Functional medicine: Food is good medicine
Shift in Health
By Wendy M. Henrichs
Board Certified Chiropractic Pediatrician and nutrition counselor
Your body is a self-healing and self-regulating organism. We are our own ecosystem. When an ecosystem is “sick,” we try to determine what is creating the toxicity or “sickness” and remove it so the ecosystem becomes healthy again. The same is true of the human body. Unfortunately, we often don’t treat our body like an ecosystem. Often we mask the symptoms instead of looking to find the cause of our sickness. In this article I will explore the idea of food as good medicine; food as a means to heal our body, our ecosystem.
Nutritional support or food is the cellular support to your body. Functional medicine begins with food. Food is energy, information and can be good medicine for our body. Eating a clean diet of high quality foods that include a wide variety of whole, plant based foods, lean protein, and good fats is truly powerful medicine that improves health and can hinder the development of disease.
The fuel that is required to perform all of functions of every cell in your body comes from the calories in the food we eat. Our energy comes from our food. Every organ, tissue and cell needs fuel to function. The quality of your life, how well you can work, move and act is only as good as the food or energy we provide as raw materials. The nutrients in our foods, such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats provide us with the energy to live. If you want a high functioning body, then you need to provide high functioning fuel.
Food also provides information to the body. It is more than just the calories you consume. The information provided to your body in every bite of food has the ability to turn genes on or off that control risk for disease, lifespan and your metabolism. There are foods that can even trigger allergic responses, impact your blood sugar, cause inflammation or autoimmune responses. The food we eat gives our body the information. The quality of our food determines the quality of the information provided to our cells and therefore the function of our cells. Too much food with low quality nutrients can leave the body overweight, undernourished, and at a greater risk for developing many of the degenerative diseases plaguing the US population today. High quality foods with the right nutrients can help to heal and reverse the path of chronic disease.
If you want to improve the quality of your nutrients, here is a guide to help you.
1. Eat clean and organic: The addition of artificial colorings, flavorings, additives, preservatives have compromised our food. Conventionally grown (non-organic) produce, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes is often treated with pesticides, herbicides and insecticides. When you eat a clean, organic diet you are eliminating a large source of toxicity and increasing the overall nutrient content. This also helps increase your liver’s ability to eliminate toxins that are already there. So try to eat organic as much as possible. Try to eat at least 6 different colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue-purple, and tan/white) of plant foods daily to get a wide variety of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. For a list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 foods, go to www.ewg.org. The list is updated annually.
2. Focus on whole, plant based foods: Include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. Eating a wide variety of these foods ensures we get adequate fiber and phytonutrients. Insoluble fiber found in bran and outer coat of vegetables, helps to sweep out debris from our intestines and allows the food to move along. Soluble fiber in foods like oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables slows down digestion allowing for nutrients to be absorbed from our gut. It also helps trap toxins so we can excrete them. Fiber provide “food” for the healthy bacteria in our digestive systems. Try to consume at least 30 grams of dietary fiber each day.
3. Quality protein: Choose grass-fed and free range animals and poultry or wild-caught fish. These clean proteins are not only lower in toxins, but higher in omega-3 fatty acids than the protein from corn-fed and caged animals and poultry. If you are vegan or vegetarian you can get adequate protein from legumes, nuts, and some high protein grains. Protein not only helps support muscle growth and maintain our lean muscle mass, but it also is necessary to repair and make new cells and stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels. Stabilizing blood sugar and insulin also helps to control hunger. Include protein with every meal and snack.
4. Good fats: Eating a wide variety of good fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed organic butter and avocado oil provide the building blocks for our cell membranes and nervous system tissue. Omega 3 fats are anti-inflammatory. They are found in wild caught fish, grass fed and wild game, and free range (roaming the barnyard) poultry and leafy green vegetables. A first-line approach to decreasing inflammation throughout the body is balancing our dietary fats and increasing omega 3 fats in our diet.
5. Added sugars: Added sugar contributes a significant amount of calories in the American diet. This is mainly through refined grains, desserts and sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, sports/energy drinks, sweetened coffee and tea, fruit drinks and flavored milk. Not only are the added calories a concern to weight management, but also to blood sugar levels and control. The increase in consumption of added sugar and sweeteners has led to an increased incidence of Type II diabetes in younger people as well as a foundation for obesity and the development of heart disease. Sugars also promote inflammation and accelerated aging via insulin and cortisol. Try to consume no more than 1-3 teaspoons of sugar daily.
It doesn’t matter how “sick” your body or ecosystem is or is not. A clean, organic diet of whole plant based food, high quality protein and good fats will improve your level of health and well being. Let food as good medicine reduce your pain, help you manage your weight, get better rest, have more energy, and get off the path of chronic disease.
Dr. Wendy Henrichs is a board certified chiropractor and nutrition counselor at Timber Land Chiropractic in Rhinelander. For more information, TimberlandChiropractic.com, Facebook, or call 715-362-4852.