Let Food Be Thy Medicine

Finding health on your dinner plate
By Amy Vergin

How many prescription medications did you take this morning? Do you know what they do? What ingre­dients are found within the core of that little capsule? Today we can simply take a pill to remedy any ache and keep your body running smoothly … or so they say. In fact, the path to health doesn’t run through a pharmacy—it can be found right on your dinner plate.

Hippocrates had it right when he boldly said, “Let food by thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food” yet somehow we can’t seem to hold onto that truth. Sherry Torkos, pharmacist and author of The Canadian Encyclo­pedia of Natural Medicine and Saving Women’s Hearts, believes there is power within everyday food. Not only does food give us the energy we need, but the nutrients found within can keep us healthier than one would expect.

Torkos is no stranger to the idea of food as medicine. For years she strug­gled with undiagnosed celiac disease. Eating her favorite foods—pizza, breads, and pastas—caused fatigue, hair loss, bloating, depression, and other physical and emotional symptoms. “This early life experience made me understand just how important nutrition is for good health and what can happen to the body when subjected to nutrient deficiencies,” said Torkos.

Listening to history

Historically food was used as medicine because our ancestors did not have the means to create medication. Instead, they turned to foods and herbs to cure any ailment. Sherry notes that explor­ers used cranberries to prevent scurvy, garlic to fight infections, and fermented dairy to help with digestion.

“We now know that certain foods and ways of eating can be as powerful as medicine. They can help reduce the risk of heart disease and other chronic health problems and play a role in dis­ease treatment,” says Torkos.

This trend is gaining momentum as consumers are finally rediscovering ways to let nature heal them instead of automatically opting for less-natural options. Some foods contain more nutritional benefits than others—they are also known as functional foods and superfoods. Do these names ring a bell? Well, they should. This year is full of su­perfoods talk. And our sister magazine, Natural Solutions, has run an article in each issue for several years to let readers know about superfoods and the powers they contain.

Functional foods—the real buzzword this year—are foods like grapes, toma­toes, palm fruit oil, and other foods. These are foods that have additional health benefits beyond simply providing calories in the form of macronutrients like protein, fat, and carbs. Functional foods provide a wide variety of micro­nutrients essential for good health.

Getting the most  out of everyday foods

For Torkos, there are three key foods that consumers should be adding to their diets this year if they are looking to start taking charge of their overall health.

1. Fish

Omega-3s have been the talk of the town for years, and with good reason. Not only are fish savory and delicious, they provide a multitude of benefits for your heart, brain, and skin. Consum­ing omega-3s reduces inflammation, decreases risk of damaging blood clots, and lowers blood pressure. “The American Heart Association recom­mends two servings of fish a week. That isn’t always practical though. Some people don’t like fish or are concerned about the contaminants,” says Torkos. If you are concerned about contaminants (mainly mercury), stick to wild-caught salmon and smaller tuna species as well as smaller fish. Avoid the larger fish like swordfish, shark, or tilefish. And, lucky for us, there are plenty of organic omega-3 supplements on the market to­day that can give you the recommended dosage easily.

2. Oats

Oats are another example of a func­tional food that are chock-full of heart-healthy ingredients. For starters, Torkos says, oats contain more soluble fiber than any other grain and increas­ing soluble fiber has been shown to lower cholesterol levels. “The evidence is so significant that the FDA allows a health claim to be made on the labels of foods containing soluble fiber from whole oats, noting that three grams of soluble fiber daily from these foods—in conjunction with a diet low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and fat—may reduce the risk of heart disease.” Fiber helps give your body the feeling of being full, improves digestion and blood glucose levels, and gives you a multitude of vitamins and minerals like vitamin B1, magnesium, and selenium. One of the fallbacks of oats is that they are made up of mostly carbohydrates. Those who have type 2 diabetes should be aware of this before diving into a bowl full of them. To get more out of your oats, add proteins ir fats like nuts, yogurt, or cream. These will lessen the glycemic impact of the oats.

3. Yogurt

Torkos also touts the amazing benefits yogurt has for health. Over half of the population suffers from some form of digestive problem such as constipation, diarrhea, or gas and bloating, Torkos says, and adding yogurt could help with these issues. The active bacteria cultures in yogurt (probiotics) improve your gastrointestinal health and immune function and they digest the naturally occurring sugar (lactose) in dairy prod­ucts. However, stay clear of anything labeled “diet” or “light” as these yogurts contain artificial sweeteners. Instead Torkos suggests opting for Greek yogurt for its high levels of protein. Also, look for a yogurt that tells you the amount of active cultures.

Honorable  mention:  eggshells

Eggshells have been popping up in various food trends, but how is one supposed to incorporate this into their everyday diet? Frankly, it isn’t practi­cal, but this is where Torkos says that food-based supplements can offer ad­vantages. But why put so much effort into getting eggshells into your diet?

“Eggshells provide a great source of highly absorbable calcium and the eggshell membranes contain com­pounds that support joint health,” said Torkos. Researchers have found ways to put eggshell membranes into supplement form for those needing support for their joint health—this is instead of using traditional ingredients like glucosamine. Eggshell membranes are able to work several weeks faster than glucosamine and can be taken in one dose instead of three.

Replacing drugs with food

Many come to Torkos looking for ways to supplement their diets with health-promoting foods instead of taking their prescription medications. One of the common requests is from people trying to get off statins. Her patients, as well as others, worry about the side effects of medications like statins, and with good reason. Statins can cause muscle pain and weakness, digestive problems, an elevation in liver enzymes, increased blood sugar levels and risk of type 2 diabetes, and mitochondrial damage.

By simply adding foods like oats, chia seeds, beans, berries, tomatoes, and fish to their diet, many of her patients were able to lower their cholesterol and improve their tri­glyceride levels. Torkos also suggests foods fortified with plant sterols and using palm fruit and olive oil instead of other unhealthy fats. For many of her patients, their digestive problems, fatigue, menopause, stress, and other issues had improved by using their dinner plate as medication instead of prescriptions.

The next few pages contain reci­pes that will help you follow Sherry Torkos’ food guidelines. Oats, yogurt, chia seeds, and berries are easy to incorporate at any time of the day, whether it be breakfast, snack time, or dinner. When you’re eating fish, in­stead of always sticking to salmon, try recipes that feature halibut, black cod, or mackerel. Make sure that the spe­cies you are choosing is a good source of omega-3. When you’ve had your fill of fish, reach for our favorite omega-3 supplements from Nordic Naturals, Essential Formulas, and Solgar.

Take a look to see what’s in your medicine cabinet. Could you be replacing your prescriptions with functional foods?