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Healing Thyself: Using Food as Medicine

Posted by Sanjay Kumar on Fri, Jul 17, 2020  
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Healing Thyself: Using Food as Medicine

We are what we eat, is a well-worn shibboleth on daily health and living. It means that the health of humans is largely determined and governed by the quality of food we eat.

This practical wisdom finds ready validity in many of our ancient texts and tomes. It is through these traditional sources that we have come to learn the many beneficial and medicinal properties of foods and ingredients like berries, honey, lemon, ginger, garlic, turmeric, and scores of other fruits, seeds and plants.

Explicit associations between food and health also find mention in Ayurveda, India's traditional system of medicine with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent.

In fact, the very foundation of Ayurveda rests on the bulwark that food is central to regulating and governing the human bio-chemistry, which is a function of three fundamental bodily bio-elements or “doshas” called Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.

Our health, ayurveda believes, is a complex alchemy of the food we consume and the resultant bio-chemical reactions it triggers within the body. Different foods cause distinct bio-chemical reactions that can upset the equilibrium between the doshas, thus creating the grounds for illness and sickness in human beings. The central tenet of Ayurveda is that we can keep our bodies in good health by taking care not to upset the delicate equilibrium of our doshas, by being punctilious and judicious about the food we eat.

In recent years, the philosophy of treating food as medicine has come to gain popular traction. The concept has won new adherents and converts, particularly among the more health-focused Millennial generation who have been weaned on "health is wealth" philosophy like no other generation before. 

At the same time, the past few years have also seen a surge in health-consciousness among all sections of society, including those at the bottom of the social pyramid. Increasing numbers of people – young and old, rich and poor – are now buying food based on its perceived and real health benefits. As a result, food items like honey, olive oil, yogurt, quinoa, flax seeds, oatmeal, and many others have become almost kitchen staples everywhere.

Even everyday staples like rice, wheat, milk, salt, and others are being sold after being strengthened and fortified. The principle of "fortification of foods" has found eager takers and won wide acceptance among food and health regulators the world over as an effective nostrum for, and a critical intervention in, addressing the concerns of malnutrition and undernourishment in some sections of the population. By adding vitamins and minerals to food staples, food fortification has emerged as the silver bullet to addressing micronutrient deficiencies in populations at large.

On the other hand, food retailers and marketers are pulling out all the stops to cash in on this growing trend for health foods. Today, every food manufacturer is trying to invest the halo of health to their food products. It is the sure-shot recipe to success in food retailing.

And the proof is in the pudding. Ask any retailer about the fastest selling food category and the answer is a categorical nod to foods that are believed to promote health and well-being. So, you see a mounting demand for sugar-free foods, those that are gluten-free, and foods that claim to be natural and organic.

The growing epidemic of lifestyle-related diseases and disorders like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cardio-vascular ailments, Vitamin-D and other immuno-deficiencies is also prompting people to opt for foods that aid healthy lifestyles and boosts our immunity.

Honey is a good example of food that not very long ago was mainly used a prophylactic to alleviate symptoms such as cough and strep throat. Now, apart from its therapeutic attributes, honey has been reincarnated as a kitchen essential with multiple uses and myriad applications – from being a natural sweetener to a taste enhancer for all kinds of recipes.    

The "food as medicine" school of thought has also come into sharp focus thanks to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. The word on the street is that having a strong immunity helps to avert the lethal virus from crushing our immune system if we get infected. To what extent this claim may hold true, it cannot be denied that short of using medicines to ward off an illness, food remains our best bet to enjoy health and happiness.

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