“Let Food Be Thy Medicine and Medicine Be Thy Food.”
This oft-quoted phase spoken by Hippocrates around 400 BC has never been more relevant. There is an increasing reliance on prescription drugs to treat any ailment, both mental and physical. And with the CDC reporting that nearly 50% of Americans use at least 1 prescriptions drug, it’s clear that food is not the medicine Hippocrates hoped it’d be (1).
Our recent series on The Changing Food Climate outlines how the daily dietary choices that many Americans make directly impacts their health and therefore their reliance on drugs as “medicine.” A diet high in refined sugars leads to Type 2 Diabetes and often a reliance on insulin injections. Those with blood sugar issues often also need to take blood pressure regulating medications. The frequent use of vegetable oils and trans fatty acids leads to heart disease and a reliance on statin drugs, which lower high cholesterol levels. These are just a few examples of how the food many Americans are eating is not medicine, but poison.
Catching Up to Hippocrates’ Wisdom
Modern day research sheds light on just why food is the best medicine. Studies show that poor dietary choices are the cause of chronic inflammation, which is the primary driver of disease (2, 3). Among the most common of these conditions to be treated with drugs (4) are chronic illnesses like:
-High blood pressure
But prescription drugs do not provide healing, only a managing – or masking — of symptoms. True healing comes from making informed choices with each meal and by respecting food as the medicine it truly is.
How Food Heals
Food is medicine when it provides a significant positive impact to our body systems as a whole. Foods that have anti-inflammatory properties are proven to have the greatest impact on chronic illnesses, like those listed above (3). While it is essential to eliminate those foods that will promote inflammation in the body, it is equally as important to replace those foods with those that combat inflammation and reduce the chronic stresses that life can have on the body.
Eating an anti-inflammatory diet is not so trendy as some of the buzzword diets floating around these days, nor does it promise immediate drop in waist size like many do. In fact, it shouldn’t be viewed as a “diet” at all, but rather a lifestyle choice around which all eating habits are based. Frequent consumption of — and even a reliance on — foods that moderate inflammation is the foundation of a healing diet that will work to ward off disease for years.
The Top 5 Healing Foods for An Anti-Inflammatory Diet
- Wild-caught fish, particularly cold-water fatty fish like tuna, salmon, herring, and sardines, have the greatest amounts of bioavailable omega-3 fatty acids. Commonly known as EPA and DHA, these fatty acids fight off inflammation (5) by suppressing T-cell activation, a key component in chronic illness (6). Cold-water fish is also one of the only natural sources of vitamin D, which is shown to have strong immunomodulating effects (7). Eating 2-3 weekly servings of wild-caught fatty fish is the best way for your body to absorb these nutrients and put them to work at fighting inflammation.
- Healthy Fats found in pastured meat and eggs are a significant source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is a good trans fat responsible for lowering inflammation (8). Other fat sources shown to reduce inflammation are those high in monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and include avocados and avocado oil, olives and extra virgin olive oil, and sesame and sesame seed oil (9). Sesame oil is also high in vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant that is linked to decreasing inflammatory markers (10).
- Vegetables like bell peppers, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, and beets have extremely high levels of vitamin C, an antioxidant proven to reduce inflammation in the body. Dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, and collards are high in vitamin E. And all of these are a significant source of phytonutrients, which are proven to have health-protective properties (11, 12).
- Berries, while not the only fruits to combat inflammation, seem to be the most powerful due to their high phytonutrient content. They contain anthocyanins (responsible for the beautiful red and blue colors), a type of flavonoid known for their cell-protective attributes (14). Blueberries, in particular, have been shown to have strong anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease (15, 16).
- Herbs and spices like ginger, garlic, turmeric, and red peppers are some of the most concentrated forms of anti-inflammatory compounds. Turmeric, in particular, has dozens of compounds that act as COX-2 inhibitors, which will decrease pain, swelling, and inflammation. Ginger, containing the rhizome gingerol and will work similarly in easing achy, stiff muscles. These components could not only work to naturally treat conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, but a large portion of the population who suffers from aches on an intermittent basis (13).
- Health, United States, 2013; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, table #92: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus13.pdf
- Diet and Inflammation; Nutr Clin Pract, 2010: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21139128
- Dietary Patterns and Markers of Systemic Inflammation Among Iranian Women; J Nutr, 2007: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17374666
- Top 100 Most Prescribed, Top-Selling Drugs; Medscape Medical News, 2014: http://www.webmd.com/news/20140805/top-10-drugs
- Omego-3 Fatty Acids in Inflammation and Autoimmune Disease; J Am Coll Nutr, 2002: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12480795
- Effects of Dietary N-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on T-Cell Membrane Composition and Function; Lipids, 2004: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15736911?dopt=Abstract
- Vitamin D and Inflammation; Joint Bone Spine, 2010: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21067953
- Conjugated Linoleic Acid and Inflammatory Cell Signalling; Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids, 2010: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20207526
- Modulation of Adipose Tissue Inflammation by Bioactive Food Compounds; J Nutr Biochem, 2013: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23498665
- Dietary Factors and Low-Grade Inflammation in Relation to Overweight and Obesity; Br J Nutr, 2011: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22133051
- Phytochemical Constituents and Antibacterial Activity of Some Leafy Green Vegetables; Asian Pac J Biomed, 2014: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3868788/
- Dietary Management of the Metabolic Syndrome Beyond Macronutrients; Nutr Rev, 2008: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18667004
- Protective Effects of Ginger-Turmeric Rhizomes…; Inter J Rheum Dis, 2013: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23773648
- Anthocyanins and Anthocyanin-rich Extracts: Role in Diabetes and Eye Function; Asia Pac J Nutr, 2007: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17468073
- Anti-inflammatory and Antinociceptive Properties of Blueberry Extract; J Pharm Pharmacol, 2007: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17430644
- Blueberries Decrease Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Obese Men and Women with Metabolic Syndrome; J Nutr, 2010; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20660279