We know about eating 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day to stay healthy, but don’t often think about food as medicine.
“ Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”
This quote is attributed to Hippocrates, the ancient Greek philosopher and father of medicine. Although doctors take the Hippocratic Oath when they qualify, this vital connection between food and health seems to have been forgotten by many of today’s medical profession. In fact most medical students only get two days’ training about nutrition.
Hippocrates was obviously not talking about chocolate cake, ice cream and pizza! His idea is that if you eat healthy food it can totally revolutionise your health, your happiness and your life.
I know this first hand from my own experience. I was in pain, in a stressful job and diagnosed with IBS. Having been told by doctors that there was nothing that could be done, I decided to experiment with different foods to combat my symptoms and manage my own way back to health. My success took me by surprise. It is what encouraged me to discover further about the healing power of food, and qualify to help others.
Medicine from the Doctor
Our idea of medicine is what we get when we go to the doctor - a prescription for a powerful drug, maybe. We think of it as something that will “make us better”.
So, why not think of food in the same way? What we eat or drink every day has a dramatic effect on our health – for good or ill. Eating the right foods is so much more fun than taking lots of medications! Ask my clients who have been able to reduce or completely stop their medications once they started healing themselves.
Don’t get me wrong, the discovery, and use, of many drugs such as antibiotics has saved countless lives, and the advances in our understanding of medicine and physiology is awe-inspiring. However, we need to wary of a “pill for an ill” approach that many of my clients have experienced, without exploring whether diet can have a positive impact.
Have you read the list of possible side effects of even the simplest medicine? It can be alarming. Even aspirin, which we think of as so normal, lists rashes, gastrointestinal ulceration, abdominal pain and many others as possible common side effects.
What food should I eat?
A great rule of thumb is to cook from scratch using good quality, fresh ingredients.
Cooking from scratch using real food can take longer than just buying a “prepared meal” and putting it in the microwave, or calling for a “takeaway”. But you’d be amazed at how fast a freshly cooked meal can take to prepare!
So use the freshest, best quality ingredients and savour every mouthful.
This is also so much more important for you than being on a strict calorie-controlled diet, feeling depleted and then hastily stuffing in a snack and feeling guilty afterwards.
There are also additional benefit in slowing down to cook - chopping ingredients, stirring the pot, and arranging your food on a plate all help calm any stress. Plus, seeing and smelling the food as you cook is a critical part of the digestive process – triggering the release of stomach acid and digestive enzymes.
The best and simplest advice is to avoid anything that has been pre-packaged – think about doing most of your shopping around the edges of the supermarket, not down the aisles! Pre-packaged foods are highly likely to include some form of sugar (looks for anything with –ose on the end as well as the usual culprits), some trans fat, high levels of salt and stuffed with preservatives. All best avoided.
Many of my patients tell me that they are surprised that once they have embraced this new way of eating, they get so much more pleasure from food and life. The wish for sweet things disappears leaving them with more energy, clearer heads, better bowels and generally feeling happier!
Slow food not fast food helps is real nourishment
The Slow Food movement has been gaining in popularity as people realise what they are losing when meals are rushed. Originally started to combat the arrival of McDonalds at the Spanish Steps in Rome the movement has grown internationally. Slow Food in the UK https://www.slowfood.org.uk/ is growing fast, and has seen much interest in the last year as so many people have turned to cooking during the Covid lockdown.
The founder and President, Carlo Petrini, believes "everyone has the right to good, clean, and fair food":
good, meaning a high quality product with a flavourful taste;
clean, meaning the naturalness in the way the product was produced and transported;
fair, meaning adequate pricing and treatment for both the consumers and producers.
Our easiest way to ensure clean food is by eating organic. Organic food producers eliminate, or minimise use pesticides, hormones and antibiotics to increase the shelf life or size of the produce. So organic food has more goodness than food produced in a hyper efficient monoculture.
Think about trying farmer’s markets too. As well as supporting local businesses, food miles are minimised and often the produce is proudly much “cleaner”. For example, local honey from a hive near to where you live has more anti-allergy qualities than something shipped across the world and stored for a long time. In France and Italy especially there is great pride in the regional specialities, and dishes made with what is plentiful locally.
I love Veg boxes….. there are lots of options to suit most purses, from fully organic to fully local to the odd-looking veg the supermarkets don’t want. All are better than no veg at all.
Vegetables are absolutely key to good health (aim for 50% of your plate!) – they give you fibre which keeps your system moving and combats constipation naturally, but it also provides food for the bacteria in the gut, which amazingly has an impact on all your body systems (including mood!). Even the actual process of chewing vegetables (compared to soft processed foods) helps to boost the digestive juices and improve energy levels. If that wasn’t enough, they are power-houses of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients!
Enjoying your food
Food is meant to be a pleasure. It brings us life, and when we take the time to prepare it, and take time over eating too it helps to regulate all our systems. If your meal is eaten absent-mindedly while you are watching television, or dashed off in ten minutes at your desk, it doesn’t do you so much good.
The appestat which regulates when you feel full, needs 18 minutes to get to work. Put simply if you are enjoying your meal, chewing well, chatting with others and it all takes longer than 18 minutes, then you are going to feel fuller. So you will resist the temptation for a slice of something sugary afterwards.
Grow your Own
My carrots are completely different from supermarket carrots! They taste better and look much more peculiar. As well as the taste there is great satisfaction in growing my own vegetables. It makes the connection between us and our food so much more real.
If you haven’t yet tried growing something even a few seeds of cress on some damp kitchen paper will yield results. They grow so quickly, too, that they are perfect for children. Yes, things will go wrong, but it is worth the effort.
Our bodies have not adapted perfectly to 21st century living. We are not meant to sit all day long looking at a screen, and getting stressed. So, why not take a step back, think about how real food could help you find your health, greater happiness and a longer life.
I hope you will savour your food and enjoy every mouthful – it will make a big difference to your health and is the perfect natural medicine.