‘Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.’
More than 2,000 years ago the Greek doctor and philosopher, Hippocrates, articulated an idea that has proved its worth over and over again, the idea that what we take into our bodies has a significant effect on our health and wellbeing and that adjusting our nutritional intake is vital for healing.
Indeed, most healing approaches, East and West, involve ingesting substances that alter the biochemistry of the body in some way. In the Chinese tradition, they also recognised that they impact on the body’s energy pathways too.
A Poor Diet
A poor diet can suppress the immune system, irritate the main organs, initiate disease and increase physical and mental stress. People who have a poor diet undoubtedly get ill more often.
There’s plenty of advice in the media – some of it quite contradictory, for example:
- Not all fatty food is bad for you. Sure, an excess of saturated fat affects the immune system and causes inflammation that makes a person obese. But balance is everything; without a moderate amount of fat, the body cannot absorb or store certain vitamins.
- Tea and coffee are widely understood to be harmful because of the caffeine levels, but three or four cups of tea or coffee a day reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Decaffeinated tea and coffee work just as well so it’s likely other compounds like antioxidants and magnesium are responsible for these health benefits.
- Sugar is universally regarded as harmful because of the effect it has on blood sugar levels and obesity. Global sales of sugary and artificially sweetened drinks rise every year. Yet not all sugars are bad; natural sugar found in fruit and vegetables is not at all harmful.
- Conventional medical wisdom says that most heart attacks and strokes are caused by cholesterol, and while it’s true that cholesterol builds up plaque in the arteries, it’s the plaque, not the mere presence of cholesterol that is dangerous.
Try this: Write down everything you have ingested in the last 48 hours. How much of it is truly healthy or has a healing effect? And how much is potentially damaging?
A good diet
In a nutshell, a good diet is one that gives the body what it needs when it needs it and avoids unnecessary toxins and pollutants.
It contains sufficient – but not excess – fat, carbohydrate, protein, vitamins and minerals, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrain and fibre. It aids blood sugar regulation and minimises toxins such as chemical food additives, salt, caffeine and nicotine. It helps maintain the correct acid/alkaline balance (most modern diets are much too acidic).
Healthy fluids are also essential – fresh water, fruit and herbal infusions and fresh fruit juice, minimising alcohol and sweet, fizzy drinks.
It must also take account of food allergies. I have known people who suffer from allergies to nuts, wheat/gluten, dairy, candida and yeast. These are not mere food fads but serious problems when ignored. Anyone who suspects they are affected should have themselves checked out.
I have also known people who rigorously follow special diets – Atkins, Hay, macrobiotic, blood-type diets and so on. Generally speaking there is little scientific evidence to support fad diets so be careful.
Much of our food is artificially grown in barren soil or even wire wool sprayed with chemicals. It is deficient in nutrients that were much more plentiful a century ago. Hence many people would benefit from taking a dietary supplement to ensure the body sufficient fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, anti-oxidants and calcium. A quality multi-vitamin and mineral pill daily is sufficient for most purposes.
Nutritional therapists aim to discover nutritional factors which affecting a person’s general health and wellbeing. They suggest specific changes to their clients’ diet to try and prevent or alleviate illness. Conditions helped by nutritional therapy can range from relatively minor health problems to chronic complaints like fatigue, depression, joint pain, skin disease, migraines, eating disorders and asthma. Nutritional therapy plays a huge part in Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
Moderation in all things
When people ask me for my views on nutrition, unless they have a particular health condition or allergy (in which case I suggest they consult a doctor) I offer two simple suggestions:
(1) Moderation in all things – if 90% of your diet is healthy, a little of what you fancy won’t harm you;
(2) Stick to natural, cruelty-free food as much as possible as part of your responsibility to other living creatures and the planet.
Hippocrates’ advice to let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food is probably the best health advice ever given and is probably more relevant today than ever!
Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @Feelinggoodatt