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Treating Food as Supplements

Your food is your nourishment, but you need to shake it up if you want to be healthy (and no, we aren’t talking shakes with whipped cream and cherries. Sorry).

Have you ever noticed that there are popular health food trends? It’s a little strange to think of a food item as trendy, but in my experience, this is a common phenomenon. For example, this year beets are all the rage, and last year the same was true of kale. It seems that every time a headline is printed about the health benefits of a specific phytonutrient found in a food, retailers rush to get that food into their stores and onto their menus. And modern nutrition keeps finding good things in plants. As the years tick by, it seems like we have an ever-growing list of must-eat-daily foods if we want to reap all the benefits they have to offer; like lycopene from tomatoes for prostate and breast cancer prevention, kiwis to lower blood pressure, resveratrol from grapes for longevity, and so on.

This attitude towards the things we eat makes sense because modern medicine focuses on a linear model of one disease, one treatment, and, in this case, one food for prevention. This model fits well with many other aspects of life, keeping things as streamlined and efficient as possible in an incredibly complex environment, but it can be detrimental when it applies to medicine treating chronic disease. So is it a good idea to think of food this way?

I would argue that no, not really. While finding new reasons to eat a healthy variety of whole plant foods is great (especially if it actually gets people to eat them), eating these foods in a regimented and prescribed fashion to reap a certain health benefit is a different matter. For starters, there is no historical reference for eating this way, since ancient populations have never had the knowledge or access to a variety of foods that we have today. With the exception of medicinal herbs, food was there to help you survive, and that was about it.

Another important thing to consider is nearly every fruit and vegetable could be considered a superfood. Yes, you can certainly make the case that some are more nutrient dense and health promoting than others, but just about every kind of whole plant we eat has some sort of unique benefit, be it an unusual antioxidant compound, a high concentration of a certain nutrient, or a medicinal effect on our bodies. It’s for this reason that a diverse whole food plant-based diet is so beneficial. When you eat a variety of these foods, you are getting a whole array of great health benefits in addition to everything your body needs to function!

Now, I won’t say that there is no merit to viewing some foods as extraordinary because of their specific health benefits. I just think this line of reasoning can make eating well much harder and more stressful than it needs to be. There are plenty of foods that confer well-documented health benefits from compounds they possess that can’t be found elsewhere (I’m looking at you, broccoli), and it’d be a good idea to eat these foods regularly. If you start to see your daily menu as a list of must-take-for-XYZ-benefit foods, you are at some point going to find your diet stressful and not very enjoyable. If you have the time, the money, and you’re a perfectionist type person who enjoys assembling a list of essential foods to build your diet around, then, by all means, go to town and enjoy the benefits these foods confer. Just keep in mind, you can get everything you need to live a long healthy life just by eating a varied whole foods plant based diet. It’s that simple.

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