Food as Medicine: The Ancient Secret to Healing?

4 min read

Food as Medicine: The Ancient Secret to Healing?

Long ago, Hippocrates declared that food should be our medicine. He once said ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’. But is there any truth to this ancient wisdom? Let’s take a look.

Can Food Really Be Used as Medicine?

Hippocrates' statement, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food," emphasizes the importance of using food as a means to promote health and prevent disease. While it may seem like a modern idea in the Western world, cultures worldwide have long recognized nutrition for its crucial role in preventing and managing disease.

And this concept remains highly applicable to our modern diet for several reasons:

  • Nutrient-Rich Foods: Consuming a balanced and diverse diet rich in essential nutrients supports overall well-being. Nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help maintain proper bodily functions and strengthen the immune system.

  • Disease Prevention: Many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, are closely linked to poor dietary choices. By adopting a nutritious diet, you can reduce your risk of developing such conditions. For instance, a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain fiber may lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease.

  • Healing and Recovery: Proper nutrition plays a vital role in the healing and recovery process. After an injury, illness, or surgery, providing the body with adequate nutrients, including proteins, vitamins, and minerals, helps support tissue repair, strengthens the immune system, and promotes recovery.

  • Gut Health: Emerging research highlights the importance of the gut microbiome to various aspects of well-being, including digestionimmunity, and mental health. Consuming a diet that includes probiotic-rich foods (such as yogurt and fermented vegetables) and prebiotic fibers (found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) can support a diverse and beneficial gut microbiota.

  • Lifestyle-related Diseases: Many health conditions today, such as obesity and metabolic syndrome, are associated with sedentary lifestyles and poor dietary habits. By adopting a diet focused on whole, minimally processed foods and reducing the intake of added sugars, unhealthy fats, and processed foods, individuals can better manage their weight and reduce the risk of lifestyle-related diseases.

The notion of "food as medicine" is less about using food as a replacement for modern medicine. Instead, it involves giving priority to your dietary choices to help aid your body in preventing and managing various health conditions. This approach emphasizes a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods, along with the incorporation of functional foods. 

What Are Functional Foods?

Functional foods, or foods and drinks that offer health benefits beyond their nutritional value, are gaining major popularity. These include: 

  • Foods with naturally occurring bioactive substances (such as dietary fiber)

  • Derived food ingredients added to conventional foods (such as prebiotics)

  • And foods supplemented with bioactive substances (such as probiotics and antioxidants)

Unlike traditional medication, you consume functional foods as part of a regular diet. Let's explore the advantages offered by each of these functional foods:

Dietary Fiber

Dietary fibers are substances found in plants that your body cannot digest or absorb through your diet. There are two types of dietary fiber, both of which offer health benefits: soluble and insoluble fiber.

  • Soluble fiber, abundant in foods such as oats, citrus fruits, and psyllium, can help support metabolic and cardiovascular health.

  • Insoluble fiber, found in whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, helps to add bulk to stool and prevents constipation. It also promotes a feeling of fullness and may contribute to maintaining a healthy body weight.

Unfortunately, most adults do not consume enough dietary fiber. Incorporating more functional foods rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber into your daily diet is a great way to get more fiber in your diet.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are nutrients that feed the good bacteria in your gut. As these bacteria ferment prebiotics they produce short-chain fatty acids, which offer many health benefits including supporting digestive health. Prebiotics naturally exist in various foods such as Jerusalem artichoke, chicory, cassava, and oats. They're also added to other foods or beverages, like the prebiotics found in OLIPOP!

Probiotics

Probiotics help maintain a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut. This balance is vital for a strong immune system and protection against future diseases. You can find probiotics in fermented foods like yogurt and tempeh, or added to a variety of other foods, including beverages like kombucha, snack foods, and protein powders. Including a diverse range of probiotic-rich foods in your diet is a great way to promote gut health.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants combat oxidative stress in the body, protecting cells from harm. Whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, and oats provide a wide array of antioxidants. Additionally, many packaged foods are fortified with antioxidants to enhance nutritional value and support greater health benefits.

Food as Medicine: What You Need to Know

It's important to note that while food can have significant impacts on health, it is not a substitute for medical treatments nor can it fully replace medication to treat diseases. But eating right and incorporating a variety of functional foods into your daily diet can greatly support your health. So it turns out that Hippocrates' wisdom still holds true today—let food be your medicine and medicine be your food. Add more whole foods and prebiotics, probiotics, and antioxidants to your diet and the old adage may come true: an apple a day keeps the doctor away!

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