Food Isn't Medicine. Here's Why It's Dangerous To Believe It Is. (2023)

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” is a phrase credited to Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician thought to be the father of medicine. In other words, the notion is nothing new.

But its hold over us is as strong as ever.

The way health influencers and diet gurus talk about certain trendy health foods, you’d think they could cure cancer. In fact, there are people who say that certain foods can cure cancer and other illnesses. Anthony William, known as the Medical Medium, published a book about celery juice and told Goop that he has “seen thousands of people who suffer from chronic and mystery illnesses restore their health by drinking sixteen ounces of celery juice daily on an empty stomach.” Dr. Oz has promoted certain foods as having “cancer-starving benefits,” suggesting that eating them in particular quantities may literally prevent cancer from spreading in your body.

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Though at first glance these claims might seem hopeful, or harmless, thinking of food as medicine can actually be dangerous. For one thing, it downplays the importance of actual medicine in the treatment of diseases. Not to mention it’s manipulative (and sometimes insulting) to suggest that a person could solve their health problems with a simple diet change.

Food does play a central role in the treatment of a few diseases, but these are relatively rare.

In the case of certain diseases, the effect of diet is well supported by evidence. People with diabetes need to be mindful of how food affects their blood sugar levels, and children with epilepsy might benefit from following a ketogenic diet.

Food Isn't Medicine. Here's Why It's Dangerous To Believe It Is. (1)
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“Then there are specific conditions where you need to avoid a specific nutrient,” said Christopher Labos, a cardiologist and epidemiologist at McGill Office of Science and Society in Montreal. “Phenylketonuria (PKU) occurs when babies are born without the ability to metabolize the amino acid phenylalanine. So, it must be removed from the diet to avoid the neural complications of PKU.”

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Diagnosed food allergies make it necessary to avoid certain foods. Similarly, some autoimmune conditions are directly linked to certain foods. Labos points to celiac disease, an autoimmune condition in which consuming gluten can trigger damage to the small intestine and malabsorption of nutrients. “That said, the gluten thing has been blown out of proportion — people avoid it even though they don’t have celiac disease, which is pointless.”

Food also plays a role in digestive conditions. “People with IBS, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis may need to be more careful about their diets, because certain foods might trigger their symptoms,” Labos said. Still, these conditions affect people differently, and it’s not true that avoiding one food or loading up on another will “cure” any one of them.

(Video) Let Food Be Thy Medicine

But for many diseases, there’s not enough evidence to say that food is a part of treatment.

If you come across someone on social media claiming that a certain restrictive diet can prevent or cure a disease — lately, this seems to be happening with low-carb diets and dementia — there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. Even if they cite a scientific study as proof of their claims, this doesn’t mean those claims are legitimate.

“There’s so much research being produced, and not all of it is good quality,” Labos said. “If you only look at one study and don’t look at everything that’s been done in that particular field, you’re going to get a very skewed view of what’s out there.” Put another way: “If the nine studies that came before you were negative, and yours came out positive, you’re not groundbreaking, you’re an outlier. If you ignore all the stuff that contradicts what we’re trying to say, you’re just cherry-picking the data.”

If you want to make sure you’re getting legitimate, evidence-based information, you can look to sources like the Agriculture Department’s Dietary Guidelines, the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health. If you do choose to follow health influencers, it’s a good idea to do some research on the claims they’re making. If they cite a study as evidence, make sure that the study was done in humans, that the sample size was large and that it was published in a legitimate journal. Then search for other studies on the topic to make sure that the results line up.

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Conversations such as the one in the clip above can convince people that food can be as effective as medicine in curing certain diseases.

A quick look into those claims about low-carb diets curing and preventing dementia, for example, is illuminating. “There is currently no evidence in the research that certain diets, such as low-carb, keto or whole foods, help in the treatment or prevention of neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS or Alzheimer’s,” said Shannon Hughes, a Colorado-based registered dietitian and physician assistant. What’s more, “when individuals with these diseases are placed on these kinds of diets ... harm may be done, as this population is already at risk for malnutrition.” These diseases often cause unintentional weight loss due to increased metabolism, loss of appetite and difficulty swallowing, so adding a restrictive diet to the mix can be dangerous.

