Food As Medicine

photoPatients are always asking how to eat for their health, whether it be to prevent illness, or deal with a current ailment. For many reasons we may find ourselves unable or unwilling to take a prescription medication or herbal formula in order to assist our body in overcoming an illness or condition.  It is important to remember that we can strongly influence our health based on what foods we put in our body.

We have all heard the phrase “you are what you eat”.  As nutrition research continues, science is further corroborating what we have known intuitively for years…that the foods we eat have a distinct impact on our health.  As unique individuals, no one food is best, but there are some general guidelines that will benefit everyone:

Stick to whole foods. Eating processed or refined foods not only reduces the nutritional value of a food, but can change the way our body metabolizes the food, creating more stress on the body.

Eat organic whenever possible. Choosing organic fruits, vegetables and meats will help reduce the amount of chemical exposure, as well as hormones in your foods.

Eat seasonally. Choosing foods that are in season help ensure you have variety in your diet and get the essential nutrients your body needs. From a Chinese medical perspective, it is also beneficial to eat certain foods during their seasons based on temperature variations. For example, during the summer, we crave lighter, cool meals, as opposed to the winter, when we want hearty, warm meals.

Use food as medicine. Here are a few great ways to use food as medicine in your day to day life:

    • Ginger and oranges are used to balance digestive issues
    • Green onions, garlic, and mint assist in the treatment of the common cold
    • Cucumber and dried fruits treat constipation
    • Olives are effective at treating cough with blood in the phlegm
    • Guava and leek stop bleeding
    • Cayenne pepper is great as a first aid for treating internal and external bleeding
    • Peaches treat dry cough and slow digestion
    • Beets strengthen the heart, calm the overactive mind, and improve circulation
    • Broccoli is great for eyesight, red eyes, dry eyes and inflammation of the eye
    • Cabbage is used to treat digestion and skin issues
    • Celery improves digestion, and benefits urinary tract imbalances

These are just a few of the many ways you can treat your body with foods you eat everyday.  When using foods as medicine, just increase the amount and frequency so it can have a therapeutic effect.  Pay close attention to the changes you see so you do not overeat any one food.  For more information about food as medicine, read Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford.  It is a great book to use as a guide for healthy eating and a wonderful resource for those times when your body needs extra care.

A Space for Stillness

AcNW_Buddha_TsWThe majority of patients who walk through our door will list stress as one of their main health complaints. Stress is a part of everyday life, but how do we handle it?  It is unavoidable, and our perception and management of stress is essential to our health. It is becoming more understood that one of the best ways to manage stress and promote well-being is to devote time every day to some form of meditation or quiet time. The benefits of this stillness include:

    • Reduced cortisol and blood pressure
    • Improved immune function
    • Reduced muscle tension
    • Slower heart rate
    • More regulated breathing
    • Reduced anxiety and depression

Above and beyond the physical benefits of having this quiet time for yourself, there are mental and emotional benefits as well. It allows for management of emotions, and an opportunity to access the creative areas in the brain, as well as our subconscious mind. Studies have shown that meditation reduces activity in the amygdala of our brain, which controls the way we react to stress.

Patients are often intimidated by the idea of meditation, but even without a formal meditation practice, a small amount of personal quiet time, in a peaceful space, can provide you with health benefits that you will feel throughout your day.

To make it simple, try sitting on the floor with your legs crossed, or in a chair. Have your arms in a relaxed position, hands on your knees. Sit tall with shoulders relaxed, and focus on your breath in and breath out. The mind will inevitably wander, but rather than beat yourself up for having a busy mind, just observe the thought and release it, bringing your attention back to your breath. Continue to observe and release the thoughts that rise up, and refocus on the breath. Practice this daily, even if you can only fit in 5-10 minutes a day. You will feel calmer, more peaceful, and more grounded throughout your day.

Drink Up for Health!

Water is our ultimate life force. Staying hydrated has unlimited benefits for your health including weight management, supple skin and improved kidney function and digestion. As crucial as it may be, it is easy to forget to drink water throughout the day. As the weather heats up, it is time to make drinking water a priority. Your life depends on it!

Picture your house plant that you’ve forgotten about. It has dry soil and the plant may be starting to wilt. The first time you water it, the water runs right through and out of the pot. As you continue to water it, it is hydrated and able to HOLD ONTO the water you pour while the plant begins to stand upright and come back to life.

Now picture the inside of your body- is it hydrated and able to absorb water in order to nurture your mental and physical daily tasks? When you first start to drink the necessary water your body needs, it may go right through you. Frequent bathroom trips will likely lessen as your body becomes more hydrated and is able hold onto the water you drink.

Here are some tips to increase water intake:

-Find a BPA free water bottle you LOVE
-Take that water bottle with you everywhere you go
-Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning and before every meal
-Use an app that keeps track of intake, and sets reminders on your phone to drink
-Start a “Water Challenge” at work or home. Set a goal that everyone must meet, such as 3 water bottles a day. Discuss  the changes you all notice, tuning in to things like increased energy, decreased appetite and improvements in digestion
-Jazz up your water! Adding cucumber, mint, orange slices or lemon can make drinking water more enjoyable and had added nutritional benefits.

Remember, we live in Oregon, home to some of the best water in the country! Take advantage of that and drink up!

Shopping Healthy

vegetablesWhen we think about living a healthy lifestyle, there are many factors to consider. Exercise, diet and stress management are a few important parts of this equation. What each of these have in common is that they take time, something we often feel short on. When it comes to diet, we often take the quick and easy route to preparing meals, which can mean eating fast food or processed foods. However, it is easier to eat cleanly and healthy by preparing the majority of our meals at home using whole food ingredients. Here are some helpful tricks to maximize your time at the store and in the kitchen!

BEFORE GOING TO THE STORE
Plan your meal. Look at your entire week and loosely plan the meals you will have. Planning meals ahead of time will allow you to most efficiently use vegetables and meats for multiple meals, reducing the amount of spoiled food in your refrigerator, and saving you money.

Don’t go hungry. Being hungry will increase the odds of impulse buying or splurging on things you are trying to avoid. Have a healthy snack before you go!

WHILE YOU’RE THERE
Stick to the outer perimeter of the store. This is where you’ll find most whole food ingredients like produce, seafood or meats. The inner aisles are where most processed food products live, the foods that are high in refined grains and sugars, sodium and preservatives.

AT HOME
Prepare your meal. Choose a day when you have more time, like a Sunday, and prep healthy snacks or quick meals for the week. This saves time, and makes it easier to eat healthy throughout the week. For example, you can prepare five Ziplock bags containing a variety of vegetables, then take one with you each day to work. Also try preparing a weeks worth of smoothies by filling freezer safe bags or containers with spinach, cut up bananas, and berries, and placing them in your freezer. Each morning, you can quickly put the contents into your blender and add your daily choice of liquids and supplements like almond milk, flax seeds or hemp protein. This allows you to buy in bulk and will save you time and money.

With a little preparation and meal planning, you can make eating healthy easier and more accessible!