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Food as Medicine
“Let your food be your medicine, let your medicine be your food.”
Hippocrates (400 BCE)
This is such a huge subject, and I could write many books on this, and many books have been written (see suggested resources below). There are also so many diets for health — and again the range is vast. Some diets even advocate the absence of carbohydrates (cereals) and this can certainly facilitate weight loss, if this is what you want. Excess protein consumption, however, can be toxic, as the body has to break down the metabolic wastes produced. A recent fashion is the Paleo diet.
Perhaps it is true that our food has become denatured to some extent, yet some research shows little nutritional advantage in organically grown food. The higher cost of organically grown food is not due so much to smaller yields and higher production costs, but the expense of certification and quality control to maintain ‘organic’ standards, on commercial farms.
There are certainly environmental reasons (if not nutritional ones) to ‘eat organic’ and not further pollution and environmental degradation from fertilizer run off into rivers, etc. It is also helpful to support local producers and small farmers, and avoid the economic and ecological cost (carbon footprint) of transporting food around the world.
The downside of eating only locally produced vegetables in NZ is that trace mineral deficiency can and does occur. NZ soils can be very poor in trace minerals such as selenium, magnesium, cobalt, copper, zinc and Iodine. Farmers know this, and livestock is now supplemented with certain trace minerals (e.g. Iodine in Southland; selenium and cobalt in the central North island) to avoid disease and ensure healthy growth in sheep and cows.
If one is not a vegetarian, then mineral deficiency hopefully is less likely, but if one is a vegetarian, then care is needed to ensure adequate intake of these trace minerals (e.g. Brazil nuts for selenium, but not excessive amounts, as toxicity can occur) and the trace minerals (e.g. adequate magnesium for calcium absorption) are essential for health (e.g. manganese as a cofactor in a variety of enzymes).
Perhaps the greatest advantage to eating organic food is that contamination from insecticides can be avoided completely (always a good idea to wash food before eating, especially non-organic).
Acetylcholene and Pesticides
|Function of nerves that are stimulated by Acetylcholine||Effect of excessive stimulation caused by carbamate or organophosphate pesticides|
|Activate salivary, sweat glands||Increased salivation, sweating, watering of eyes|
|Constrict bronchi||Tightness in chest, bronchospasms, difficulty breathing|
|Contract pupil of eye||Pin-point pupils, blurring of vision|
|Control heart function||Abnormal heart beat, change in blood pressure|
|Increase spasms in digestive tract||Stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting|
|Increase spasms in urinary tract||Urinary frequency and incontinence|
|Activate skeletal muscles||Twitching, restlessness, impaired coordination, general muscle weakness, paralysis|
|Alters brain function||Headache, giddiness, anxiety, emotional instability, lethargy, confusion, eventually central nervous system depression, even coma|
|Source: Journal of Pesticide reform, summer 1986|
Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that we have almost forgotten what ‘real’ food is: traditionally from a staple diet of complex carbohydrates (e.g. wheat, rye, rice, or other grains, or root vegetables and tubers) with a low glycaemic index.
In traditional cultures meat was only eaten in small quantities as a condiment (for taste and flavour) to a stable diet of grains (rice, bread, pasta, oatmeal, etc) and carbohydrates (e.g. root vegetables). It is only the relatively recent affluence of modern western culture, and intensive farming, in the last few generations that has resulted in consumption of animal protein on a daily basis. More than 400-500g per day of protein becomes toxic (excess of nitrogen) and is simply burned off as fuel (calories). We actually only require around 1g of protein per Kg of body weight to maintain our muscle mass and tissue repair. With correct food combining (grains and pulses) all the essential amino acids can be obtained without meat or even diary. Excess protein is unnecessary, wasteful and even toxic. There are also huge environmental concerns as many Asian (etc) countries adopt a more western diet of heavy protein consumption, deforestation of rainforest and environmental degradation.
Complex carbohydrates are digested slowly (relative to sugars) and broken down into sugars (glucose) gradually, giving relatively stable blood sugar, without a surge of insulin, a rapid rise, and then crash of blood sugar that results from high glycaemic foods (refined carbohydrates).
Sugar can be an issue, and excess consumption is unhealthy, for many reasons: tooth decay, diabetes, mood swings, and behavioural problems in children, to name a few.
And of course, I could write at length about the disadvantages of monosodium glutamate (MSG). Many people can have allergies and problems with monosodium glutamate.
There are also many food intolerances, and this is a vast subject that can only be briefly mentioned here. Included here is Celiac disease and the milder gluten intolerance, to severe allergies (e.g. peanuts) that can occasionally even be life threatening (individuals may have to carry an EpiPen to administer adrenalin, should a mistake be made). Always read the label on what you eat — and of course teach your child to do this carefully also, if she or he has a severe food allergy. Please read the page on Food Allergies page also in this chapter.
And of course, we are all to some extent victims of the food industry, and the commercialisation of food, with the pressure to create food with a long shelf life, and the adulteration and chemical additives that this requires.
One hundred years ago, all food was pretty much ‘organic’ and the quality (and taste!) was probably better for this, and the food industry consisted of simple tinned food and canning, freezing of meat for transport and storage, and preservatives such as nitrates (quite unhealthy) and mineral salt (cured meats, salt-fish, etc). Just think how it has proliferated over the last century!
There is a vast genre of books, and websites on this subject. One of my favourites books is: Anne Marie Colbin (1986) Food as Medicine, ISBN 978-0345303851, Ballantine
Show video: How to Choose your food – with Annemarie Colbin
- Shyam Singha: Food is Medicine
- Shyam Singha: Food is Medicine — order the book
- Food and Healing — by Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D.
- Food and Healing — website featuring the work of Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D.
Local suppliers (Christchurch):
If you eat meat and want Nitrate free products, contact: thesausageshed at xtra dot co dot nz
If you still eat (some) meat, and are concerned with animal welfare, and wish to support local producers, you could try: ‘Organic meats’, 124 Opawa Rd, Christchurch, Tel 03 332 4311
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