I hope you are sitting down: I am going to state something that may challenge your belief system! Food was not meant to obtain health with…quite a shocking statement coming from a lifetime devotee of natural foods and a practitioner that prescribes healthy diets. Before you hold your breath too long, here’s the punch line: Food was meant to maintain health with.
Does this mean that Hippocrates was wrong to state “let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food?” Read on and let’s explore together some interesting points of view. In my view, and experience, it is nearly impossible and possibly irrational to try to obtain health strictly through foods.
Most nutrients occur in food in micro levels designed to maintain a healthy body. Levels that did not anticipate pollution, modern stress, constitutionally (genetically) weaker bodies than our forefathers, chemical overload and damage, synthetic everything, etc. A complex network of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, fiber, protein and fat were designed by mother nature to maintain health in a healthy body. However, we are out of balance and have become far removed from our food supply. We have eschewed the wisdom of our elders and dismissed time honored information as “old fashioned” or witchcraft. Even our top medical experts are ignorant or corrupted in their views of what is healthy food—it is no wonder that our modern society has an epidemic of chronic disease. The disease-care system (called health-care in U.S.A.) has focused on acute, crisis conditions such as plagues, while ignoring the rapidly deteriorating overall health of our population. Most of us have no education, training, wisdom (even passed down wisdom or folklore) in healthy eating. We assume our government has checked out the food at the supermarket and “everything in moderation” is fine. Maybe moderation is slowly killing us!
We are so far behind in nutrient levels that our low quality food system could never replenish these nutrient deficiencies. Do you ever think about how far the food you are eating has come? How was it transported, stored, treated? Does it actually have what it should in it? Is that orange really high in Vitamin C? You would be shocked if you knew the truth. Apparently, certain government agencies think you can not handle the truth, so they sugar-coat it. They allow the makers of white bread, cereal and other denatured foods that are chemically fortified with synthetic vitamins to claim they are healthy and safe to eat. For example: Orange juice that is synthetically boosted to bring Vitamin C levels up to minimum government standards after processing destroys the special form of natural Vitamin C put there by nature.
Another solid reason for taking supplements is quite simply because of the benefits. Vitamins, minerals, herbs, enzymes and other supplements can increase our enjoyment of life and help to compensate for genetic deficiencies, past abuses of our body, damage done by illness or injury and to correct imbalances in our body chemistry. Our brain can be sharper, our blood sugar more level and we can reduce or eliminate pain and suffering. Supplement use can protect us from and prevent illness, disease and the toxic effects of pesticides, pollution and chemicals. The fuel additive MTBE, plasticizers in plastic food wrap and chemicals in our cosmetics and water supply are just some examples of our daily exposure to known poisons and carcinogens in our society. Keep in mind that supplement use is only one spoke in the wheel of health that Naturopathy has to offer. There are many other natural therapies, quite a diverse assortment, that we use in Naturopathic Medicine. At some point the truth will come out that many nutrients missing in our food supply have seriously affected our society. Some examples: Zinc helps the immune system, eating disorders and reproductive system. Chromium helps with weight, blood sugar regulation and fat metabolism. Iodine helps our thyroid and lymphs.
We need to discuss the soil our food is grown in. I do not mean to be the bearer of bad news, but decades of poor farming techniques have raped our soil. Through chemical fertilizing, heavy pesticide & insecticide use, not rotating crops and other man-made atrocities we have depleted the soil of vital trace elements, minerals, enzymes and altered the earth’s acid-alkaline balance. The increase in acid rain has leached essential nutrients out of the soil, leaving plants and trees weak. So even if one was to eat a perfect diet, the food is nearly an empty harvest. The sad fact is that our food has less nutrients than in the past. Unless one consumes organic foods, not transported or stored, there is no guarantee that there are many nutrients left.
Of course, no authority can agree as to what constitutes the perfect diet. Conflicting advice and studies flood our media, confusing most people. Through working with a Naturopathic Doctor, one can learn to develop the dietary program that works best for their body. This kind of personalizing takes time, experience and insight. It is well worth the effort. One must also take into account factors that cause poor absorption of nutrients. Some of these factors are: digestive system problems, constipation, mineral oil, birth control pills, antibiotics, sugar, caffeine, soft drinks, and other dietary blocks are just some of the factors preventing nutrients from working once they get into your body. Many medications deplete nutrients or block their absorption. In addition, the delicate acid-alkaline balance of our body, including cells, organs and joints, is vital to the assimilation of nutrients.
