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Nearly 2500 years ago, Hippocrates identified a correlation between diet, exercise, and overall health.  When people moved their body and ate a mainly fresh, plant-based diet, they developed fewer diseases.

In a quote from Helen King’s book,  Hippocrates Now, The “Father of Medicine” in the Internet Age,  Hippocrates warns doctors  “not to interfere with the body’s ability to heal itself, as well as to treat the body as a whole – mind, body and spirit. “

It seems the person often referred to as the father of modern medicine was a functional healthcare practitioner.  What happened?

One could ask the same question regarding food. How did addictive, chemical laced, disease promoting substances, void of any real nutritive value, end up a mainstay in the American diet?  Dr. Robert Lustig explains how this happened in his book Metabolical.  Although disturbing, it’s a must read.

My point is, functional healthcare practitioners find themselves at the intersection of these two ideas; the importance of understanding the whole person in order to determine the best way to restore balance and the key role diet plays in doing so.

How do you approach this complex but critical aspect of holistic healthcare when there is so much confusion?

Food Religions

This idea that there is one perfect diet that everyone should follow is both tragic and baffling to me and I find it’s causing more confusion than ever. The dogmatic way in which people profess and defend their belief in a particular diet is why I refer to them as “food religions.”

As claims of miraculous benefits are broadcast across the internet, social media, podcasts, and blogs, then perpetuated through special programs and summits, people become enamored by their short-term success and align themselves with their camp of choice.  Thus commence the “diet wars”.

Despite their claims, whether it’s keto or paleo, anti-lectin, anti-oxalate, or anti-nightshades, there is no one diet that will resolve all problems for all people.

It’s not the diet…. exactly.

There is no doubt that over the past three decades, with few exceptions, diet- one of my 7 Body Freedom Pillars– has been foundational in restoring and maintaining the health of every one of my clients. The best diet for each is dependent on several factors such as genetics, early exposures, microbiome balance, digestive capacity, age, and liver detox pathways.

A diet consists of specific foods which are comprised of constituents that affect the function of the body at a cellular level, in both good and bad ways.

It’s how the unique physiology of a person’s body interacts with the unique combination of constituents in the food they eat that determines the ideal diet for any given individual.

This is where the real answers to appropriate diet choices are found.

Food As Messenger

“Let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” is a familiar phrase and sage advice, but long before we have the need to use food as medicine, food serves as a messenger.

Food supplies all the raw materials and blueprints needed to perpetuate life itself.  It has the ability to restore or destroy balance in body systems. Known as the “second meal effect”, the food eaten today determines how the body processes food eaten tomorrow. Epigenetics demonstrates that the chemicals in food have the power to turn genes on and off. This is powerful stuff!

Knowing food’s messaging system furthers the understanding of how it impacts health and why it may be playing a role in the creation of body imbalance. The symptomatic signals serve as an inroad to recognizing when the body is in need of a course correction long before medicinal measures need to be taken.

Functional Food and Facts

There’s an ancient Ayurvedic saying that I often quote, “When the diet is correct, medicine is of no need.  When the diet is wrong, medicine is of no use.”

It’s  impossible to  overstate the importance of functional healthcare practitioners having the ability to decipher how food is impacting body function in order to determine a client’s best diet for ideal health. This is why I want to commit several weeks to exploring the rich and dynamic area of functional foods and “functional food facts”.

For my purposes, a functional food needs to provide nutrition, promote growth, and have a favorable effect on the body.  A functional food fact identifies the way in which a food does this.

For example, phytochemicals found in plants serve as antioxidants and have the potential to protect you from chronic disease. Which plants are most protective of the cardiovascular system?

Herbs, packed with vitamins and minerals, can be nutritive in large amounts or therapeutic in smaller amounts. Which herbs in what amount will help correct a B vitamin deficiency?

Mushrooms are adaptogens.  Adaptogens have the still-not-fully-understood ability to intrinsically provide support where it’s needed most. How do you best determine which mushrooms should be used when looking to balance female hormones?

Processed foods are not functional. They lead to a slow poisoning of the body resulting in damage that reveals itself later in life. Understanding how they do this may serve as incentive to remove them from the diet altogether.

