In 400 B.C Hippocrates, a Greek physician and “The Father of Medicine” said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates was well aware of the impact that food could have on a person’s health, and during his time it was common to use food to treat and prevent illnesses. For instance, the juice of liver was used to treat eye diseases connected to Vitamin A deficiency (1), and garlic was used to cure athlete’s foot.
As time passed, women began working outside the home and our societies became more medically and technologically advanced. Along with these advancements came a change in the way we produce and consume food.
During World War II, more women entered the workplace and spent less time at home, so convenience became a priority. Processed foods became more prevalent, fast food outlets became more common, microwaves replaced ovens, and food became less nutritious. These changes have led to a major increase in chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease over the last 50-60 years (2).
While these illnesses are still fairly common in modern society, our ideas of nutrition are slowly shifting. The rising popularity of the paleolithic (paleo) diet and documentaries like Michael Pollan’s Food Inc, have encouraged many people to reduce their consumption of heavily processed, genetically modified, packaged foods and consume more locally grown, organic, whole foods.
Even the USDA has changed it’s nutrition guidelines. In 2011, they replaced the food pyramid, a triangular diagram with a hierarchy of recommended foods and servings, with My Plate – a round plate divided into five food groups with vegetables being the largest division. These changes may seem small, but their impact is great.
All of the cells and organs in our bodies depend on the food we eat for proper growth and development; and the choices we make affect the way our cells communicate with each other and how our bodies function as a whole.
They also affect the health of our family, as the predisposition for many health conditions is passed on genetically. Fortunately, a predisposition for disease does not guarantee that it will occur. We have the ability to turn off the expression of certain genes by eating well (3).
Consuming locally grown, organic foods will drastically reduce the number of chemicals and additives that you put into your body, and avoiding genetically modified foods, like soy, corn, cottonseed oil, beets, and papayas will help boost your long-term health.
The evolution of nutrition hasn’t ended with the movement from heavily processed foods to more natural, local, and sustainable foods, however. It’s also changing the way that we eat, with many people choosing slow living and eating over fast food (4).
The slow living philosophy echoes many of my own sentiments about food and eating, including making conscious choices about the food we purchase, supporting local farmers, preparing most meals at home, and enjoying those meals mindfully.
Eating with such attention and intention gives our bodies time to relax, which helps us digest the food we eat more efficiently and maximizes the absorption of nutrients.
The food industry isn’t perfect by any means, but it is ever evolving as is our understanding of nutrition. As new research continues to surface about the best nutritional practices and disease prevention, so will the recommendations that I make to patients in my practice.
I believe that Hippocrates was on to something – the food we eat has the ability to heal us or harm us, and my recommendations will always err on the side of healing.