Food is Medicine

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“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”

- Hippocrates


I think this idea is more important today than ever before in history.

Since becoming an advanced civilization we have seen the industrialization of our food. We can buy it prepackaged, delivered to our door, and in just the right amount of dopamine hitting formula to have us coming back for more. While sometimes this is helpful and saves us time, we lose the quiet time and skill of preparation. 

Lets talk about cooking through the lens of lifestyle medicine using the 7 tenets of a healthy lifestyle: mindfulness, physical activity, whole-food plant predominant eating pattern, positive social interaction, and avoidance of toxic substances.

Mindful cooking is a great time to break the monotonous and never-ending input of our surroundings. Learning self-direction through actively choosing the food helps to build inner confidence. Plus we can take time to learn new skills like stir-fry or honey-almond baked brie. This facilitates the growth of new neurons that help prevent future dementia.

The gathering of family to cook helps with our social component of well being. Everyone comes together around a “good” event instead of a “tragedy”. Laughing and sharing in the experience. Helping to convince our brains that cooking is good for us. Plus when cooking with whole non-processed foods we contribute to the well-being of others. Giving us a sense of purpose.

This type of food: whole plant-based, during breakfast, will give us the right fuel to exercise and prevent the sugar drop in the afternoon. We can choose to eat avocado on thin-toast and eggs instead of a high carbohydrate cereal loaded with additives. This becomes more apparent as you try to move toward your own goals in life. You realize that your time is very valuable and you don’t want to spend it half awake.

Going to the farmers market on the weekend gives even more social connection to the community and you get to discover new highly nutritious foods as well. You learn about increase costs added by supermarkets and that farm-to-table food tastes amazing. You get to meet the people in your community and shake their hands, smell new smells, and walk away with local unprocessed food which has been shown to increase longevity.

I was raised on southern cooking. Breakfast consisted of grits, cereals, eggs, and bacon. Not very much variety. In high-school I was lucky enough to date a girl who was a vegetarian so I became one for 5 years. Then in college I had to revert back to what was offered around me because I felt I didn’t have the time to cook and study chemical engineering. In reality I just didn’t have the right skills. High-quality rainbow food is much tastier than a large sea of white bland food.

From a straight biochemical perspective alcohol is a toxin and should be avoided. It destroys the liver, heart, and increases cardiovascular disease. Plus alcohol can be an addictive substance that can lead to the destruction of families and relationships. You can substitute alcohol with sparkling whole fruit infused water or tea that taste amazing without the hangover. For a great in-depth look at alcohol checkout “This Naked Mind” by Annie Grace. She discusses the significant influence of our culture on the choice to drink alcohol. Whole countries with India have month long parties without alcohol. Maybe it’s time to re-think our approach to social connection.

Medically, good quality food reduces the risk of cancer, can reverse cardiovascular disease, sinusitis, acid reflux, cholesterol, acne, and type 2 diabetes. The increased quality of life is what actually counts. You begin to feel better and your overall mood improves because you have increased autonomy by making your own decisions.

So you can see we’ve covered the core aspects to healthy living by cooking a nutritious meal at home with friends. If I had to write a prescription today it would be:

Eat whole-plant based meals (2/3 of diet) with high quality protein  (1/3 of diet) and no processed carbohydrates or sweetened beverages. Snack on cut-up vegetables and fruit if needed. Eat a handful of nuts like pistachios or cashews once a day. Avoid alcohol and drink plenty of home made plain/fruit infused water or tea. Go to the farmers market twice a month and invite friends over for dinner.

The American College of Lifestyle Medicine and the Canada Government have two really good graphics that show a healthy plate. If you’re thinking about changing your eating habits you can use these models to make your planning easier. Here is a great video on how to prepare your breakfast based on these recommendations.

I hope this was helpful and happy eating!

 Dr. Tom





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