Posted by: Cailyn | July 6, 2009

Food as Pharma


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Can the food you eat affect your health?

I think anyone who has read Good Calories, Bad Calories can answer that question.

Every year, Newsweek and Time put out their annual health issue.  I skimmed most of the traditional “eat fewer calories” advice in this year’s Time and then stumbled on this gem.  The story is about “functional food,” food that does more than “just” feed us.

“We need food for nourishment, of course.  Without it, out cells and tissues would wither away from starvation.  But what’s becoming clearer is that food is more than just fuel . . . And the early evidence suggests that the kitchen may indeed contain potent disease-fighting agents, just as the medicine cabinet does. “

How is this newsworthy?  Ask any Jewish mother how to prevent a cold and the answer isn’t Zicam.  Of course, the main thrust of the article is not that food may contain valuable health-boosting properties, but that these properties could be almost as powerful as drugs!

“In a groundbreaking [emphasis mine] 2002 study, … researchers found that people at risk of diabetes could delay or in some cases even prevent the disease from developing by eating fewer calories, getting them from the right kinds of foods, and exercising more than two hours a week.”

You mean that by eating foods that didn’t spike their blood sugar, their pancreas didn’t have to release as much insulin and therefore they started to become less insulin resistant, the main problem in diabetes?  Well, that’s just some free-range crazy right there!  It’s not like that was the standard (and successful!) treatment for diabetics in the ’40s and ’50s.  Have we really gotten so far away from the idea that food is more than just calories?  Our great-grandparents knew it.  Cod liver oil, rich in immune-boosting vitamin D, A, and B, was forced on our grandparents daily as children and it worked to avoid colds and the flu.  Is it so crazy to think that food may help or harm us in significant ways?

Well, this “new” idea is quickly moving from crazy to profitable.  Since “functional foods” are not a category regulated by the FDA, food labels can pretty much promise whatever they want.  Even experts don’t agree on what makes a functional food, “but many go by the simple guide that it’s something that’s often good for you to begin with and that has some added benefit not found in the food’s natural state.”  Anyone else worried by that last bit, not found in the food’s natural state?  Let’s see what examples they give of these helpful foods.


If you let hens out of their cages and allow them to eat bugs, you get even more omega-3s.  Eggs are a great source of omega-3s if they’re pasture-raised.  But hey, who wants to take the effort to raise chickens like that?  Let’s just stuff them full of flaxseed and pretend that omega-3s in eggs are new.



You know you could just eat the fruit.  Adding fiber to juice as a solution to the high sugar content seems like adding methadone directly to heroin.  It’s not really going to help much.



“Other-than-butter spreads enhanced with plant oils . . . qualify as functional foods since they are less likely than animal fats to contribute to plaques in blood vessels, and the added plant sterols help reduce cholesterol even further.”  Butter does that too.  And it doesn’t need any help from limp polyunsaturated plant oils.  Plant oils will cause a drop in cholesterol in the short term, however the numbers will rebound higher in most cases.  And we remember that cholesterol does not cause heart disease, right?



Birth defects are certainly a big concern.  Some experts recommend that females take folate supplements are soon as they reach puberty in case they get pregnant.  It’s too bad that these same experts are telling these same women to avoid meat, which is a good source of the entire spectrum of B-vitamins.  Leafy green vegetables are also a good source.  But no, let’s add “a synthetic form of the B-complex vitamin folate” to everyone’s flour.



Yogurt already has probiotics in it.  That’s what makes it yogurt instead of milk.

But hey, we can all agree with the conclusion of the article.

“You have to eat anyway, so you might as well make it count.”


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