Americans are bombarded with information about "healthy eating," but we suffer from higher rates of obesity and chronic disease than ever before. We are told one year to avoid fat and the next to avoid carbohydrates. It is enough to make anyone distrust nutritional advice altogether, particularly anything that claims that "food is medicine." Here at the Health Integration Center, we help craft and customize dietary options that are personalized to you and the health issues at present so that you do get results. We elminate the confusion surround this topic so that after your visit you have a "crystal clear" view on how to succuessfully implement dietary changes.
In many ways, we don't really need much advice because we already know basically what we should do: eat a variety of foods, especially whole grains, fruits, and vegetables; minimize candy, soda and other empty calories; and watch how much we eat. And of course do some physical activity each day.
Then why do we have all the complicated nutritional advice, contradictory research studies, and endless health diets? In part because they give the food companies a way to sell more products. And on our side of the table, it is often easier to read about what we should do, then actually change our eating patterns. As a result, our Standard American Diet (SAD) is not contributing to our health.
As a nation, we are increasingly eating more processed foods. Our supermarkets are full of convenient packaged foods that appeal to our taste buds, but compromise our nutrition. Because most of these foods' natural nutrients are removed in the refining process, we need to get them elsewhere.
In addition, we are eating less variety of foods. Ironically, while 17,000 new products are introduced each year, two-thirds of our calories come from just four foods: corn, soy, wheat, and rice.
Nor is our food the same as it was 20 years ago. Nutrients in the soil have been depleted, so food grown in that soil has fewer nutrients. Chemicals are increasingly used in raising both plants and animals, particularly on huge industrial farms that specialize in a few products.
It is easy to fall into the pattern of eating fast, convenient, prepared food, especially in our often frenetic lives. But we are not nurturing ourselves by doing so. Our Standard American Diet lacks nutrients and relies heavily on processed foods that include artificial color, additives, flavorings, and chemically-altered fats and sweeteners.
Our fast foods also remove us from the pleasures of creating and savoring a wonderful meal, and our fast pace often prevents us from connecting over a good, slow meal. We tend to eat for convenience and speed, not health and pleasure.
So there are many reasons why we might want to pay attention to what we eat. We especially need to pay attention when we are sick so we can help our bodies get the nutrients we need to heal. There are many health benefits if we look at food as medicine.
You need only to view the movie Super Size Me to understand how foods impact the body. In the movie, the director Morgan Spurlock chronicles the adverse health outcomes he experienced from eating nothing but fast food for several weeks. He not only gained weight, he experienced alarming metabolic changes that put him at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension.
Spurlock was eating foods that gave his body the wrong messages. For instance, in just a few weeks, the excessive amounts of saturated and trans-fatty acids in the fast food diet led to inflammation and higher blood cholesterol. In addition, the fast food diet failed to provide the information necessary for normal metabolic function, which also contributed to the health changes.
Morgan Spurlock is an example of what happens when food is broken down into nutrients, which then impact the metabolic programming of cells and the homeostasis (balance) in the body. There is a growing realization that the effects of nutrition on health and disease cannot be understood without a profound understanding of how nutrients act at this molecular level (Nature Reviews Genetics, 2003).
One of the breakthrough concepts from the Human Genome Project is that "genes in and of themselves do not create disease. Only when they are plunged into a harmful environment unique to the individual do they create the outcome of disease."
An advancing area of study called Nutrigenomics looks at how different foods may interact with specific genes to modify the risk of common chronic diseases such as Type II diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.
Nutrigenomics also seeks to identify the molecules in the diet that affect health by altering the expression of genes. (For example, by triggering the genes that start the onset of Type II diabetes.)
For example, one study showed that participants who consumed a diet of whole rye (low-insulin-response) experienced changes in their gene expression that reduced their risk of developing diabetes. Participants who consumed an oat-wheat-potato (high insulin response) diet experienced the opposite-a change in their gene expression that increased their risk.
As an editorial published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2007) noted in response to this study-we are spending millions to find drugs that can impact our production of hormones such as insulin, when there might already be a simple dietary strategy. The editorial concludes, "The results of the present study emphasize the age old wisdom to use food as medicine.
We cannot change our genes, but we can change the environment which impacts how our genes manifest. One important component of this environment is food.