The Food Pharmacy

How Diet Can Prevent
(and Perhaps Treat) Disease

"What do heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, and various other cardiovascular ailments all have in common? They are unnatural diseases - not part of the aging process - largely caused by what we eat and how we live"
Julian Whitaker, M.D., 1994

"There is almost no medical condition today that cannot be improved or even reversed--if you know how to trigger the body's tremendous power to heal itself."
Julian Whitaker, M.D., 1993

What is a Food Pharmacy?

The above quotations get to the kernel of the concept. The food pharmacy is not a kitchen cabinet full of foods that miraculously cure different ailments, but rather an idea—the realization the food, or more accurately the substances foods contain, can help prevent and even treat disease. A "food pharmacist" realizes that there will not be an instant difference in health when eating differently, but instead a long-term and healthier difference.

Is This a New, Radical Idea?

No. The belief that foods can help us has been with us for ages. History shows that all cultures have different diets (which results in different health), and that all cultures have looked to foods for help when ill.

The Preventive Diet: You Become What You Eat

Way back at the turn of the century, a Dutch researcher found that the Japanese had low cholesterol and were free from atherosclerosis when compared to the Dutch. Then he found that when Japanese went to Holland, or worked in jobs that provided them with a Dutch diet, they developed the same cholesterol levels. His suspicion? Diet. Studies during WWII pointed the same finger. The war forced Europeans to alter their diets; the rich, fatty foods were simply not to be found. Instead, they had to eat grains, potatoes, and vegetables. The results? A substantial decrease in atherosclerosis was documented on different European populations.

More recent studies also suggest that diet plays an important role in health. A study in China found that a diet of rice (offering plenty of complex carbohydrates and fiber), vegetables, and fish (for protein) resulted in a low risk of breast and colon cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. This suggests that a diet made up of 80 to 90 percent plant materials might be the best for guarding against cancer and heart disease.

Although the Finnish eat few fruits and vegetables, lots of fat filled dairy products and a good share of red meat, they still have a lower incidence of heart disease and breast cancer than Americans and a low colon cancer rate. It could be because of high intake of fiber; dark rye bread and whole grain cereals.

And down south to the sunny Mediterranean island of Crete? The people of Crete, although eating a diet with 40 percent fat, have virtually no heart disease. This might be because the fat is olive oil, which is used to cook just about everything in their diet. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat, which may reduce the body's production of "bad' cholesterol, which in turn results in a thriving circulatory system. Others contest this (the "all fat is bad fat" school of thought), instead citing the high consumption of fruits and vegetables in the diet. Whatever the reason is, we can be sure of one thing: diet affects health.

Unfortunately, the American diet affects health in the wrong way. Americans (and citizens of other industrialized countries) have high incidences of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, to name just a few of our problems. Of course, take a look at the American diet: Protein - 15%; complex carbohydrates - 15%; simple sugars - 25%; fat - 40%. If the figures are hard to grasp, look at it this way: In a year, Americans eat their weight in sugar, and almost their weight in fat. The result? Studies show clogged and hardened arteries, leading to heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems; and obesity (being 20% overweight), which, when compared to a person of average weight, means that you have three times more possibility of a heart attack, five times more of diabetes, and six times more of developing gall bladder diseases. Is our modern, rich food worth the health price we pay?

When confronted we the facts, both medically and economically, must people would say no. What does a food pharmacist have to say about this? Changing your diet acts as preventive medicine to some of America's major health problems (and is a lot less expensive and less stressful that a heart bypass). The food pharmacist begins consuming less of the foods that are bad for our bodies, and more of the foods that help our bodies. A quick rule of thumb would be to begin eliminating fats and sugar from your diet and limit the cholesterol and salt, because these substances to high cholesterol and clogged arteries and obesity and its problems. In replacement, use whole grains, tubers, fruits, vegetables, and drink plenty of water.

A diet that stresses vegetables and fruits provides you less risk of developing the aforementioned "industrial" diseases. Vegetables and fruit do not have a lot of cholesterol or sugar. You can eat more without gaining weight. And finally, fruits and vegetables may provide added protection against cancer. Research studies have identified thousands of phytochemicals, natural chemical compounds produced by plants, that appear to be able to either repair damaged cells or prevent pre-cancerous damage from occurring.

