Pharmacy or Farmacy?
Food has become much more complicated than it once was. Instead of simple ingredients going into homemade foods, we have an abundance of time-saving products that may have a more enticing taste and may also be a cheaper way to get a filling meal on the table. Is it worth it to save time with convenient foods? Which convenient foods aren’t as nourishing? Are these foods helping us toward our desire to feel good and enjoy our health?
In comes the concept of food as medicine. Food is nature’s medicine, providing our body with the building blocks that it needs to maintain health. Some say that we can pay a farmer now, or a pharmacy later. And while this statement may oversimplify the whole picture of nutrition and health, hopefully it has you thinking. In reading the ideas below, you may draw some connections between what is (or isn’t) on your fork and how you’re feeling.
Note: If you decide to take a food as medicine approach to eating, it is important to continue to take medications as prescribed and consult with your medical provider before making any medication changes. A salad with dinner is not a replacement for a specific medication, though several small steps over time may begin to shift things in a positive direction.
Food informs our bodies
Food is a powerful source of information for our bodies and we have several opportunities each day to make choices about what food we will eat. The field of epigenetics looks at how behaviors and environment can affect the expression of our genes. For someone with a family history of a particular condition or disease, there may be nutrition and lifestyle factors that can alter gene expression in a way that protects from that condition or disease. While we don’t need to strive for perfection with our food choices or become fearful of eating something that isn’t seen as nutritious, there are many ways we can adjust our food choices to be supportive of our health. Whether you already have a health-related diagnosis or are focused on prevention, there are many ways you can start making changes to move toward your goals.
Food connects us to the land
As the ground continues to warm and more seeds begin stirring within the earth, there will be more and more signs of spring here on the North Coast. This area is home to many amazing growers and producers, each offering us a unique way to connect with our region and with the seasons. While most of us enjoy the variety that we can find at a grocery store, nature is also providing what we need throughout the year. For example, vitamin C comes from many more places than oranges! In the early spring we may find vitamin C in overwintered kale in the garden, in the summer in fresh, juicy strawberries that come from the valley an in the winter in potatoes from a local farm.
Eating plants is for everyone
Luckily, you don’t need to claim to be a vegetarian or vegan to enjoy a wide variety of fruits and vegetables with your meals – plant foods are for everyone! Our bodies benefit from plants in various ways, such as the fiber that many plant foods contain. Fiber can bring ease to digestion, feeds the beneficial bacteria that live in our digestive tracts and can be an important part of a meal feeling satisfying. When increasing the amount of plant foods in your daily meals, it can also be a good idea to drink enough water, as water and fiber work together to keep digestion moving smoothly.
Boost flavor and nutrition with herbs and spices
Herbs and spices can be great ways to get an extra dose of nutrition and flavor. Many herbs and spices are sources of antioxidants, which are often linked to protecting the health of our cells. Adding spices could be as simple as a dash of ground pepper or more of a focus like a soup spiced with curry powder. Herbs can be used as a garnish, such as a sprinkle of parsley on the top of a bowl of soup or as a main feature of the meal such as vegetables and pasta tossed with basil pesto.
Eating well on a budget
If using food as medicine sounds expensive, it doesn’t have to be! There are many ways to prepare and eat nutritious foods on a budget. Beans and lentils provide protein, fiber and so much more and are a great base for a hearty meal. If you don’t have access to fresh vegetables or they often go bad in your refrigerator, frozen and canned can also be great options. Several local farms have Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes that you can subscribe to in the spring and enjoy a box of fresh vegetables each week throughout the summer. Buying spices in bulk can be much less expensive and allows you to try smaller amounts of new spices to see if you like them before purchasing a larger quantity.
Finding what works for you
If using a food as medicine philosophy is something you’re interested in and you’re not sure where to begin, you may want to connect with your primary care provider and ask for a referral to meet with a registered dietitian. Registered dietitians are trained to translate nutrition science into actionable steps that you can take to maintain your health and to help treat or prevent many common illnesses. With some creativity and a sense of adventure, making changes to support your health and how you feel can be a fun and rewarding experiment.
For more information:
Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs): Food Roots provides a pickup spot for weekly CSAs and also has a wonderful selection of local products throughout the year; accepts SNAP benefits and matching program also available https://www.foodrootsnw.org/csa-shares
Meet with a Registered Dietitian: Tillamook County Community Health Centers (503-842-3900 https://tillamookchc.org/) and Adventist Health (503-842-4444 https://www.adventisthealth.org/tillamook/) both offer appointments with registered dietitians
Food Hero: for some fun and tasty recipes from OSU Extension Service, visit https://www.foodhero.org/
For more local health and wellness information, follow Tillamook County Wellness on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Go to www.tillamookcountywellness.org.