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An overall healthful diet can help prevent certain health problems but can’t replace actual medicine as treatment.

All of this isn’t to say that nutrition doesn’t play a role in health. “A healthy diet overall is going to decrease the probability of you developing any number of medical problems because you’ll be an overall healthier person,” Labos said. “We know that trans fats are probably bad, unsaturated fats are probably better than saturated ones, and that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is probably good.”

There’s plenty of epidemiological evidence for this — that is, large population-based studies have consistently found strong correlations between certain eating patterns and lowered disease risk. For example, a 2018 review of the literature looking at research on diet and heart disease found that “dietary patterns that include a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains (mostly whole grain), reduced-fat dairy, lean protein foods (meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives), nuts, seeds and vegetable oils” can promote health and reduce a person’s risk for heart disease. And a 2018 study of 776 American adults added to the already large body of evidence that eating a lower-sodium diet can help reduce blood pressure. Still, Lobos pointed out that correlation isn’t the same as causation. Following evidence-based dietary recommendations can help manage and reduce the risk of chronic diseases but definitely can’t guarantee prevention or cure.

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Beyond this, there’s really no evidence supporting any one food, or any specific diet, will be the magic bullet to the prevention of all maladies. “People who are dogmatic about “eat this, not that” often aren’t backed by research,” Labos said. “There’s just not enough evidence.”

And prevention is different than treatment. “For instance, there is strong evidence that a high-fiber diet may prevent colon cancer, but that is not the same thing as saying fiber will treat colon cancer,” Hughes said. Forgoing potentially lifesaving chemotherapy and instead looking to a high-fiber diet to cure colon cancer could literally be the difference between life and death.

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The idea of food as medicine might seem empowering, but it holds individuals responsible for things out of their control.

“Nutrition has gained a lot of traction in the popular and social media, and is a big focus of everyday life for many people,” Hughes said. “It gives people a strong sense of control and individualism in terms of their health.”

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The problem is, there’s so much more to health than food and nutrition. “‘Food as medicine’ elevates the idea that food and nutrition is a cure-all and that a person has complete control over their health, dismissing other factors such as genetics and social determinants of health,” Hughes said.

Though advocates of the message sell it as “empowerment,” holding someone (and their diet) fully responsible for their health outcomes just isn’t fair. “For instance, it is ‘your fault’ you got cancer because you did not eat a ‘good diet,’ or you ‘didn’t care enough to eat right,’” Hughes said. Really, though, there’s so much more to it. “A person could eat a diet rich in polyphenols and still get cancer, or follow a Mediterranean diet and still get cardiovascular disease,” she said.

Food is only one of many factors that influence health. Though a healthful overall diet can indeed help in preventing certain diseases, it’s not a bulletproof defense. And no food or diet is an adequate substitute for real medicine or medical treatment.

CORRECTION: This piece has been amended to correct the location of McGill University.

FAQs

What is the meaning of let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food? ›

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” hearkens back to Hippocrates, the father of medicine. This quote, though thousands of years old, acknowledges the importance of healthy eating and how the nutrients in various foods have healing properties.

What philosopher said food is medicine? ›

1. Introduction. The title of this review refers to the popular phrase 'Let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food', often ascribed to Hippocrates (400 BC), and used to emphasize the importance of nutrition to prevent or cure disease.

Do you agree that food can be a medicine? ›

What you choose to eat has profound effects on your overall health. Research shows that dietary habits influence disease risk. While certain foods may trigger chronic health conditions, others offer strong medicinal and protective qualities. Thus, many people argue that food is medicine.

What 3 foods should you avoid? ›

AVOID: Added Sugar
  • Cereal.
  • Snack bars.
  • Pre-sweetened yogurts.
  • Canned fruit.
  • Condiments, particularly ketchup, BBQ sauce, honey mustard, French dressing, and similar.
13 Jan 2022

How can I heal my body naturally with food? ›

The body's natural response to illness is inflammation. Common foods to help calm inflammation include flaxseeds, walnuts, berries, mushrooms, salmon, spinach, turmeric, ginger, green tea, and yogurt. This list is simply a taste of delicious foods available containing unique nutrients to heal our bodies.

