September 14, 2012

Food For Thought Friday

Food for Thought Friday!

Welcome to Food for Thought Friday—a handy-dandy way for me to share thought-provoking quotations about food, nutrition, and health. (If the alliteration reminds you of What I Thought Wednesday, what can I say…I was a creative writing major in another life. And I’m clearly still a dork in this one.)

So on Fridays (maybe not every Friday…let’s not get too ambitious here, hehheh), I’ll post a quote from a book, news article, movie, or maybe even something overheard at the supermarket or farmer’s market. Something that makes me think about the larger issues surrounding all this stuff, and will maybe get you thinking, too.

Here goes:

“Of course, using food as medicine is ancient. The pharmacopeia of ancient Egypt, Babylonia, Greece and China as well as those of the Middle Ages was based on food. Only in this century has society become almost exclusively dependent on manufactured pills to cure our miseries. But now that pharmaceutical model is breaking down as a panacea for today’s plague of chronic diseases, such as cancer, arthritis, and heart disease and the ancient wisdom about food’s medicinal powers, newly confirmed by twentieth century scientific research, is increasingly infiltrating mainstream medicine.”
--Jean Carper, The Food Pharmacy Guide to Good Eating, as quoted in Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. (Quite possibly one of the world’s best—but most intimidating—cookbooks.)

Powerful stuff, huh? Yeah, I think so, too. I didn’t get into the nutrition industry because I think modern medicine has nothing to offer, or because I think allopathic (conventional-type) doctors serve no purpose. They have their place, and they provide a vital service. If you get hit by a bus or break your leg in a skiing accident, I’m the first person to tell you you do not want a nutritionist with you in the ER. You want the best trauma medicine modern technology can offer. And thank goodness for the people trained to provide it.

BUT…when it comes to chronic conditions that build slowly and insidiously over time, unfortunately, the best modern medicine can offer us is pharmaceutical drugs that often have a laundry list of side effects that are worse than the conditions you take them for. (We should probably call it a dirty laundry list!) And if that wasn’t bad enough, these drugs are often prescribed with the rest of your life in mind. You never stop taking them. What does that tell us? I don’t know about you, but it tells me that those drugs don’t actually cure or heal anything. They manage your condition. They address individual symptoms instead of getting at the underlying causes. Have heartburn? Take an antacid; don’t worry about figuring out why you have heartburn and correcting that. Wake up with a headache every morning? Pop a few aspirin and go about your day; never mind what’s causing those headaches and trying to improve that.

This is where food comes in. The right nutrients—or the lack thereof—have such incredible power over our physical and psychological health. Think about powerful, robust, ancient warriors. They didn’t start the morning of a big battle with Cap’n Crunch cereal and skim milk, or Pop-Tarts. Somehow I don’t think those things (if they had existed back then) would have given those guys the fortitude they needed to charge in and fight for their lives.

The thing with nutrition is, we don’t develop deficiencies and imbalances overnight. They accumulate slowly, over time, so it can be difficult to connect our headaches, indigestion, joint pain, infertility, depression, fatigue, or heart disease to our diet. It’s not as if you eat a couple of Twinkies for dessert and wake up diabetic the next day. If only it were that black and white! People would know without a doubt what to eat and what to avoid. (But then I’d be out of a job...)

What did our ancestors do before they could pop in at the corner drugstore and walk out with a bag of pills? They used food as medicine. They knew that certain types of pain, certain types of chronic health problems, and certain types of behavioral abnormalities were often the result of nutrient imbalances—sometimes too much of some things, but usually not enough of others. Even if you know nothing about nutrition, you probably at least heard about the biggies in a junior-high health class a zillion years ago:  things like scurvy (lack of vitamin C), pellagra (vitamin B3 deficiency), beriberi (B1), and rickets (vitamin D). But those deficiency diseases are actually the last stage of severe, long-term depletion. You don’t end up bow-legged after a couple days without enough vitamin D, and your gums don’t start bleeding if you go a week without orange juice. But after a couple years without enough animal fats in your diet, you might end up depressed, anxious, or infertile. A couple years with too much wheat, too many omega-6 fats, and not enough omega-3s and other anti-inflammatory nutrients and you might end up with arthritis or multiple sclerosis.

I’m not trying to be alarmist here. I’m only sharing with you some of what I’ve learned over the last few years of having my face in books about this stuff. If anything, I’m offering up some hope, optimism and encouragement. (Although maybe doing a piss-poor job of it.) If too many harmful and too few helpful foods are what often cause the modern illnesses taking over our lives (and economies) today, then it stands to reason that more of the helpful and less of the harmful could help improve those illnesses. (The legal beagles tell me I’m not allowed to say “cure,” so I’m not saying that, even though I want to. Capiche?)    

Like today’s quotation says, the modern pharmaceutical model is breaking down. Big time. People are seeking nutritionists, chiropractors, osteopaths, acupuncturists, and other “alternative” practitioners in record numbers. Why? Because they’re not getting relief from conventional drugs and treatments. When you do something over and over and it doesn’t work, the only sensible thing is to try something else.

Had a car accident? Call 911! Want to control your blood sugar better? Call me.

So that’s what I think. What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments!

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