Food as Medicine: Healthful Eating for Healthy Living

One of the best-kept secrets in healthcare is that “something as simple as the food on your plate can truly be medicine.”


Over the centuries food has been a central element in many traditional forms of medicine, which treated food as medicine until its role in curative medicine began to decline during the last century. The role of healthful eating in both preventative and therapeutic medicine has been documented in medical texts dating as far back as 500 BC.

A popular quote attributed to Hippocrates.

This popular phrase attributed to Hippocrates (460 BC to 370 BC) emphasizes the importance of healthy diets to prevent or cure disease. Ayurveda, one of the oldest healthcare systems that originated over three millennia ago in the Indian subcontinent, offers extensive insights about food and health based on certain unique conceptual as well as theoretical positions.

Healthful eating: Association of sub-optimal diets with disease

In my post, Chronic Diseases: the Silent Killers, I had highlighted that lifestyle-related chronic diseases are the leading killers globally, accounting for 70% of all deaths globally, in 2015. In another related post, Lifestyle-related Diseases: the Biggest Man-Made Disaster, I had discussed why these diseases can be labelled as man-made disasters. Here I had highlighted that bad lifestyle choices, including unhealthy diets, contribute to more than two-thirds of all major lifestyle-related diseases.

Several studies have examined the association of suboptimal diets with various lifestyle-related chronic diseases. A few of these will be discussed here briefly. A study titled ‘Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990-2017: a systematic analysis’ for the global burden of disease study 2017’ published in the journal The Lancet in April 2019, evaluated the consumption of major foods and nutrients across 195 countries to quantify the impact of their suboptimal intake on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) mortality and morbidity. The study found that globally, consumption of nearly all healthy foods and nutrients was suboptimal in 2017. The study found that globally in 2017, dietary risks were responsible for 11 million deaths (22% of all deaths among adults) and 255 million disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) (15% of all DALYs among adults). Cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of diet-related deaths (10 million deaths) and DALYs (207 million DALYs), followed by cancers (9,13,090 deaths and 20 million DALYs) and type 2 diabetes (3,38,714 deaths and 24 million DALYs). More than 5 million diet-related deaths (45% of total diet-related deaths) and 177 million diet-related DALYs (70% of total diet-related DALYs) occurred among adults aged younger than 70 years.

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