What does the Bible say about food and health? ›

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. – 1 Corinthians 10:31. When you bring God into your healthy eating, it changes everything. Striving to honor Him in your food and drink choices will bring not only a heart change, but it will also change your choices.

Is food considered medicine? ›

Think of food as medication. It is the single most important thing you can control when it comes to your health. For most patients eating properly is more important than any medication your doctor will prescribe. Eat whole foods as nature made them without artificial additives and preservatives.

Why is food not a drug? ›

Drugs are meant to have medical and therapeutic effects, while foods act as fuel and materials.

Who said let food is your medicine and medicine is your food? ›

Mark Lucock ends his review of the science of folic acid by quoting Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” (p 211).

When food is correct medicine is of no need? ›

“Without proper diet, medicine is of no use. With proper diet, medicine is of no need.” - ancient Ayurvedic proverb. The ancient science of Ayurveda is believed by many to be well over 5,000 years old.

How can we stay healthy without medicine? ›

Eat a healthy, balanced diet.

If you want to stay healthy without medications, eating well is one of the best, most important ways to do that. Focus on whole, unprocessed foods. These include fresh vegetables and fruits; nuts; eggs; lean, grass-fed meats; grains; and beans. And stay away from chemicals too.

What is a good medicine for all diseases? ›

A panacea /pænəˈsiːə/, named after the Greek goddess of universal remedy Panacea, is any supposed remedy that is claimed (for example) to cure all diseases and prolong life indefinitely.

What foods should you avoid after 50? ›

Here are eight foods that you should cut down on (or avoid eating altogether) as you get older, and why:
  • Raw or undercooked eggs, meat and poultry. ...
  • Grapefruit. ...
  • High-sodium foods. ...
  • Caffeine. ...
  • Sodas and sugary drinks. ...
  • “Sugar-free” drinks. ...
  • Alcoholic beverages. ...
  • Foods with empty calories.
24 Jul 2022

What is the number 1 healthiest food in the world? ›

So, having scoured the full list of applicants, we have crowned kale as the number 1 healthiest food out there. Kale has the widest range of benefits, with the fewest drawbacks when stacked up against its competitors. For us, kale is truly king. Read on to find out exactly why.

What is the healthiest meat to eat? ›

5 of the Healthiest Meats
  1. Sirloin Steak. Sirloin steak is both lean and flavorful – just 3 ounces packs about 25 grams of filling protein! ...
  2. Rotisserie Chicken & Turkey. The rotisserie cooking method helps maximize flavor without relying on unhealthy additives. ...
  3. Chicken Thigh. ...
  4. Pork Chop. ...
  5. Canned Fish.
6 Jan 2020

What vitamin is good for cell repair? ›

Antioxidants — such as vitamins C and E and carotenoids, which include beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein — help protect healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals.

What foods can speed up healing? ›

Almonds, walnuts, hemp seeds, pecans and sunflower seeds help in the faster healing of wounds. Nuts and seeds provide plant-based proteins, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats that support healing. They are also rich in zinc, manganese, magnesium and vitamin E.

What should not be eaten in the Bible? ›

Prohibited foods that may not be consumed in any form include all animals—and the products of animals—that do not chew the cud and do not have cloven hoofs (e.g., pigs and horses); fish without fins and scales; the blood of any animal; shellfish (e.g., clams, oysters, shrimp, crabs) and all other living creatures that ...

What did Jesus say about eating food? ›

He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.

What does God say about keeping your body healthy? ›

To summarize, the Bible instructs us to take care of our bodies, not overindulge in food or drink, and seek spiritual health through being kind to others and praying.

Who says let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be food? ›

Mark Lucock ends his review of the science of folic acid by quoting Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” (p 211). Although many patients are convinced of the importance of food in both causing and relieving their problems, many doctors' knowledge of nutrition is rudimentary.

