Food is medicine

Food equals 21st century medicine as nutrition moves into the front line of disease prevention and treatment. Some folks would say it's always been there, yet we've confirmed only recently how certain foods, and the nutrients they contain, can change the way our genes and cells behave and communicate, reducing risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

Ask many health care providers, and they are likely to agree that many foods being grown and raised today are nutritionally inadequate, unfit for consumption or actually toxic. The government is behind the curve when it comes to making sure that food and consumers are more important than the food industry.

Consider a "spring cleaning" that will have long-term yields. Start really looking at what you routinely eat and then figure out ways to add more vegetables, fruits and other whole plant foods to your diet.

Take a few minutes per meal to wash and prepare fresh vegetables, eat nuts, seeds and foods from grass-fed, pastured animals, if available and affordable. Try to eat fewer foods from boxes, bags, cans, the frozen section or fast-food places.

Put food — including the animals and plants that provide it — on a pedestal. Consider food a weighty priority, not a simple commodity.

An analogy I often use with my students is one they can relate to, involving e-mail. When we eat fresh, raw or lightly cooked vegetables and fruits, preferably organic and locally grown, we reduce the spam and junk mail in our "metabolic inbox."

The way one's body relays messages is improved, and energy production is optimized. For example, if we eat healthful fats from wild fish, we actually mobilize stored body fat to generate energy. On the other hand, if we eat lots of modified, poor-quality transfats from processed foods, our bodies will metabolize less efficiently, leading to weight gain, inflammation, atherosclerosis, cognitive decline, digestive distress, immune deficiencies and other problems.

Getting your dietary inbox in order doesn't require a purge, usually just some bookkeeping or a new folder — good stuff in, garbage out. After all, we can take in some junk, be it mail or food, from time to time as long as we don't let it build up to the point of clutter.

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