Food is Medicine - shame it is so rarely prescribed!
Food is the the most gentle of health interventions, yet often the most effective. In fact, I would say without a doubt that you cannot fully address any health condition without looking at a person’s diet - it really is the ultimate foundation of health.
I also want to add that 'Naturopathic Nutrition' is slightly different to mainstream dietetics - which is strongly bound by government guidelines (which in turn are co-incidentally heavily influenced by corporate interests). Naturopathic Nutrition is much more diverse and based on both scientific research and traditional knowledge - considering the diets of humans across the world throughout history. The treatment focus is also on real foods: natural wholefoods & nutrition-dense foods, where quality/ variety/ seasonality are all important. Finally, in Naturopathic Nutrition the priority is holistic health (looking at the health and functioning of the entire body not just focusing on the area of dysfunction). It has some similarities with Functional Nutrition – where the overall aim is to get to the underlying causes and restore normal functioning across the all the different organ systems.
Yes ... You are What you Eat
Oh that well known catchphrase from a certain TV show.... But true! What you put in literally becomes you... Plants and foods act on many levels and every cell in your body depends on a ready supply of certain nutrients. Our cells are constantly undergoing renewal (different tissues at different rates) so the quality of what you eat is pretty important! This is grossly oversimplified but as a brief introduction: mineral form your bones, teeth and nails; fats form hormones and cell membranes; protein forms lean muscle and neurotransmitters in the brain. The vitamins/ minerals/ phytochemicals from plants support all chemical reactions in the body and play diverse roles, from structural to functional to protective.
Not surprisingly, there is a lot of overlap between food and medicine; in fact many herbal medicines can be taken as food in the form of soups, teas, smoothies, seasoning... Sometimes ingesting small amounts of a medicinal plant on a regular basis (in your food) is the most effective and safest way of taking your medicine!
Nutrition is a minefield and there is unfortunately so much conflicting information out there, that confusion can result. This is in part thanks to the extensive corporate/political ties to the food industry (who promote dairy, grains, GM foods etc..) not to mention the media, who all too often publish inaccurate or misleading information. Then there are even well meaning therapists or bloggers who promote their own views on the internet. Finding direction in this fog can be an impossibility and this is where a qualified and experienced Naturopathic Nutritionist comes in mighty handy.
I like to advocate balance and quality when it comes to food, incorporating certain aspects from many schools of thought, from Weston A Price to the Paleolithic Diet to the Low GL diet to the Raw Food Diet etc... Each has it's own gems of wisdom and I like to consider things on balance. Naturopathy is holistic after all. I don't believe in eliminating entire food groups unless absolutely necessary (as in allergenic foods, gluten in cases of autoimmune disease or for the short term for certain therapeutic purposes). As I stress below - there is no single perfect diet. What works for one may not necessarily work for another and our requirements can change through the various life stages and circumstances.
Back to the Individual
So... as with herbs there is no ‘one fits all’. A good nutritionist/therapist will weigh up all the evidence and treat every case as an individual. Individual differences should always be taken into account, making adjustments to the treatment plan as necessary. This is a big part of Naturopathic philosophy. Sometimes it takes many months of experimentation to find the diet that best suits your needs. A good practitioner will guide you, perhaps referring you for further testing to help ascertain what foods may be problematic for you.
One thing I am especially passionate about is food quality and freshness. Today we are faced with pollution and toxicity levels like never before. Intensive farming, depleted soils, the use of artificial fertilizers/pesticides and extended food travel miles and storage times are a real threat to human health. There is no doubt that organic farming is much better for both human health and the wider environment. And shop local, support your regional farmers!
My stance on supplements? If you are in good health, feeling great, not taking medications, stress-free, living in an unpolluted area and eat a varied, nutrition dense and predominantly organic diet, then you probably need never take nutritional supplements! But how many of us can confidently say and honest YES to all of the above… The reality is that food is not what it used to be (due to modern farming methods) and we are exposed to levels of toxic chemicals/pollution like never before. To further add to this, many people have pre-existing health conditions (acute or chronic), perhaps take multiple medications, live hectic lives and experience high stress levels on a daily basis etc... Then to make things worse, during these times healthy eating falls way down on the list of priorities. So when you consider this, of course there are instances where certain supplements can be helpful! All I have to say is that quality is really important here - look for reputable companies and seek the advice of a qualified professional. I'm really particular about brands and only use those I trust.
'Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food'
Hippocrates, 5th Century BC