What is the meaning of she should give him a taste of his own medicine? ›

informal. : harsh or unpleasant treatment that is like the treatment someone has given other people The movie is about a playboy who gets a taste of his own medicine when the girl he falls in love with jilts him for another guy.

What does food in the Bible mean? ›

Meanings of Food in the Biblical Text. Food is integral to communicating the biblical message. Food characterizes situations and persons, and it structures and marks the dramatic development of the text. Metaphors frequently consist of gastronomic terms, and many of Jesus' parables are connected with food.

What is the meaning of to eat is a necessity but to eat intelligently is an art? ›

Noted 17th century French author François de Rochefoucald wrote that: “To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.” It's a brilliant and inspiring quote. We all need to eat. But to eat with knowledge about what goes into your body requires purpose, planning and intention.

What does Jesus say about taking medicine? ›

There are several places in the Bible, where faith alone is accounted for the healing of the people. But there is no place in the Bible that forbids the use of drugs, especially for someone who is ill. Jesus said: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”—Matthew 9:12.

Is food considered medicine? ›

Think of food as medication. It is the single most important thing you can control when it comes to your health. For most patients eating properly is more important than any medication your doctor will prescribe. Eat whole foods as nature made them without artificial additives and preservatives.

When food is correct medicine is of no need? ›

“Without proper diet, medicine is of no use. With proper diet, medicine is of no need.” - ancient Ayurvedic proverb. The ancient science of Ayurveda is believed by many to be well over 5,000 years old.

What is another word for taste of your own medicine? ›

“Tell me, Tibald, are you always spewing advice to people or do you ever get a taste of your own medicine?”
...
What is another word for a taste of your own medicine?
tit for tatreprisal
recriminationredress
repaymentrequital
lex talionispayback
ultiona tooth for a tooth
40 more rows

What is the sentence for taste of your own medicine? ›

You are getting a taste of your own medicine! He got a taste of his own medicine when she decided to turn up late.

What is a sentence on a taste of your own medicine? ›

sampling the same unpleasantness they've been dishing out to others. Example of use: “I don't feel at all sorry that people are calling you names. You're getting a taste of your own medicine.

What meat is forbidden in the Bible? ›

Prohibited foods that may not be consumed in any form include all animals—and the products of animals—that do not chew the cud and do not have cloven hoofs (e.g., pigs and horses); fish without fins and scales; the blood of any animal; shellfish (e.g., clams, oysters, shrimp, crabs) and all other living creatures that ...

Why is pork forbidden in the Bible? ›

Indeed, in the Hebrew Bible, eating pork is not only unclean, it is treated as disgusting and horrific. The book of Isaiah associates it with death, idolatry, and sin (65:4; 66:3). Whatever the problem, it appears, in some way, to violate important cultural principles.

What is God's purpose for food? ›

In other words, God wants us to enjoyour food, not feel guilty or frustrated with it (Matthew 6:25-27)! Food is not the enemy. It is meant for our enjoyment and fellowship. So today, lets purpose to look at food through eyes of thankfulness, rather than feelings of deprivation and discontentment.

What are the 4 reasons we eat food? ›

Foods provide nutrients so we can grow and be active and healthy
  • energy for activity, growth, and all functions of the body such as breathing, digesting food, and keeping warm;
  • materials for the growth and repair of the body, and for keeping the immune system healthy.

What is the meaning of ready to eat food What should we be aware of in handling ready to eat food? ›

It is important to handle ready-to-eat food safely to protect it from harmful bacteria and allergens. Ready-to-eat food is food that will not be cooked or reheated before serving. This includes salads, cooked meats, smoked fish, desserts, sandwiches, cheese and food that you have cooked in advance to serve cold.

What can you say about the quotation you are what you eat explain and justify your answer? ›

The phrase 'You Are What You Eat' means that it is important to eat good food in order to be healthy and fit. Example of Use: “I'm feeling more energetic now that I've started eating more salad.” Answer: “You are what you eat!”

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