Can we use food as medicine?
There are often times when illness is unavoidable and medication is necessary, but can certain diseases be avoided through a well-balanced diet?
We are all aware that a well-balanced diet is an important part of leading a healthy lifestyle. While providing the body with energy, the food we eat affects a multitude of other bodily processes. Rather than waiting until an ailment develops and relying on medications to improve the condition, in many preventable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, the foods we eat can drastically help to decrease the development risk.
The idea of using food as a preventative form of medicine is not a new discovery; it has been around for thousands of years in places all over the world. But the link between the food we eatand long-termhealth is still being researched. Here are just some of the many ways food can have a positive impact on our health.
1. Reducing inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s natural defence against foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. When a foreign body is recognised, white blood cells release chemicals into the blood to fight the infection. The release of chemicals increases blood flow, leading the swelling of the area. Although inflammation is important to keep us healthy, chronic inflammation can cause a range of problems in the body including arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol levels. Stress, a lack of exercise and poor diet all contribute to chronic inflammation. Sugar, vegetable oil, fried food, artificial sweeteners and saturated fats all increase inflammation in the body. Anti-inflammatory foods include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, plant-based proteins such as beans and nuts, oily fish and fresh herbs and spices.
2. Balancing blood sugar levels
When the body digests food, the body produces glucose, a form of sugar. The hormone insulin produced by the pancreas allows glucose to enter the cells of the body and be used as energy. In an individual with type 2 diabetes, cells are unresponsive to insulin’s effects causing glucose to build up in the blood. High blood glucose levels over a prolonged period can damage blood vessels, nerves, the heart, eyes and kidneys.
In the UK, it is estimated thatthe current cost of treating diabetesis around £10 billion a year, 10% of the health service’s entire budget.Having a healthy balanced diet can help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. Choose whole grains instead of processed carbohydrates. Limit your consumption of red meat and avoid processed meats choosing poultry, whole grains or fish instead. Different types of dietary fats also affect the development of diabetes. Oils from vegetables, nuts, and seeds can help ward off type 2 diabetes while trans and saturated fats do just the opposite.
3. Reducing high blood pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) is a condition where the pressure of blood in the blood vessels is higher than it should be.It is estimatedthat around 1 in 4 adults across the world have high blood pressure (hypertension) and it is projected to affect more than 1.5 billion people by 2025. There are rarely any noticeable symptoms of high blood pressure, but if left uncontrolled and untreated, it can damage and weaken blood vessels. This increases the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, stroke and damage to the blood vessels in the eyes. Diet has a major influence on an individual’s risk of developing high blood pressure and a diet high in salt, saturated fats and alcohol increases the risk. As well as exercising regularly and reducing your intake of alcohol; to lower high blood pressure or to avoid developing it in the first place, increasing your intake of fibre as well as consuming foods rich in magnesium and potassium are good ways to lower high blood pressure.
4. Improving digestive health
We often associate the word bacteria with infection and disease, but ‘good bacteria’ do exist and are vital for human health. Our digestive system is made up of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is colonised by between 300 to 500 different bacterial species. There are approximately 10 times more bacteria in the gut than all the human cells in the body.
Gut bacteria play a crucial role in human health by supplying essential nutrients, producing vitamin K and supporting the normal function of the heart and nervous system. Gut bacteria are heavily involved in the strength of our immune system, as they maintain resistance against the colonisation of dangerous bacteria by competing for nutrients in the body. Although they are necessary for our health, when the gut bacteria composition changes,several diseases can occurincluding inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, heart disease and even cancer.
A healthy community of bacteria in the gut keeps the immune system calm. The foods we eat have an impact on the colonisation of our gut bacteria. Limiting your intake of alcohol, sugar, caffeine and red meat can be beneficial as these all interfere with digestive health. Feed your gut with probiotics, zinc and whole plant foods. Fermented foods like kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut are also fantastic for keeping your gut healthy.
Is your diet supporting you?
It is important to know that small changes in diet and lifestyle can have a big impact on our health and well-being. If good food has the power to prevent a number of chronic illnesses that are common in society, then it makes sense to use food to heal and restore the body - helping to prevent illness.