Sounds drastic, if not dreary, doesn't it? A good food pharmacist realizes that attempting to change a diet "cold turkey" may be impossible, if not even harmful in the long run. So instead, start out slowly. Cut out the obvious first—liver (370 mg of cholesterol in a 3 oz serving), egg yolks (250 mg of cholesterol in one) (10 tsps of sugar in a can), bacon (630 mg sodium in 3 slices, plus 80 mg of cholesterol)—and replace them with healthy foods you like—your favorite fruits and vegetables, more pasta and grain. Instead of red meat, use skinless chicken, turkey, and fish. Go ahead and eat that piece of cake on a friend's birthday, but stay away from processed foods (salami, canned soups, etc.) and fast food, as they are high in both sugars and sodium. You will find that in time, you will feel better. And, although you cannot see it, you will also be lowering the risk of heart disease,cancer, and a host of other illnesses.

The Therapeutic Diet: Help Your Body Cure Itself

Can foods cure us? Consider this: Twenty-five percent of all prescription drugs used throughout the world are derived from natural plant substances. If you count fungus and molds, that figure jumps to 50 percent. Penicillin was isolated from bread mold. Malaria can be prevented and cured with quinine, a substance derived from cinchona bark. Morphine is made from an extract of the poppy plant. The list goes on.

This all sounds great. The sad part is that we have only examined about five to ten percent of all plant species for medicinal properties. This is especially sad when you consider that today's technology allows us to detect potent chemicals in very small amounts of food. We can easily test their biological activity. And this, coupled with our better understanding of how disease works and how disease-fighting substances work, could supply us with a lot of weapons in which to prevent and fight disease. Think of the possibilities!

Fortunately, research is going on in this respect. Researchers are looking into foods and what they do with for us. Think of some of the two of the "recent" discoveries: antioxidants, phytochemicals, and proanthocyanidins. Research became available on allthese substances 5 to 40 years ago. The more traditional medical community now seems to be beginning to accept the revolutionary idea behind them—that foods contain chemical compounds that help us healthwise. We should remember, however, that the active ingredients in food probably behave as "combination therapy," that is, they work together best in different combinations.

Another source of foods as treatment is to explore the past. Ancient cultures used foods, especially herbs, for medicinal treatment, and today much of the "folkwisdom" is proving to be scientifically sound. Garlic was mentioned in ancient Egypt and has been used in China for centuries. As late as WWI, garlic was used to treat typhus and dysentery, and in WWII to treat wounds. And guess what, the garlic smell is what does it. The compound allicin (which produces the smell) does have bacteria killing quality. In Northeastern United States, cranberry juice has been long used for urinary tract infections. Theseproperties were first cited in 1860. We know today that cranberry juice does help prevent these infections. Another example is ginger, long used by the Chinese for just about everything. Ginger is a potent antinausea drug. Studies have shown in more effective than Dramamine, the usually prescribed motion sickness drug.

If we continue to study the plants in the world around us—both the food plants and others—we might will prove Hippocrates correct when he said "Food is your best medicine and the best foods are the best medicine." and support the Chinese herbalist Shin Huang who said "It is diet which maintains true health and becomes the best drug." Who knows, maybe someday your physician will prescribe foods. Wouldn't that be great?

The Food Pharmacy: What Foods Can Do For You

Fruits

In general, contain caffeic acid, which helps make carcinogens water soluble and easier to excrete.

Apple: Boron, mineral linked to the prevention of osteoporosis

Cantaloupe, kiwi, mango, papaya: Vitamin C, an antioxidant; helps immune system by stimulating white blood cells

Bananas: Potassium, which may help regulate blood pressure

Citrus Fruits

In general, limone, which increases activity of enzymes that eliminate carcinogens.

Oranges, grapefruit: A variety of phytochemicals that may reduce inflammation that causes asthma, arthritis, and allergies.

Pineapple: Bromelain, an enzyme that may relieve symptoms of heart disease and asthma.
Manganese; which helps build bones.

Vegetables

Broccoli: Dithiolthiones, which may speed up production of enzymes that protect DNA from damage. Sulforaphane, which may be used prevent breast cancer.

Cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, rutabaga, turnip green, Indoles: which might lower risk of breast cancer. Isothiocynates, which help protect DNA.

Peppers: Phytochemicals, which may prevent carcinogens from activity.

Capsaicin: which is used to treat arthritis.

Tomatoes: Vitamin C, an antioxidant, Lycopne, which may be linked to lower incidences of cancer.

Carrots: Beta carotene, an antioxidant; might prevent and treat cancer; lowers cholesterol

Asparagus: Fiber, vitamin C, and calcium; and a phytochemical that may prevent cervical cancer

Garlic, onion: Allyl sulfides, which have antibiotic properties and may help an enzyme that removes carcinogens in the body.

Soybeans: Genistein, which may be able to block tumor growth.

Grains: Phytic acid, which may neutralize some cancer-causing free radicals.

The article "The Food Pharmacy: How Diet Can Prevent (and Perhaps Treat) Disease" is
reproduced with the permission of AIM International.
©1997 by AIM International

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