“Let food be thy medicine, let medicine be thy food.” - Hippocrates
For more than 60 years now we have known that what we eat can make a significant impact in our health for both good and bad. One of the earliest studies done on this showed a significant improvement in the survival rate of patients with known cardiovascular disease, with almost 40% surviving at 12 years after following a low fat diet. Consequently, the group who did not had a 0% survival rate during the same timeline. This study was published at a time where there were little medications to treat disease and interventional procedures and surgeries had not yet been discovered.
Many years later, in 1998, Dr. Dean Ornish published his lifestyle intervention trial, showing reduction in the amount of stenosis of the coronary arteries after following a low-fat, plant based diet. Conversely, the group who did not make any changes in diet demonstrated a 10% increase in the degree of blockage.
Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn showed similar reductions based on his switch to a plant-based diet. While there are many who feel this is a significant change in their lifestyle, Dr Esselstyn said it best, when he quoted, “Some people think plant-based, whole food diets’ are extreme. Half a million people a year will have their chests opened up and a vein taken from their leg and sewn into their coronary artery. Some people would call that extreme.”
We have clearly shown through evidence-based science that treating our diet like a prescription can make a significant impact in our health, by preventing as well as treating disease. On the other hand, many of the health issues facing patients today are a direct cause of following a poor diet and not paying attention to nutrition.
In order to understand food as a prescription, we first need describe our nutrition in terms of a prescription. Whereas with medication, we use the terms milligrams and frequency, with nutrition we use the terms calories and meal times. When thinking of it in these terms, we would never take a medication we did not know the dosage or frequency. However, most of us eat without thinking about what or how much we are eating.
To think of it simply, all foods boil down to 5 basic components, which are carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. Everything we eat has a different amount of each of these, and a well-rounded diet will make sure we get all the nutrients we need to keep our bodies functioning well.
The dosage of food is measured in calories. There are several methods to determine how many calories each food has, and what proportion comes from fats, carbs and proteins. Using tools like apps on phones, or websites to track our intake, we can record our daily intake. Additionally, reading food labels and measuring food with a kitchen scale will make sure we are getting the correct ‘dosage’ when we eat. This is not something most people do, but when done correctly, we are most of the time successful in helping our patients attain their goals of reversing disease and losing weight.
By Dr. Ross Osborn