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Why Nutrition is Important in Medicine

You are what you eat has always rung true. Food is necessary to survival and what we put into our body plays a major role in our health and is what fuels us day in and day out. It’s no surprise that if we ingest poorer quality or toxic items, our bodies won’t function at their best. 

Health promotion through healthy food. 

Finding the root cause of many aches, pains and chronic issues start with a close examination of what goes into the body. Today, much of our food is processed and contains chemicals to preserve it and even change its flavor. It’s no surprise that chronic illnesses related to diet and food-related allergies are rampant and increasing rapidly. Our bodies need vitamins, minerals and nutrients to function well and can suffer tremendously when inadequate food items are consumed. 

How food nourishes the body and mind. 

There are myriad ways food delivers nutrients to our bodies and minds. Eating whole, organic foods nourishes our bodies, protects them from diseases,and promotes optimal internal organ processes. Here are some of the key things that food provides our bodies: 

  • Vitamins. 
    • Vitamins are organic compounds that come from food that humans need to consume because the body doesn’t produce enough. Humans have different vitamin requirements than other organisms and must eat certain foods to ensure proper organ function. 
    • There are 13 recognized vitamins, all found in food. Some are water-soluble and some are fat-soluble. Many are common in a large number of foods while others are more rare and may require humans to take additional supplements. 
    • Vitamins enable a host of functions, including hormone production, cell growth, making DNA, healing wounds,and so much more. 
    • Without an adequate supply of vitamins on a daily basis, a person may experience a host of issues from major to minor. These include: 
      • Scurvy
      • Softening of the bones
      • Anemia
      • Inflammation of the intestines
      • Canker sores or fissures at the corners of the mouth that don’t heal quickly. 
      • “Pins and needles” sensations throughout various places in the body.  
  • Minerals.
    • Minerals act as a link between humans and the earth. Minerals like iron, magnesium, calcium,and salt are necessary for proper organ function and are derived from the earth. 
    • A whole host of foods contain minerals pertinent to human survival. Fruits, grains, vegetables, fish, meat,and eggs contain minerals that contribute to bone, brain,and heart function. 
  • Plant compounds.
    • The word “antioxidant” is much more than a nutritional buzzword. These molecules come from plants and are crucial in defending our cells from free radicals. 
    • Antioxidants can include tannins, polyphenols,and flavonoids. Antioxidants are found in a variety of food, but in western diets, are most commonly found in the following: 
      • Coffee
      • Green tea
      • Berries
      • Dark Chocolate
      • Fish
  • Protein. 
    • These large, complex molecules perform a vital function for the body – they are responsible for a large portion of cell function. Cells are then responsible for making up the organ system, vascular systems,and everything else in our bodies. Proteins are very important. 
    • Amino acids. Proteins are made from amino acids, of which there are 20 different types. 
    • A diet incorporating healthy, lean proteins can aid in weight loss and disease prevention. 
  • Fiber. 
    • Fiber provides a whole host of healthy benefits for our bodies, including and most importantly, it acts as food for gut-dwelling bacteria. Feeding this bacteria ensures that our guts stay healthy and functioning. 
    • Fiber is found in many foods, including beans, broccoli, apples, lentils, whole grains and more.  
    • A diet consisting of health, fibrous foods can help prevent digestion related cancers or ailments like colon cancer and hemorrhoids.
  • Healthy Fats.
    • Fats get a bad reputation from diet-fads when in reality, there are ample healthy fats the body needs to survive. 
    • Monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat are both vital fats that the organs, brain and vascular systems rely on to function appropriately. 
    • Consuming healthy fats actually helps mitigate the risk associated with bad fats, like high cholesterol, clogged arteries and heart disease
    • Omega-3 fatty acids. The human body doesn’t produce Omega-3 fatty acids on its own and must get them from either diet or supplements. Fish, oils and nuts are easy sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. The three main types of Omega-3 fatty acids are: 
      • DHA. The most important fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid, is responsible for the structure of your brain, retina and other essential parts of the body. 
      • EPA. Part of eicosapentaenoic acid is converted into DNA so our cells can replicate appropriately. 
      • ALA. Alpha-linolenic acid is most often used for energy in the body and is the most common type of Omega-3 fatty acid. 