Individual needs vary greatly depending on our way of life. Many people are exhausted from going, going, going, not getting adequate sleep, grabbing food on the run, doing errands, taking care of the kids and others needs, while neglecting our own. Athletics, high stress, environmental pollution, work pollution, secondary smoke, medical conditions, toxins from medications, toxins from our diet and auto exhaust all have a profound influence on our nutrient needs. I treat many patients that are suffering from prolonged nutrition deficiencies. The symptoms can be poor mental health, skin conditions, joint problems, fatigue, vision problems, asthma, allergies and many other states of poor health.
Nutritional supplements, as great as they are, will not overcome, nor overpower, mental, emotional or spiritual issues that need to be addressed or that cause illness. They will not compensate, but they will help minimize damage while we are working on these other issues. To say that because the problem is emotional and therefore there is no need for supplements or a healthy diet would be illogical, perhaps even foolhardy and dangerous. In example: A family that lives near a power line, so why bother taking supplements, we’re going to get cancer anyway? Well, Vitamins A, C, E, the mineral selenium, and certain herbs may help protect against the radiation.
What foods will help us sleep? What foods will restore vision? What foods will cure cancer, arthritis, eczema, diabetes, etc.? Without supplements, which have helped all of these diseases, many people would continue to suffer. This is my point: supplements can do what foods can not. We are too out of balance in our daily lives to expect our denatured food supply to restore, obtain or even maintain health, even if we led a strict, fanatical life. It is unrealistic to expect this of food, especially when most people do not have any knowledge of the healing powers of foods. It is mostly wishful thinking.
Is this to say that foods cannot be therapeutic, that they hold no healing powers? To the contrary—foods can be quite therapeutic and healing. I regularly recommend everything from beets to garlic to fresh vegetable juices as part of a patients’ therapy for specific conditions. For example, black cherries, black cherry juice and black cherry concentrate can help iron deficiency (anemia), arthritis, gout, gall bladder and kidney problems, constipation and joint problems if used therapeutically. This is just one example of the practical use of food for healing. However, not everyone is willing to use foods in this way. It requires diligence, strict adherence to new eating habits and being very careful when going out to eat. Many people would rather pop some pills than put up with these changes to their lifestyle.
So why can’t we get what we need from our food? This question is frequently asked of me. Yes, it was intended for us to obtain all our nutrients from food. Foods had enough nutrients to maintain health in a healthy human that lived in balance: rest, fresh air, exercise, clean water, etc. If you have medicines in your “medicine cabinet” than I suggest you need to take supplements. I do not have any synthetic medicines in my cabinet, just natural medicines. Nature has the answer; we just have to be open to it. Have fun with this—don’t let it become something stressful. There’s enough of that in our lives. Have an open enough mind to be willing to try new things and think outside the box! Remember that food was meant to be nourishment, not entertainment. We should eat to live, not live to eat! Food alone cannot restore vitality and real health to a sick, diseased body. Just look at our children and seniors. Take a good look around at public gatherings, at the supermarket, at your family events.
I do not want to exclude many other facets of natural healing: emotions, mind-body connection, herbs, massage, spiritual factors, etc. I have focused on only one aspect here: supplements in general and the purpose of our diets. In future articles we will discuss these other aspects in greater detail. Love and blessings to all. And chew your food slowly and thoroughly!
To learn more, here are some of my favorite books that go into depth on this subject:
•Silent Spring by Carson. Landmark book in ecological movement. Exposes effects of chemicals and demonstrates the importance of informed and active citizens.
•Empty Harvest by Jensen. Explores the link between food, immunity and our planet.
•Secrets of the Soil by Tompkins & Bird. Solutions for restoring our planet.
•Seeds of Change by Ausubel. Passionate story of the movement to restore biodiversity.
•The Survival of Civilization by Hamaker. The way to the future for our planet and race.
•Staying Healthy With Nutrition by Haas. A detailed, thorough book on supplements and foods.
•The Book of Whole Meals by Colbin. Cookbook that emphasizes balance with the seasons.
•Food and Healing by Colbin. Classic book on eating in harmony, with mind-opening views on food.
•Cooking for Healthy Healing by Rector-Page. A cookbook that has something for everyone!
•Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Balch. Holistic treatments for many conditions and diseases.
•Foods That Heal by Jensen. Comprehensive, fascinating review of the healing qualities of fruits and vegetables.
•Electrolytes, The Spark of Life by Martlew. Great reading on trace elements and their significance in health.