Using food as your medicine
Updated: Mar 17
We have over thirty-seven billion chemical reactions happening in our bodies every second of the day. What we put into our bodies have a direct and immediate impact to our health. There is a reason why it's said: "Your health starts at the end of your fork."
Every single reaction in our body needs essential fatty acids, essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals for it to work.
Both inflammation and obesity are something that are very often caused by our modern diet- too much starch, sugar, trans fats, ultra-processed foods, artificial sweeteners etc. And even though there are of course other things that influence the inflammation in the body (think allergens, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, stress), food plays a primary role in whether our health thrives or suffers.
I recently read a quote from Steve Jobs, from when he was at the end of his life in 2011. One sentence in the quote applies to very much what I want to focus on in this blog: “Eat your food as your medicine. Otherwise you have to eat medicine as your food.”
Functional medicine believes that most of the modern diseases are linked to inflammation, such as obesity, cancer, heart disease, allergies, autoimmune diseases (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis etc), depression, dementia etc. Inflammation is caused very often in your gut. As ancient Greek physician Hippocrates said 2500 years ago: "All disease beings in the gut", and today's science is seeing it more and more.
Many of us see food just as energy or calories, but it's more than that- it's information and instructions for your body. Food influences every aspect of your biology. Food is protein, fats, carbohydrates, fibre, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, probiotics, prebiotics, phytochemicals and so on.
How is your body built?
Your body has a set of biological systems integrated with one another- they are all influenced by your lifestyle, your environment and the food you eat. Food is the biggest influencer- it can either heal or harm the below systems.
Gut and gut microbiome
Your gut is very much influenced by what you eat. If the diet is unhealthy, you can get many illnesses as a result. Even depression is linked to your gut, if you eat the wrong foods. What you eat determines what bacteria grows in your gut- whether good or harmful.
Gut damaging foods you should be avoiding that can create a leaky gut: gluten, refined foods, conventional dairy, trans fats.
Gut healing diet: your gut bacteria love fibre, the most essential ones are called prebiotics, which are found in foods like artichokes, asparagus, plantain, seaweed, vegetables etc. Your gut also needs probiotic foods, like sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso, nato. Your gut needs minerals and vitamins, like zinc, which is important for enzyme function and found in pumpkin seeds, oysters, meat, legumes, nuts, eggs. You also need omega-3 from fish, which you can find in wild-caught salmon, sardines, herring. Vitamin A is important for your gut lining, which you get from beef liver, cod liver oil, salmon, goat's cheese. Collagen is also important for the gut, that you get for example from bone broth. Polyphenols are very important for the gut and its flora- these are found in colourful vegetables, fruits and berries (pomegranate, green tea (matcha, cranberries, blackberries, blueberries).
Immune system and inflammatory system
If you have a chronic illness, you are inflamed. If you are overweight, you are inflamed. Foods that cause inflammation in the body are processed foods, refined foods, too much starch, sugar, conventional dairy. This all spikes your body's insulin levels. Fat cells deposited around your waist produce molecules of inflammation, called cytokines.
How can you boost your immune system? Gut down on sugar and starch, gluten and conventional dairy. There are many foods that are anti-inflammatory: ginger, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, turmeric, rosemary, medicinal mushrooms (shiitake, chaga, reishi, cordyceps). Also vitamins and minerals are important for healthy immune system: Vitamin C (parsley, cranberries, sea buckthorn, strawberries), zinc, selenium (Brazil nuts, sardines), Vitamin D (from sun, but also from mushrooms, oily fish, liver, eggs)
Energy system (how do you make energy in your cells and in your mitochondria)
If you eat processed food, too much food, too few phytochemical rich foods, it causes oxidation in your body, which means your body rusts and ages. Oxidation drives inflammation in the body. How do you get energy from food and improve therefore energy in your mitochondria- by consuming foods rich in B-vitamins, zinc, selenium, magnesium, Co-Q10, carnitine, NAC, Omega-3 fats, vitamin E, vitamin K, sulphur etc. Eat foods that are full of these nutrients: pomegranates, grass-fed beef, blueberries, broccoli, almonds, avocado, MCT oil (this is the cleanest burning fuel for your mitochondria) and more. Intermittent fasting is also a tool to use to optimise mitochondrial function and reduce the cell-ageing.
Our body has its own detox system (skin, kidneys, liver, digestion system, lungs). One of the best things you can do for improving the detoxing pathways is to drink adequate amounts of water and eat a lot of fibre. In order to support your liver function, eat foods like broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, kale, cauliflower. You also need amino-acids from clean protein for your liver. Drink green tea and consume regularly curcumin (in turmeric), cilantro, ginger, dandelion greens, burdock root, watercress, artichokes, which all help to make sure your liver is cleansing your body from toxins.
Circulatory system is your body's transport system. Poor circulatory system causes cardiovascular disease and inflammation is the biggest cause here. If you include a lot of antioxidant, phytochemical and arginin rich foods - you are supporting your cardiovascular health as well as reduce inflammation. Foods that are all great for your circulatory system are pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds, seaweed, olive oil, turkey etc.
Communication systems between your cells
Your hormones are sending messages all around the body. Insulin resistance is one of the biggest hormonal issues in the modern world. By getting rid of too much starch and sugar, you are helping your body cells to become more responsive to insulin and also make sure your hunger hormone like ghrelin and satiety hormone like leptin are functioning as they should. Too much insulin also has a negative effect on your female and male hormones like oestrogen and testosterone, where imbalance results in facial hair in women, 'men-boobs' in men. Increase intake of certain types of fibre like flaxseeds (that helps to get rid of extra oestrogen).
Cortisol is another hormone that influences negatively insulin and your other hormones, if it's chronically too high. It's important to consume whole foods, low glycemic foods, foods rich in fibre and enjoy a plant rich diet. Your thyroid is also influenced by food (gutting down on gluten containing foods has a positive effect). Your thyroid also likes zinc, iodine, selenium containing foods.
Structural system- cell membranes, muscular and skeleton system
We are made of 55% water, 23% fat, 16% protein, 6% minerals, small amounts of vitamins and less than 1% carbohydrates. In modern world many people have their diets consisting of high amounts of starch and sugar. But instead we should focus on proteins, fats, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Every cell in our body contains fats, our brain is made of 60% fats- so consuming healthy fats is very important for thee body. You want to eat eggs, nuts, seeds, avocados, high-quality protein (grass-fed beef) etc.
I hope the above gave you a good overview, why we need to focus on consuming healthy whole foods, and why food can either be poison for your body or a miracle drug.
If the above is too overwhelming and you are unsure where to start to improve your diet, reach out to me for health coaching at email@example.com.