2019-03-01 / OnCall

Food can be a powerful medicine

Eating a diet rich in whole foods can help prevent chronic diseases.

The typical American diet consisting of pre-packaged, processed foods washed down with sugar-sweetened beverages or pro-inflammatory foods may be making you sick. Pro-inflammatory foods include highly refined grains such as white bread, white rice, white pasta and white flour; saturated fat sources including high-fat cuts of beef, pork, veal, lamb and cheese, full-fat milk and butter; and sugary foods such as soda, sweetened drinks, high-fructose corn syrup, desserts and sweets. In the United States, we have a high rate of obesity, which also contributes to inflammation in the body. 

Inflammation is a natural response of the body to protect itself. Acute inflammation may have obvious symptoms such as swelling and redness. Chronic inflammation, which may lead to more severe damage, is often without obvious symptoms. This type of inflammation may lead to many chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, neurological diseases and autoimmune disease. Everyone has some degree of inflammation within their bodies. Eating healthy to reduce or limit inflammation is the goal.

To prevent the development of chronic disease associated with inflammation, it’s time to treat food as medicine and fight inflammation by consuming a diet high in whole foods, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Anti-inflammatory foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, especially berries and dark green leafy lettuce; whole-grain starches such as wheat, rye, oats and quinoa; beans and lentils; omega-3-rich fish including salmon, tuna, herring and sardines; nuts and seeds; and extra-virgin olive oil.

Limit foods that are rich in omega-6 fats such corn oil, safflower oil, margarine and sunflower oil; trans or hydrogenated fats; saturated fats such as butter, cheese and high-fat meats and dairy; high sugar and salt foods; excessive alcohol; and foods made from white or refined grains such as white bread.

Making a few changes to what you buy and how you prepare your meals can make your grocery store as effective as a pharmacy. Food can be the best medicine and may help treat and prevent diseases, not just alleviate the symptoms.

There are many simple dietary strategies that may effectively reduce levels of chronic inflammation and decrease disease risk. Many individuals with a chronic disease often feel overwhelmed by the many lifestyle changes they’re asked to make. In addition, many are unaware of the role diet plays in affecting the inflammatory processes.

Aim for variety in your diet, include as many fresh whole foods as possible, minimize your consumption of processed foods and fast foods and aim to increase intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, olive oil and fatty fish.

The concept of “you are what you eat” is true when it comes to your health and well-being. While you still may need medicine to treat chronic diseases, eating a healthy diet can play a major role in the management and risk reduction of chronic disease. •SCM

Julie Fisher is a Registered Dietitian
at Geisinger Lewistown Hospital.

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