"Our food should be our medicine. Our medicine should be our food,” advised Hippocrates. Twenty-five centuries later, we seem to be ignoring his advice at our own peril. Many of us are burdening our bodies with surplus amounts of processed, unhealthy food, which can lead to diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke. And those of us who are dieting to lose weight frequently see food as the enemy rather than as a support in our quest for health and well-being.
Will scientists come to the rescue and help us understand what to eat so that food becomes our medicine? Here are some exciting results from recent studies:
Tangerines Are the New Superfood: Can tangerines prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes? Like other citrus fruits, tangerines contain the substance nobiletin. In a Canadian study, researchers found that nobiletin-nibbling mice were protected from obesity despite eating a Western-style diet high in sugar and fat. Mice that ate the fattening chow without nobiletin added surplus pounds and developed the equivalent type 2 diabetes. In another study, scientists discovered that nobiletin reduced the risk for heart attacks and strokes.
Strawberries May Help Prevent or Slow Esophageal Cancer: Strawberries may help prevent or slow esophageal cancer, according to recent experiments. In one study, patients with esophageal cancerous lesions who ate two ounces of freeze-dried strawberries a day showed decreased lesions after six months. Researcher Dr. Tong Chen is hopeful about these findings, although she noted that more studies must be conducted before results are conclusive. “Strawberries may be an alternative,” she said, “or may work together with other chemopreventive drugs, for the prevention of esophageal cancer.”
You Should Go Nuts for Nuts: Americans who avoid nuts because of the food’s high fat content (and corresponding calories) are missing out on valuable health benefits. In addition to containing nutrients that aid weight loss, nuts also boost heart health and lower the risk of certain cancers. Walnuts, for example, are chock-full of antioxidants and considered the healthiest nut. Yet all nuts are packed with valuable fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals.
Your Heart Needs Cocoa: According to Harvard researchers cocoa benefits the heart. In a study of 2,575 participants, researchers found that cocoa consumption was linked with improved blood vessel health, lower bad cholesterol levels and decreased blood pressure. Participants in the study ate dark, sugar-free chocolate. Would the same benefits occur if participates ate commercially available chocolates loaded with fat and sugar? Researchers are quick to note that more studies must be conducted to determine how much these positive benefits would be offset by the presence of sugar and fat.
Primary care physicians are under increasing pressure to discuss weight with patients whose medical problems are a function of obesity. The next step will be to discuss eating habits with patients so that food becomes part of their health solutions and not a continuing part of their health problems. As a society, we have to engineer a paradigm shift where food is recognized as a powerful medicine that maintains health and prevents and treats disease. How soon will this development occur? As far as I am concerned, not soon enough.