Let Food be thy Medicine…not thy Drug

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates

There is some wisdom in this statement but it’s becoming misunderstood. This is evident with the modern food and supplement industry putting a health claim on just about everything you can think of. It can be said that we no longer eat but rather we ‘dose’ certain items. This thinking has to change if we’re going to have a healthier and balanced attitude towards food and nutrition.

As a kid food is still food, you eat it because it tastes good, or because it’s ‘dinner time’, or because you might actually be hungry.

As we become adults many other factors come into play that start distorting our view of food. Some of us start medicating with food and use it to de-stress, or deal with emotional problems. It becomes a social tool, as well as a reward and punishment system. It can become an object to control when the rest of your life is out of control, and company when you are bored. It ceases to simply be ‘food’ and starts become ‘medicine’ for bad or for worse.

The most extreme distortion of food is when it transcends being food or medicine and starts to become a drug.

Food as Drug

If you view a food item as the sum of its vitamins, minerals, protein, carb, fiber and fat content, then you might just be seeing food more like a drug than as simply food or even as ‘medicine. You may be asking yourself: What is the difference between ‘medicine’ and ‘drug’.

This is what drugs look like

Medicine can come in many forms and provides a benefit in some way. Exercise can be medicine, a talk with a therapist can be medicine, a vacation from a stressful daily work routine can be therapeutic and considered medicine. Food can also be considered medicine when it provides a benefit to your overall system.

A drug on the other hand suggests a dose response. A dose response means that you can measure an increasing or changing effect and increases or changing doses of a given substance. For example: 5oo mg of tylenol will get rid of your headache, 50,000 mg might give you liver failure. This is a dose response.

Modern food and supplement marketing is starting to turn more and more foods into drugs. Now the chemical constituents of food can be extracted, concentrated and delivered in pill form. Instead of adding blueberries to meal, you can take the extract and get all the purported benefits. Or you can measure the exact ‘dose’ of blueberries required to get the supposed benefit.

This is starting to become common for more and more foods that we used to recognize simply as food. How many oranges does it take to get your daily ‘dose’ of vitamin C? How many servings grains does it take to get your daily ‘dose’ of fiber? How much chicken do you need to eat to get your daily ‘dose’ of protein and branched chain amino acids?

Viewing food as having a dose response changes it from being either food or even medicine into a drug. I think this is a destructive way to view food. Once you head down this path it is hard to regain a sense of what food is supposed to be. You will soon view all foods as a drug that is either for therapy or abuse. This leads to feelings of guilt and regret when you’re not eating the correct food/drug and the correct dose at the correct time of day…a truly miserable way to live.

There has to be a better way.

Food as Medicine 

This is what food looks like

Coming to a better understanding that food can be medicine but not a drug requires you to start viewing food as an interactive part of your life, but not something that must be dosed on a daily basis.

Eat the foods you like when you like but be mindful of the overall amount of food you eat.

Pay less attention to health claims and more attention to eating whole foods.

Focusing on variety and mixing different foods, spices and flavors instead of finding optimal doses of specific foods for specific health outcomes is yet another change that must be made to have a sensible and healthy view of what food should be.

Food can be considered medicine when you’ve got a balanced view of it. When you can eat it without guilt and still maintain your health and fitness goals. And most of all, when you stop viewing it as a drug.

John