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Think of food as medicine


Chuck Norris

You may see me as “one of those health nuts.” Rather than getting into that (though I might agree), let’s focus on another variety of nuts – tree nuts. According to a study by nutrition researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, if you consume such nuts regularly, you could be less likely to develop heart disease than those who rarely (if ever) consume nuts.

As reported by Reuters, according to the study, a daily handful of nuts may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease for adults with Type 2 diabetes. It’s also possible that nut consumption could help with health issues such as controlling blood sugar and reducing inflammation.

Tree nuts, which include Brazil nuts, cashews, pistachios, pecans, macadamias, hazelnuts and pine nuts, were more strongly linked to a lower risk of heart disease than peanuts, which grow underground. Peanuts are also usually salted, and it is believed that this added salt might counteract the nuts’ natural benefits.

As to this dietary recommendation, you might say, “Nuts to you.” But there is good reason for careful consideration of what should be an easy change in diet.

According to the American Heart Association’s most recent annual report, nearly half (48 percent) of all adults in the United States have some type of cardiovascular disease. That lines out to about 121.5 million adults, based on data from 2016.

We have to work harder to reduce the risk factors. This is something we have been told repeatedly by health professionals. So, what is getting in the way of making it happen?

How’s this for an idea? Food is medicine. It is about time we start to treat it that way. As outlined in a Time magazine report, if we start to truly consider food a critical part of patients’ medical care, it can have as much healing power as medication.

A person’s health is more than the sum of the medications they take and the tests they get. It is deeply affected by how much they sleep and exercise, the stresses in their lives and, without question, what they are eating at every meal. When people eat well, they tend to be healthier and are more likely to control chronic diseases – maybe even avoid them altogether.

This “food as medicine” concept is hardly an original idea. It is becoming a focus of doctors, hospitals, insurers and even employers. Insurers are starting to reward healthy eating by covering patients’ sessions with nutritionists and dietitians.

“The idea of food as medicine is not only an idea whose time has come,” says Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and the dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. He tells Time, “It’s an idea that’s absolutely essential to our health care system.”

The problem is that eating healthy will never be as easy as popping a pill. According to recent statistics, the average American spends $1,400 a year on medications. For many, healthy food choices are not readily available. If they are, they are not widely affordable. At the “heart” of the problem are the foods people overwhelmingly choose to eat. According to a recent study, in the United States, 61 percent of an adult’s total diet comes from ultraprocessed foods.

According to new research out of France, as a result, we face a 14 percent higher risk of early death with each 10 percent increase in the amount of this stuff we continue to eat. If fresh food is medicine, then ultraprocessed foods are clearly something else.

While further studies are needed to confirm the results of the French study, the authors speculate that the additives and chemicals that leech into the food during storage and the processing itself, as well as high-temperature processing, may be the factors negatively affecting so many people’s health.

Contacted by Reuters, Nurgul Fitzgerald, an associate professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers, offered “kudos to the authors” for their study, which is “strong” in terms of design.

Meanwhile, the movement to make nutrition a bigger priority in health care instead of an afterthought could be what is needed to finally reverse this unhealthy food trend.

It is a movement not without challenges and resistance. Only recently have doctors started to bridge this gap, and they cannot accomplish this food transformation alone. Within the profession, there is hardly across-the-board acceptance of the movement. In addition, food is not like drugs, which can be tested in rigorous studies.

Doctors also know that we eat not only to feed our cells, but also because of emotions. Prescribing food is more complex than prescribing medications. “It’s a lot cheaper to put someone on three months of statins (to lower their cholesterol) than to figure out how to get them to eat a healthy diet,” Eric Rimm, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health tells Time.

Meanwhile, in cities where fresh produce is harder to access, hospitals such as the Cleveland Clinic are working with local grocers to provide discounts on fruits and vegetables to patients who provide “prescriptions” written by their doctor.

With the public’s help and understanding, the power of food as medicine may soon start to prevail.

Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.



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