scientific evidence shows that food can help various health conditions, anecdotal claims of curing or treating diseases through extreme diets, supplements or other methods are often false.

    For example, diets advertised to cure cancer or other serious conditions are generally not supported by research and are often prohibitively expensive.

    Avoiding conventional treatments such as chemotherapy for unproven alternative diets can make diseases worse or cause death.

    Although many foods have strong benefits to fight disease, the diet should not be considered a replacement for conventional medicine.

    Foods with powerful medicinal properties
    The transition to a diet based on whole foods can improve your health in countless ways. Foods that offer particularly powerful benefits include:

    Berries. Numerous studies have found that nutrients and plant compounds in berries fight disease. In fact, berry-rich diets can protect against chronic conditions, including certain types of cancer.

    Cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and kale contain a wide range of antioxidants. The high consumption of these vegetables can decrease your risk of heart disease and promote longevity.

    Fatty fish. Salmon, sardines and other fatty fish fight inflammation due to their high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which also protect against heart disease.

    Mushrooms. It has been shown that fungal compounds, the types of which include maitake and reishi, stimulate your immune system, heart, and brain.

    Spices. Turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and other spices are packed with beneficial plant compounds. For example, studies indicate that turmeric helps treat arthritis and metabolic syndrome.

    Herbs. Herbs such as parsley, oregano, rosemary, and sage not only provide a natural flavor to the dishes but also have many compounds that promote health.

    Green Tea. Green tea has been thoroughly investigated for its impressive benefits, which may include a reduction in inflammation and a lower risk of disease.
    Nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, honey, seaweed, and fermented foods are just some of the many other foods studied for their medicinal properties.

    Simply transitioning to a diet rich in whole foods such as fruits and vegetables is the easiest way to get the medicinal benefits of food.

    Berries, cruciferous vegetables, fatty fish and mushrooms are just a selection of foods that offer powerful medicinal properties.

    Food not only provides energy but can also act as medicines.

    Summary Post
    It has been shown that a diet rich in whole-food nutrients prevents and even treats or reverses many chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.

    Keep in mind that you should not rely on food to replace traditional medicine.


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