Decrease the Risk of Chronic Diseases

A healthy diet can decrease the risk of developing certain diseases and chronic conditions. Because you’re consuming vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats that the body needs to function properly, it doesn’t need to overcompensate or struggle to perform essential processes. Here are some common diseases that can frequently be prevented with a nutritious diet. 

  • Heart disease. Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer for American men and women, according to The Heart Foundation. However, it is also extremely preventable. Avoiding foods that are high in trans fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol can mitigate the risk of developing heart disease and keep the vital muscle and surrounding vascular system healthy, strong and ticking. 
  • Type 2 Diabetes. The number of people with Type 2 diabetes is on the rise, however, this iteration of the blood-sugar disease is often preventable. A diet rich in fibrous foods like leafy greens and complex carbohydrates yet low in refined sugar can help prevent development of type 2 diabetes later in life. 
  • Osteoporosis. A calcium-rich diet paired with strength-training exercises helps bones stay stronger and lose density at a slower pace. 
  • Obesity. This disease invites a host of other issues to throw off the body’s natural processes, yet it can often be prevented with a healthy diet, investment in mental health, and regular exercise. Obesity is a complex topic and the disease disproportionately affects non-hispanic Black americans. 
  • Digestive issues. There are a host of digestive ailments linked to a poor diet, including IBS, acid reflux, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis and more. Our entire physical and mental system relies on food moving through the body as we glean energy from it. Without a healthy digestive tract, the entire process gets thrown off. 

Healthy eating habits vary person to person based upon dietary constraints, food intolerances, and food preferences. Those with gluten intolerance, lactose intolerance or type I diabetes may need to avoid certain foods altogether to stay healthy. 

We don’t always know what is in our food. Even an organic zucchini can be grown in nutrient poor soil and devoid of many vitamins and minerals we need. Which is why it’s all the more important to treat food as medicine and make it part of your lifestyle to fully reap the health benefits. 

Examples of Healthy Diets

Extremely restrictive diets aren’t healthy for most and anything “fad-diet” based should probably be avoided. Our bodies need carbs, fats and sugars to stay functioning. Here are some diets that incorporate healthy eating while seeking out a robust diet rich in the things our bodies need. 

  • Mediterranean diet. Plenty of fish, healthy fats, fruits, and beans make up this ocean-based diet. Dairy and sugar are minimal in a mediterranean diet, and when they do occur, many mediterranean dishes opt to use natural sugar found in fruit and honey. 
  • Plant-based diets. While minerals like iron and niacin found in red meat are important, they also occur in a variety of plants. Swapping many meat-based meals for plant-based, whole food options can drastically reduce the risk of heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. 
  • Paleo-friendly diet. While this diet seemed trendy for a spell, there’s a lot of merit to it. Paleo eating mimics early humans and tries to incorporate whole foods that early modern man would have eaten. This includes fish, lean meats, nuts, fruits, vegetables and seeds. 
  • Dairy-free. Many adult bodies struggle to process dairy and could benefit from a dairy-free, or mostly dairy-free diet. After infancy and childhood, lactose sugar can be hard on our digestive tracts, causing bloating, indigestion, constipation and nausea. Omitting soft cheeses, milk and ice cream can help the brain feel less foggy and body feel less sluggish. 

For guidance in healthful eating, you may choose to seek out nutrition counseling from a primary care doctor or dieticians. Simply seeking out nutrition education helps individuals take charge of their medical nutrition, on a daily basis. 

It starts with Food. 

Nutrition as medicine provides a solid way to take control of our own health and mitigate health risks throughout life. It may not replace medical intervention in some cases, however, it lays a solid foundation for making our bodies and minds healthy, happy and whole. 

UCF Health’s holistic doctor in Orlando works with patients to consider their entire health and wellness landscape. Instead of rushing to correct the symptoms, nutrition as medicine includes making meaningful changes like eating more heart-healthy snacks and leading an active lifestyle.  Use our patient portal to stay abreast of COVID-19 updates for patients and make an appointment via our online scheduling tool.