Look at all that beautiful fresh produce :). That’s a picture I took of a farmer’s market where I assisted at a nutrition lesson and cooking demo this week.
I am becoming more and more convinced lately that a whole foods, plant strong diet can prevent any chronic disease, be it heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and even dementia. If you give your body the tools it needs (namely carbohydrates, a limited amount of plant-based protein and fat, and all the fiber, vitamins, mineral and who knows what myriad of natural, miraculous substances whole fruits, vegetables, and grains provide us) and don’t feed it anything harmful (namely excess meat, dairy, eggs, and refined sugars and starches), all the scientific evidence says that it’s almost certain you won’t develop any of those nasty chronic conditions that can ruin your quality of life and shorten your life. I don’t know that good nutrition can prevent you from contracting communicable diseases, but I’d bet that someone who eats a healthy diet will be far better at fighting off HIV than someone who’s malnourished or who eats junk.
In one respect it absolutely astounds me that most scientists and doctors forty years ago would not accept that diet had anything to do with chronic disease. But on the other hand, it’s really hard for people to accept ideas that go against the grain. If you had told me a year ago that Greek yogurt could be bad for my health, I would have flat out denied it. Now that assertion makes me uncomfortable, but I’m willing to accept it if the evidence is strong enough.
Even though the general populace is beginning to accept that a healthy diet is critical in order to live a long, healthy life, the medical profession is still very much built around that old adage “a pill for every ill.” In all of medical school, students might get 20 hours of formal instruction in nutrition. Compare this to the 500 hours, more or less, of nutrition instruction that I will have received before hopefully getting certified as a registered dietitian. Knowing how important nutrition is to health, this is monumentally disturbing to me; relatively few people see dietitians ever, let alone from the beginning of their lives, but medical doctors, who are not guaranteed to have any expertise in nutrition, are our primary care providers from day 1.
I’m not saying doctors are quacks. But I do think the establishment of medical education is WAY behind the times, or more precisely, behind the scientific evidence. Cardiologists know how to do drastic, risky, complicated, and costly heart surgery, but not how to prevent heart disease in the first place? How did we get here? Furthermore, in all of medicine’s and the drug industry’s quest for the miracle cure for any of these illnesses, all they’ve been able to do is treat the symptoms and perhaps prolong people’s disease-ridden lives. The death rates from chronic disease have not decreased, and for the most part patients are not being cured by drugs and surgery.
The only miracle cure has been in food. Nature is a miracle, after all. Michael Pollan’s (my idol in food journalism) simple commandments, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”, when adhered to closely, have been shown to promote a healthy weight, universally prevent, and very often reverse the progression of the chronic diseases up to the point of no longer needing drugs or surgery. Even better, the right diet works to prevent all of these diseases, with only positive “side” effects, like more energy, while pills and surgery have all kinds of side effects, some that are just as bad as or worse than the original illness.
You would think that doctors, who arguably want to heal us, would take advantage of this miracle that is the whole foods, plant based diet. But how can you blame them when the whole field has been ingrained in this “pill for every ill” mindset forever?
Not only that, but the very powerful drug industry has a huge stake in this game. The money isn’t in getting people to eat their fruits and veggies; rather, it’s in finding the “miracle” pill that cures cancer. And as I’ve written about the food industry, the money often seems to determine the science.
Maybe, if the American diet really changed drastically for the better, the drug industry and the medical industry would suffer financially. It’s definitely a possibility. But what good is it if even our doctors can’t take care of themselves because they don’t know how to eat right? What good is it if the medical profession isn’t putting a dent in the diseases that kill most of us and the drug industry is hurting us more than it’s helping us? Think about it–they make more money if we stay sick.
You can probably tell I get pretty heated about this topic, but I’m really frustrated because the solution, to me, is obvious, if not easy. I believe that the health care system and the medical profession should be centered around good nutrition and prevention of disease, not drugs and treatment of symptoms. The transition would be rocky, certainly, but it would make for a much more effective and much less expensive health care system in the long term. (It seems that all of our food and health problems stem from thinking in the short term.)
I’m not saying we don’t need drugs for things like bacterial infections (although industrial agriculture is making those drugs much less effective), and I’m under the impression that HIV patients’ lives have been able to be extended monumentally by certain drugs. But here in America the conditions that plague the overwhelming majority of us (this is not an exaggeration) can be traced to poor nutrition and can be prevented and treated by good nutrition. Pre-meds, doctors, researchers, patients, take note. Our primary care providers need to be trained in the foundation of health: what we eat.
So what do you think? Could nutrition put the drug industry out of business? Should it?