FOOD Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.
If you want to be healthy, one of the most powerful tools at your disposal is your fork. What you choose to put in your mouth has a direct impact on your long-term risk for developing chronic diseases.
According to the American Heart Association, the National Cancer Institute, the World Cancer Research Fund, and the World Health Organization, up to 80 percent of heart disease and a third of all cancers could be prevented with a healthy diet and lifestyle. Those are staggering statistics. If I told you I had a pill that could cut your chances of getting cancer by 30 percent and a heart attack by 80 percent without any harmful side effects, would you take it? Of course you would! Although there’s no guarantee that a healthy diet will prevent you from ever getting sick, I think most of us want to do what we can to stack the odds in our favor.
Over the past decades, we have lived through the low-fat, calorie-counting, carb-counting, Atkins, South Beach, Zone, raw foods, caveman (Paleolithic), and Eat Right for Your Blood Type approaches to food. Many foods have been vilified: eggs, meat, fish, bread, cheese, milk, and anything with sugar. People repeatedly tell me that they’re confused by all this. And I tell them that eating healthy isn’t that complicated if you understand the basics.
I’m not a certified nutritionist or professional chef. I’m a home cook, mother, and physician. I love delicious food and reject the notion that healthy food equates with boring and bland. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. My kitchen is stocked with spices, healthy oils, fresh organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, and humanely raised organic poultry and dairy products. Every time I sit down to eat a meal, I see it as an opportunity to replenish my energy, provide my body with the nutrients it needs to function optimally, and quiet my mind. Food is more than just the sum of its grams of carbohydrates and proteins, calories, vitamins, and minerals. It is a celebration of life, friends, and family.
I like to play soft music, light candles, and set the table nicely for dinner. I treat evening meals as special occasions, because they’re our time for family conversation and for catching up on the happenings of the day. This is not the time to argue with our partner or lecture our kids about grades or homework. It’s a time to celebrate our togetherness. I’m saddened by the statistics that show many families don’t sit down together for even one evening meal a week. Whether the family is two people or a house filled with children, sharing food and conversation is central to healthy relationships.
We’re all busy, so adjusting schedules can be a major undertaking, but ensuring that our families eat dinner (or breakfast) together most—or at least some—days of the week can be done if it’s important to us. My husband is one of nine children, and his father was a busy vascular surgeon in Omaha, Nebraska. Coordinating dinner for 11 people was no easy task for his mother, given all the after- school activities, the sporting events, and the long working hours of her husband. But both parents made dinnertime a priority.
Children were to be at the table by six—be there or be grounded was the rule! My father-in-law would join the family for dinner before returning to the hospital to do his rounds. This allowed everyone a chance to check in about school and upcoming events and simply to reconnect with one another. Those mealtimes together provided nourishment that went far beyond the content of the food.
Studies repeatedly show that the single strongest factor in higher achievement scores and fewer behavioral problems in children of all ages is having more mealtime at home. A study by Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that teenagers who shared fewer than three dinners a week with their families were almost four times more likely to use tobacco, more than twice as likely to use alcohol, and two and a half times more likely to use marijuana, when compared with teens who had five to seven dinners a week with family. When interviewed, most children report that the interaction and togetherness are the best parts of the meal. The busier our lives become, the more important it is to carve out protected time.
Excerpted from Life Is Your Best Medicine by Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., with a Foreword by Andrew Weil, M.D.. Copyright © 2012 by Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., with a Foreword by Andrew Weil, M.D.. Excerpted by permission of National Geographic, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.