The Year of the Best You – “Food is Medicine”

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” ~ Julia Child

Last week, we wrapped up Pillar #5 of “The Year of the Best You” – Movement Matters. Today, we will start on Pillar #6 – Food is Medicine. As before, we will discuss this pillar a bit more below, provide a printable PDF worksheet for the month and then recap how we made out on June 25th.

I think most physicians would agree that traditional medical education does not cover one very important aspect of our health and well-being in enough detail – nutrition. However, it is one of the most modifiable risk factors for many of the multitude of health conditions we learn about. My interest in lifestyle medicine really spurned on my own learning in this area, in order to boost my nutritional knowledge. The food and weight loss industries have made nutritional principles far more complicated than they truly are. Food has become about fads, crazes and convenience instead of what it should be – nutrition, energy, socialization and enjoyable.

Our relationship with food can be complicated – for some a source of pleasure, for some a source of fuel and for others a source of stress. In any event, it is a relationship worth fostering as food can be a source of medicine for both our mind and body.

What constitutes a healthy diet?

Dr. Mike Evans’ whiteboard video, Healthy Eating 101, is worth watching for anyone. He outlines the fact perfectly that when it comes to counseling about diets and healthy eating, no one diet exists that trumps the rest. It comes down to looking at healthy outcomes, making small tweaks, flexibility, awareness and consistency. He also discusses the idea of adding healthy foods to our diet as opposed to looking at restricting certain foods. For instance, this could include things like adding more fiber in the form of bran and berries. He also provides an overall framework that I completely agree with – the 80-20 rule. If 80% of the time you are making good choices, you can allow for alternative choices 20% of the time.

The Mediterranean Diet

When I use the term ‘diet’, I am referring to ‘our daily diet’ not ‘going on a diet’. One of the most studied and proven diets for our wellbeing is the Mediterranean Diet. Dr. Evans also makes reference to this diet as it looks at crucial points like moderation and lifestyle. The overarching principles of the Mediterranean Diet from the Mayo Clinic are as follows:

• eating a variety of plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts

• using healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil

• flavouring food with herbs and spices instead of salt

• limiting red meat

• eating fish and poultry at least twice a week

• drinking red wine in moderation (as applicable)

• enjoying meals with family and friends

• getting plenty of exercise

The last two points are key – this is a lifestyle, a way of eating and living, not just about food choices.

Gratitude

In so much of the world, including in our own communities, people live hungry and without enough healthy food choices. We know food is a source of energy for our bodies and minds and is necessary to achieve our goals in life (academically, professionally and physically), prevent certain health conditions (such as heart disease and cancer), and in a broader sense – just to live. It seems unfair to think of the inequality of this vital determinant of health. This is why saying grace is often a thanks for the food and the people involved in both the meal preparation and eating. Gratitude can go a long way for those of us that are fortunate enough to be able to make our own food choices and enjoy it with people we love.

Grocery shopping & meal preparation

You have likely heard that most of our grocery shopping should happen along the ‘outside isles’ of the grocery store. I wanted to mention this as I believe it is an important point in our discussion. The outside isles of most grocery stores have fresh produce, meats and dairy, and the inside isles often have more processed foods. Obviously, we need some of these inside isle foods, but the majority of our shopping should be focused on the outer isles.

Time is without question one of our most precious commodities and it may feel daunting to consider what to make for lunch to bring to work or school or to make for dinner at the end of a work day. However, preparing and eating meals at home is consistently one of the best ways to ensure we know what we are eating and to make more healthful choices. As Dr. Evans says, creating meals with family and friends builds connection and community and helps strengthen a positive relationship with food.

Trying new recipes can be fun and a great stress reliever. I find Pinterest a great way to store recipes online. In addition to this, we keep a binder with our favourite recipes from cookbooks and magazines. One of my favourite cookbooks ever is The Looneyspoons Collection.

Food is essential to our health and well-being! Please print off the worksheet to join in this month’s activity. I will do the same and we will recap on June 25th.

SaraTMD

Resources

The Diet Fix – Dr. Yoni Freedhoff

Weighty Matters – Dr. Yoni Freedhoff

My Plate – United States Department of Agriculture

CHEF Coaching – The Institute of Lifestyle Medicine

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