Identifying Problematic Foods

I’ll be covering this plus much more in the coming weeks. My goal in doing this is to empower you to educate you, and  your clients if you’re a practitioner, as to how food  may be positively or negatively impacting health. This involves understanding and identifying symptoms, correlating symptoms with possible food culprits, then taking steps to correct the imbalance.

This will include the elimination and provocation process that is invaluable in helping clients identify problematic foods. For now, I’ve put together a free functional food guide and a series of podcast episodes.

The work of a functional healthcare practitioner.

It was known at least 2500 years ago that a nutrient dense, plant-based diet is key to health and wellbeing, yet somewhere along the way this fact has been hijacked by the false premise that people are best served by the temporary fix — and long-term damage —  induced by pharmaceuticals, gimmicks, and restrictive diets that perpetuate food phobias and can lead to malnutrition when adhered to for extended lengths of time.

The current healthcare system finds itself firmly in the grip of a multi-billion-dollar industry that does not profit from people knowing the answer to true, lasting health may be as simple and inexpensive as what they choose to put in their mouth.

It’s up to functional healthcare providers to change this. As diet wars rage and misinformation proliferates, they/we  must be the voice of reason and bring clarity to the confusion over what a person can eat to support optimal health.

Did you know?

A major topic these days is food allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities. People mistake one for the other and don’t fully understand the difference, yet a growing number are spending big money on testing. Is it worth it?

 Food allergies involve an immune system response. Food intolerance takes place in the digestive tract and relates to the inability to digest specific foods.  Both typically have clear signs and reasonably reliable ways to determine the food culprits.

 Most controversy involves testing for food sensitivities. “Food sensitivity” does not have an agreed upon definition or meaning.  Tests for food sensitivities measure Immunoglobulin G (IgG) which is considered a delayed immune response. This is problematic due to the fact the production of IgG antibodies in response to food is completely normal and does not necessarily indicate a problem. In fact, some research shows the presence of IgG and is actually linked to a developing food tolerance.

 In addition, different brand sensitivity tests have been shown to provide different results.

 If a person is serious about investigating whether or not they have a food sensitivity, it’s hard to top an elimination and provocation process in conjunction with a food journal to record symptoms.  Yes, it can be a lengthy procedure, but to date there is no better way to identify problematic foods.  Members of our Empowered Self-Care Lab get supported through this process.

 It’s well worth the effort.

References:
A guide to appropriate use of Correlation coefficient in medical research
Interpretation of correlations in clinical research
Understanding Health Research · Correlation and causation
Understanding Health Research · Evidence-based medicine, practice and policy 
What Everyone Should Know About Statistical Correlation
Does Herbal Medicine Work?
 About us – The Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine
[Limitations of clinical trials] – PubMed  
Understanding Health Research · Scientific uncertainty
Hippocrates' Diet and Health Rules Everyone Should Follow
Phytochemical – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics
Are Food Sensitivity Tests Accurate?
Food Sensitivity Tests: Worth the Hype? — Real Good Nutrition
(PDF) The active constituents of herbs and their plant chemistry, extraction and identification methods
Health care practices in ancient Greece: The Hippocratic ideal
Bloomsbury Collections – Hippocrates Now – The ‘Father of Medicine’ in the Internet Age
Hippocrates | Biography, Works, & Facts | Britannica
Robert Lustig Website | Promoting global metabolic health and nutrition.
Diet Wars | FRONTLINE | PBS
Liver Detoxification Pathways – Ask The Scientists
6 essential nutrients: Sources and why you need them
“Let food be thy medicine…”
What is Epigenetics? | CDC
Identifying The Root Cause of Disease: Functional Medicine Doctors
Holistic Medicine: What It Is, Treatments, Philosophy, and More
Phytochemicals | Linus Pauling Institute | Oregon State University
Food allergy vs. food intolerance: What's the difference? – Mayo Clinic
Immunoglobulin G – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics
How to Do an Elimination Diet and Why
Role of immunoglobulin G antibodies in diagnosis of food allergy