What’s a commonly overlooked prescription for many of today’s preventable illnesses? A clean, wholesome diet, Dr. Sal explains.

Over the past fifty years, we have seen a significant increase in the incidence of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, Alzheimer’s, cancers, and more. The common denominator for all of these debilitating medical problems? Inflammation. And while these serious health problems are treatable and preventable, we significantly under use one of the most important, easy-to-implement solutions: food.

Traditional Western medical care involves medicines and surgery, but less often is food prescribed as medicine. [Tweet “Yes, food IS medicine.”] Many commonly prescribed modern medications come from plants — nature has given us the means to stay healthy when we eat foods that come from the earth. So why is it that this simple solution to so many health problems is ignored?

The answer is multi-fold, but from the medical professional side, I can tell you that most health care training programs do not teach much about nutrition. I completed my residency back in 1993, and since then, little has changed. Today’s graduating residents have only a few hours of in-depth training on nutrition. As such, the concept of food as medicine does not become ingrained in the brains of those prescribing treatment, often resulting in the under-utilization of one of the best ways to prevent illness and treat disease.

Another reason food is not relied upon as a health care solution is the very emotional nature of it. I have come to understand this all too well during my conversations with family, friends, and patients. We all have grown up with certain foods as part of our culture and heritage. To an Italian (to use myself as an example), food is who we are. Pasta, sauce, meatballs, Italian bread, pizza — the list is both endless and delicious. When I see these foods, they strongly remind me of my childhood and family, and make me feel good inside (though now, more emotionally than physically). When I recommend to patients, family, or friends that they decrease the consumption of comfort foods for which they have a particular emotional tie, they look at me with disdain, as if to say, “you are taking away my soul!”

Third, I believe food is not prescribed as medicine because unlike selling pharmaceuticals, selling food as medicine does not make a lot of money. Drugs make money. Commonly prescribed cholesterol-lowering medications generate billions of dollars in revenue for drug companies. This is also true of medications prescribed for acid reflux, high blood pressure, musculoskeletal aches and pains, and countless other ailments. (Make sure you get Supplement Smart before making purchases.)

I was trained as a traditional internist, and over the past 20+ years, I, too, have prescribed many of these medications. However, in the last five years, I have been learning much about the use of food as medicine and how it can prevent and help treat disease, so I have been on a quest to teach anyone who will listen about the benefits of nutrition. Now, after several years of research on the subject, I am completing a fellowship program in metabolic and anti-aging medicine and preparing to work with other Integrative physicians with an emphasis on keeping people well in order to prevent disease, as opposed to treating diseases that were preventable in the first place.

In an Integrative medical practice, people can benefit from all that traditional medical care has to offer, but can also learn much about other therapies to become and stay healthy. Good nutrition, exercise, meditation, biofeedback, massage, detoxification programs, vitamins, and supplements are just a few of these treatments. By combining the best of traditional medicine with complementary therapies such as these, the individual gets the optimal result. He or she learns how to stay healthy, rather than waiting for a disease to occur and then trying to figure out how to get back to good health. Believe me, it is much harder to “get out from behind the eight ball” than to “staying ahead of the pack.” Prevention is key.

This isn’t simply my opinion; there are thousands of research studies supporting this concept, and many experts on nutrition have been working for years with the USDA, the meat and dairy industry, and the federal government to create food programs to make healthy food affordable and accessible for all people, regardless of location or socioeconomic status. [Tweet “Healthy food is something we all need”], and when this is not available to everyone, we are weaker as a nation.

Health care should start with personal lifestyle choices. The only way we can become well and stay that way is to make informed decisions every day that support good nutrition and help us to avoid the myriad diseases that afflict so many of our family and friends. The last years of our lives do not need to be spent in failing health.

The Standard American Diet is S.A.D. — in more ways than one. A term used to describe the stereotypical American diet (high in carbs and saturated fats from a fast food-heavy lifestyle), it’s likely a major reason we have so many health problems in this country today. When we compare the health of the U.S. population to that of other nations where there is an emphasis on clean foods, the incidence of chronic disease and cancer is much lower. (Also be careful, Your Grocery Store Is Making You Fat.)

When people eat “real foods” and avoid those that come in a box or a bag, or are hyper-processed (foods that have had much of their original nutrition removed), they stay healthier. Simply take a look at the health of those in the world’s Blue Zones: Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and Loma Linda, California. In these areas of the world, folks dine on natural foods that come from the earth (vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains). They walk a lot and are active every day. They have great social support and have a sense or purpose in life. They live into their 90s and, in some cases, to over 100 years old because of these lifestyle habits.

I am committed to practicing this healthy way of life for the sake of my own health as well as that of family and patients. I love helping people stay well and I am passionate about finding ways to do so the natural way.

I invite you to join me on this journey. As always, stay well, my friends!

Want more from Dr. Sal? Read on…

Prevent Disease, Increase Longevity with a Plant-Based Diet

Vitamin, Minerals, and Hormones – What You Need To Know