How to Use Food as Medicine (video/podcast)

Healthy food choices can help prevent illness, manage conditions

Healthy food choices can help prevent illness, manage conditions

When you think about taking medicine, you probably don’t think of food. Yet research has shown that what you put into your body can have a significant impact on your health and wellness. There’s no question that some foods contribute to health problems, while others may help improve or even prevent them. 

In this video, San Diego Health host Susan Taylor talks with Mitch Biermann, MD, an internal medicine physician at Scripps Clinic Carmel Valley, about what it means to use food as medicine.

Making healthier choices

“There’s no one food that’s absolutely a miracle thing. It’s about replacing unhealthy things with healthier choices,” says Dr. Biermann. “I think about it as detoxifying your body by taking out all the processed food that we put into it and replacing it with healthier alternatives.“

Making healthy food choices can have a big effect on your health. Fortunately there are many foods that can help manage a chronic disease or help you lose excess weight.

Healthy food choices may help improve arthritis-joint pain related to obesity. Similarly, eating anti-inflammatory foods, such as garlic and turmeric, can help with joint inflammation.

Cut down on sugary foods

Just as some foods can help stabilize blood sugar, others can raise it. Sugar is one of the biggest culprits – including “natural” sugars, such as raw sugar and brown sugar. People often turn to sugary foods for fast energy, but the “sugar high” quickly wears off and your blood sugar crashes, leaving you feeling even more tired. 

Choose whole fruits

Fruit juice may seem healthy, but most juices have had the natural fiber of the fruit removed. Fiber helps to stabilize blood sugar.

Without fiber, the juice is mostly sugar and causes blood glucose to spike. To make matters worse, bottled fruit juices often have added sugar. Choose whole fruit instead. A diet high on fruit can help with weight management and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Choose healthier grains

“Think about the major carbohydrates you eat. It’s probably going to be either bread or rice,” says Dr. Biermann. “If it’s bread, try to look for the most sour or tart bread you can find, because sourdough bread has less of an effect on your blood sugar than just plain white bread.”

The same is true of rice. Processed white rice has had the fiber removed, so it raises blood sugar more quickly than whole grain rice. Choose wild rice, brown rice or quinoa, another healthy grain that is also a good source of protein.

Choose lean proteins

Dr. Biermann encourages patients to eat lean proteins. Chicken and fish are not only high in protein but also low in carbohydrates. He notes that “meatless” diets are not necessarily better for you.

“I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer to whether red meat is healthy or unhealthy,” he says. “Macaroni and cheese has no red meat, but that doesn’t make it healthy. I think lean red meat that is relatively low in unsaturated fat and very high in protein can help you feel full, give you sustained energy and reduce your total calories compared to an entirely carb-based diet.”

Top five healing foods

Dr. Biermann lists the following five foods as his top picks for replacing less healthy options in your diet:    

1. Olive oil

Raw extra virgin olive oil, like other unprocessed oils, such as coconut oil or grapeseed oil, provide healthier natural fats.

2. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a staple of the healthy Mediterranean diet.

3. Quinoa

 Quinoa has less of an effect on blood sugar levels than rice or bread.

4. Yogurt

Because it is fermented, yogurt will raise your blood sugar less than milk or ice cream.

5. Dragon fruit

Dragon fruit (also called pitaya) and similar tropical fruits are juicy and sweet but do not raise blood sugar as much as watermelon or pineapple.

Shop wisely

You don’t need to buy these specific foods, but do focus on filling your grocery cart with lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and fermented dairy.

“I think the most important thing you can do for your diet and your overall health is to look at what you’re eating and see the little areas where you can make improvement,” says Dr. Biermann.

Listen to the podcast on food as medicine

Listen to the podcast on food as medicine

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