Last year multiple news sources reported multinational food company Nestlé is developing “medical food” supplements to address diseases such as epilepsy and intestinal disorders.
Why? The medical foods market is a $15 billion industry, and the global population over 60 years of age is expected to rise 10% by 2050. Considering the active ingredients in these medical foods come from actual foods like tomatoes, coffee, and grapes, it begs the question: Why not just eat real food?
The benefits of eating real food for optimal health instead of packaged food or supplements are plentiful:
• Real food is more nutritionally complete than supplements. The food industry tends to isolate and compile nutrients that are known for being healthy, but real food also contains nutrients that aren’t able to be isolated or that haven’t been identified in a lab.
• It’s less risky. The nutrients in real food are present in safe quantities and ratios, making it less likely that you’ll ingest dangerous dosages of certain substances or that they’ll contraindicate with medications.
• Nutrients are more bioavailable in real food. While it might be more convenient to take a pill than cook, if your body can’t absorb and use the contents of that pill as well as real food, the convenience is somewhat irrelevant. In addition, many nutrients work synergistically with other nutrients in that food or other foods and thus aren’t as effective in isolation.
• It’s cheaper. Nutritional supplements are a billion-dollar industry and higher-priced supplements are not necessarily a marker of higher quality. While supplementing with certain minerals like calcium and magnesium helps compensate for lower amounts of these minerals in soil due to soil depletion, generally speaking it’s more cost-effective to center your nutrition strategy on eating real food instead of supplementing nutrients.
• It tastes better and is related to a healthier lifestyle. Food (and eating) should be an enjoyable experience, not something you need to dose like a prescription. As much as food companies attempt to manipulate the taste of food to appeal to our taste buds, it’s hard to successfully capture the tangy crispness of a Granny Smith apple or replicate the juiciness of a tomato at peak ripeness. Not to mention, cooking and eating with others is strongly related to better health and stronger relationships.
What should you eat for overall health?Here are some of the most nutritious foods to keep as staples in your diet to stay healthy and prevent cancer and heart disease.
• Soups made from old-school broth. Homemade broth is one of the most nutritious things you can make, and fortunately, it’s also one of the easiest and cheapest. Family physician and “Deep Nutrition” author Dr. Catherine Shanahan loves broth for its collagen, which supports skin, bone, blood vessel and hair health, as well as glucosamine, which is also essential for joint health. And because it’s made from bones, homemade broth also contains crucial bone-building minerals calcium and magnesium. There are numerous recipes out there but the basic method is tossing bones into a soup pot or crockpot, adding just enough water to cover them, adding 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and 1 tablespoon of salt, and simmering or cooking on low for 4-24 hours (according to “On Food and Cooking” author Harold McGee, the longer you cook it, the more flavor and nutrients will be extracted). An easy way to add broth-making to your weekly routine is to roast a whole chicken and then save the bones for broth. You can also freeze them if you prefer to do larger batches of broth at a time.
• Cruciferous vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, and other cruciferous veggies are high in carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein), vitamins C, K and E, folate and other minerals. They also contain substances called glucosinolates that, when broken down in the body, have been shown to prevent cancer in several ways, including inactivating carcinogens, protecting cell DNA and preventing tumor growth and migration.
• Omega-3 fats. Did you know the human brain is almost 60% fat? Aside from supplying raw materials for keeping your brain in top form, eating fat is crucial for healthy cell production and absorbing fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Additionally, certain essential fatty acids like omega-3s need to come from your diet, as the body can’t make them from other fats. Omega-3s not only prevent abnormal heartbeats, they also lower blood pressure, heart rate, triglycerides, and inflammation, all of which are factors in developing atherosclerosis and possible heart attacks or strokes. Great sources of omega-3s include cold-water fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies. Omega-3s are also found in grass-fed animals, pasture-raised chicken eggs (eat the yolk!), walnuts, and flaxseed.
• Tea and turmeric. In the past decade, polyphenols have gained attention as potential cancer-fighters. Although the evidence of their impact in humans is inconclusive, polyphenols found in black and green tea and turmeric, for example, have shown antimutagenic and anticarcinogenic effects in several animal-based studies. Get your fill of polyphenols by adding tea time to your daily ritual and incorporating turmeric in your cooking.
• Ginger root. For more than 5,000 years, ginger has been used to treat a variety of ailments, as well as add its trademark warm spiciness to cuisine. In recent years, ginger has piqued researchers’ interest as a potential cancer fighter. Scientists from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center found that ginger prevents ovarian cancer cell growth and tumor angiogenesis Other studies suggested the phytochemicals in ginger work synergistically to prevent prostate cancer cell growth. Ginger is delicious in soups, meats, or vegetables, or try brewing tea with fresh ginger and adding honey to taste. If you’re on anticoagulant medications, make sure you check with your doctor before eating ginger.
Things to Consider:
• We’ve covered how to find local meat producers and grass-fed meat in other articles, but check out Marine Stewardship Council’s helpful tool for finding healthful and sustainable seafood near you. Vital Choice also ships wild, sustainable seafood to your door if seafood isn’t easy to come by where you live.
• Beware of old nuts and seeds, which are often stale and/or rancid. For the freshest product, chat with your local store about how frequently the nuts in their bulk bins turn over, or order them online (James Beard award-winning chef Naomi Pomeroy recommends Nuts.com).