"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Officially, and finally, becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist has been an absolute dream come true and has helped reinvigorate my passion for food… as nourishment, as culture, as commodity, but especially as medicine.
As I was immersed in studying for the RD exam a few weeks ago, trying to make sure I could remember everything from a single nutrient's purpose to how many ounces are in a particular scoop size, I continued to remind myself that the scope of nutrition goes much further than that. "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. One of the oldest and greatest philosophers in history said this, and it absolutely still rings true today.
Food can not only heal us from a physical, mental, and emotional standpoint but is instrumental in preventing illness, disease, and preserving our vitality. Learning all about medical nutrition therapy and how food choices can help treat conditions is fascinating, but even more wonderful is how making healthful food choices can help prevent diseases all together or reverse processes in their tracks. New and emerging research is even showing how molecules in food are able to alter our genes in order to help or hinder our health (nutrigenomics).
How can we best incorporate preventative and healing foods into our day? And more importantly how can we do this without breaking the bank or devoting a whole day to planning, cooking and then finally eating it? Luckily, by creating healthy habits and continually practicing them, it will become part of your lifestyle and not a chore, making food as medicine a very viable option. Making small daily commitments to your health through food (ounces of prevention), will be able to make you save in the long run by avoiding illness, doctor's office, and even medications (pound of cure).
So you may heard about the concept “food as medicine”. But what exactly does this mean, can we actually prescribe ourselves food? Absolutely! By thinking of food in this way, it no longer makes it an option to not consider what food is doing to our body and our health. The most well researched foods that have these extraordinary medicinal properties are fruits and vegetables due to their phytochemicals (plant chemicals that are not calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, or minerals). Most medicines actually comes from plant material so it is no wonder that they have such powerful healing properties. You wouldn’t skip taking your medicine the doctor prescribed so don’t skip adding these disease preventing foods into your diet!
Here are some helpful hints to include more phytochemical goodness into your daily diet:
- Add fruits to your morning cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt: berries or stone fruits (peaches, plums, nectarines) are great during these summer months when they are in-season and so refreshing. You can even use frozen fruit that tends to be less expensive, keeps for longer, and is even more cooling during the heat!
- Set a goal to hit every color in the rainbow during the day with your fruit and vegetable intake: start slow with 2 or 3 colors and then build up to the full spectrum once you get the hang of it. To help you do this pick a new piece of produce every time you go to the store and right when you get home make sure you chop up/prepare and store it properly so it is quick to use when you need it!
- Making a pasta dish, soup, or even heating up a frozen dinner? Toss in some of those vegetables you already cut up to any of these dishes, not only will you add phytonutrients but the hint of flavor from those vegetables might make it even extra yummy! These don’t have to be all together new dishes but keep making your favorites with an extra veggie punch. Make extra so you have leftovers for the next day or two.
- Herbs and spices count too! When you use these with cooking, they can have great anti-inflammatory effects. If you don’t have a great spice collection, many grocery stores sell starter dried spice kits that can get you started and experimenting. From there, the sky is the limit. Perhaps try different spices on simple things like eggs so you can test their flavor and see which ones you want to try more of.
- What about dessert? This is a great place to include more fruits either in pastries or ice cream, or by themselves with a little brown sugar sweetness on top. In the summer, you can pour blended fruits into ice cube trays and cool off with a fruity treat!
We can’t effectively single out phytonutrients like we can with vitamins and minerals. The best way to receive all the benefits they offer is eating these foods in their whole form and in the right amounts. Consuming the whole food will also make sure you receive the benefits from fiber, micronutrients, and macronutrients that come from eating the real deal. What is your fruit and vegetable goal for the day or week? How can you enhance your diet with these foods that can help prevent disease, increase vitality and immunity, and ultimately be your medicine??