Insights Into How Food Heals


Food is medicine and medicine is food. To find out why, let’s step back in time to around 400 BC.

Hippocrates is considered the father of medicine and he coined the concept “Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food”.

You may remember the Hippocratic Oath that all doctors must obey, including “do no harm first.” This means that as a society we must also reap the health benefits of healing foods.


In this post I will literally take you through modern ideas and definitions of medicine and how food fits into the definition of medicine.

After all, food as medicine is at the core of my passion. Learn more about me.

To answer the question of whether or not food is medicine in modern terms, we need to understand the definition of medicine. Look no further than the dictionary and you will find the answer.


Food is medicine definition

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of medicine is:

a: “a substance used to treat a disease”


b: “something that affects well-being”

c: “Science and art dealing with the care of health and the prevention, alleviation or cure of disease”

d: “a substance used to treat something other than a disease”. This can be a traditional Indian belief, for example.


Let me reiterate: medicine is something that “affects our well-being”.

Not even the BIGGEST critics of the natural food movement and herbal therapies could argue that food is something that doesn’t affect our health.

How food is medicine fits our modern definition of medicine

Image of wooden lettering depicting food is medicine


Still wondering if food is medicine?

I think the sticking point for a lot of people is that they just believe medicines are drugs.

So let’s look at what a drug is. A drug or drug, as defined by, is:

  • “a substance used as a medicine or in the manufacture of medicines.”
  • “a substance intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or disease prevention.”

According to Wikipedia, the definition of a drug is:

“A drug is anything that can alter your physiology or psychology when consumed.”

The FDA further differentiates:

  • “a substance other than food intended to affect the structure or function of the body.”


Regardless of this latest FDA statement, food can serve as medicine in every sense.

The journey to healing involves food as medicine

When you think of the concept of healing, do you think of medicine or food?

I think of food and herbs. They can be deficient in nutrients from foods, leading to impaired healing. In contrast, no one has ever had a drug deficiency.

I spent 7 years studying in detail the physiology of food in the body in graduate school and more than 20 years beyond. It still amazes me to this day that food and drugs were so separated in our culture.

Many promising research reports on nutrition have even been passed off as nutrition quackery by those who don’t read nutrition research.

Rather than abandoning these studies, I’m here to share with you how food is medicine.

Food is medicine examples

Remember that the definition of medicine in the dictionary is anything used to treat disease.

Food as medicine is not only necessary for good health, it is also useful in preventing and treating chronic diseases, according to the World Health Organization.

Today, our eating habits have an effect on almost all the consequences of diseases.

In fact, I can’t think of any disease that is NOT influenced by food and diet. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about.

While these are just a few examples, I can think of countless ways food is medicine in our bodies. It’s time for public health to take back its narrative on how best to heal our bodies with a medical approach to nutrition.

In other words, healthy eating is a major contributor to healing.

How does food as medicine support vital processes?

When we eat healthily, our body receives a lot of biochemical information. Nutrient-dense foods change, as our bodies age, how likely we are to get a chronic diseases such as heart disease or cancer.

Eating a healthy diet can even help repair neurons, as shown in early research into Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease [R].

Nutritional therapy is central to rapid healing, a strong immune system, reducing inflammation, and more. When we think of food as medicine, it changes the way we look at and respect our bodies. We pay more attention to what we put into our bodies.

Another very simple example of food acting like medicine is potassium, an essential mineral found in food. Food helps the heart pump. Potassium is one of many nutrients found in foods that do this, including the following foods:

  • bananas
  • potatoes
  • kiwi
  • citrus
  • Black beans
  • meat
  • yogurts

Does Potassium Cure Diseases? Of course it does! Every hospital keeps it ready in times of body exhaustion. You might as well give a patient a plate of vegetables and fruits and get a better effect. But I digress.

How does food support growth and repair?

A healthy diet is good for you prevention and treatment of diseases.

We repair our bodies from viral and bacterial attacks by getting enough nutrients. A good example of this is how zinc, an essential nutrient found in foods, shortens the duration of colds by 40%. [R].

We can also help prevent and treat mental health with good food.

Any good psychiatrist knows that a patient who does not eat well will not perform well mentally. Our brain uses omega-3 fatty acids from fish to work for the transmission, release and control of serotonin and dopamine in the body. This means that fish oil is an essential part of preventing and treating depression. [R].

Categories of food as medicine

Consider the following categories of food medicine:

  • Non-starchy vegetables
  • root
  • fruit
  • nuts
  • seed
  • Spices
  • Herbs
  • meat
  • fishes
  • fats

Medically tailored meals contain varying ratios of these foods to aid in healing depending on the health conditions at hand.

Food medicines almost always come from these whole foods, but can be supplemented with functional nutrients, herbs, and spices.

Just like medicines, some foods have negative health effects

“Those who take medicine and neglect their diet are wasting the skills of their doctors.”

Chinese proverb

While some foods are medicinal, processed foods and a poor diet tend to have more of a toxic “side effect profile” than drugs can for our bodies.

In the grocery store, we are exposed to more processed foods by the day, and people have to make choices about what to allow and what not to put into their bodies at almost every turn.

These processed foods, if not eaten in very small amounts, exponentially increase the rates of type 2 diabetes. Not only that, long-term statin drugs also increase the risk of diabetes, according to research. While these medications may be necessary, they themselves are not without health risks. Medicinal foods often do not pose as much risk.

Related Post: Are Diet Supplements Quackery? How to Rate (

A personal note on food as medicine

Everything I was taught in conventional dietetics at a reputable school supported the idea that food is medicine.

But medical schools didn’t teach much about food or nutrition.

That was over 20 years ago.

Fast forward to today. The medical costs of obesity and diet-related diseases are reducing healthcare.

We need more nutrition education

According to the Texas Medical Center, nutritionists are still arguing for the medical establishment to change.

Her publication describes the great need for nutrition education for medical students.

In grad school, I always thought to myself, why do nutritionists study so much critical medicine and keep it from the doctors who have the greatest influence on health decisions?

I still wonder about these things.

And I still shake my head daily, not at the fallacy of the concept of food as medicine, but at the fallacy that some people think food is NOT medicine.

  • Denying that food is medicine has cost us so much in terms of health outcomes and quality of life.
  • A lack of education and awareness costs money. Yes, it costs a lot of money to deny that food is medicine. Because you know what?

Food is THE medicine that we as a society are currently lacking.

Related Post: The Power of One: The Power of Eating | The healthy RD

Summary of Food is medicine

Food is medicine by definition. Putting it that way, it’s much easier to place value on the foods we put into our bodies every day. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy processed foods occasionally, but that most of our diets should get the respect and attention they deserve.

This post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Always discuss your diet and lifestyle changes with your doctor.

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