Let food be thy medicine

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know that I think the solution to our chronic disease epidemic and a lot of other huge problems like climate change lies in re-engineering the food system from the bottom up so that we will eat the healthiest diet by default. But I am under no illusions that this can happen overnight. In the meantime, we need to keep trying to help people go against the obesigenic grain. One idea that I’ve written about before is frequent self-weighing. Recently I’ve read multiple articles about a different but very creative tactic–some doctors are now prescribing consumption of fresh produce to their patients, just as they might prescribe a drug.

One of the big roadblocks in the way of getting the public to eat more healthfully, in my opinion, is that people really don’t comprehend that nutrition is the foundation of health. I don’t know how else to say it but you LITERALLY are what you eat. Your bones are built from the calcium that your mother ate and that you ate. Your muscles are built from the amino acids that were in the foods that your mother ate and that you ate. The fat in your body is either the fat that you ate from food or converted from carbs or protein that you didn’t use for energy. I think you get the idea.

Sorry that was a kind of tangent. BUT the point is that people don’t take nutrition seriously enough. I think it all has something to do with that ever-present problem of humans being built, through the course of evolution, to go after instant gratification. It is quite literally against our nature to choose the long-term reward (longer, fitter life, absence of chronic disease, etc.) over the short-term reward (sugary, fatty, salty food). And the field of medicine generally reinforces this mindset, by emphasizing treatment over prevention, as I’ve also written about before–“a pill for every ill.

So it certainly seems that when doctors suggest a lifestyle change like eating more healthfully or getting more exercise, it isn’t taken nearly as seriously as when they prescribe a drug. But what if your doctor gave you a prescription for a dietary change as a way to prevent or treat heart disease or diabetes? I think it might help patients understand better that food is just as important (and I’d argue more important) in preventing and treating chronic diseases as any drug.

Better yet, in this article I read today, the doctor’s prescriptions serve as coupons at a local farmers market to get a bundle of produce at a reduced price. Now that’s what I’d call an incentive. After experiencing the power of handing out incentives to buy fresh produce while volunteering at a farmers market in a low income neighborhood last summer, I feel strongly that the type of program I just described would motivate people to eat better, especially those who feel they face financial barriers to eating better. Not only is your doctor prescribing fresh fruits and vegetables, but he/she is handing you (some of) the means to obtain them! I don’t think doctors usually help you get a discount on your drug prescriptions, which can cost oodles more than a healthy diet that will prevent a need for a drug in the first place. Yes, I did just say oodles.

I think this would be even more effective in pediatric cases, where the patient might be, for instance, overweight and at risk for developing lifelong health problems. Parents are so eager to do the right thing for their kids’ health–being given a doctor’s prescription for a healthy diet might be just the thing that convinces them of the gravity of nutrition in terms of their child’s long-term health.

No, I don’t think this idea is going to be the obesity cure, but it has the potential to be one of the factors that continues the turning of the tide. I know that sounds really inconsequential, but everything adds up, and you have to start somewhere. I think that’s becoming my mantra.

What do you think? Should more doctors be trying this? Would you take a produce prescription seriously?

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