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Carrie Grant on food as medicine

carrie-3I cannot recall attending a Health Conference in the past twenty years that contained as much passion as “Food the Forgotten Medicine.” The College of Medicine has clearly hit a nerve.

There was a sense of excitement, exploration and new beginnings in the room as we looked at what we put into our bodies and the impact on our health, for better or worse.

Duncan Selbie Chief Exec , Public Health England in his keynote said, “Food needs to be the top priority health issue in the UK.”

Stating the obvious but, unlike cigarettes or alcohol, food is a constant requirement for every person. As consumers we often think we know best, we normalise eating to excess, sugar addiction and mass consumption of foods with absolutely no benefit whatsoever to our bodies but actually do them harm.  Something has to change.

The cancer rates for those leading a healthy lifestyle are reduced by 60%.

Prof Annie Anderson, Prof Public Health Nutrition and Founder of the Scottish Cancer Prevention network said that there will always be those who eat all and everything and don’t get cancer and those who lead a really healthy life but unfortunately still get cancer, however we cannot use this as an excuse not to change. The cancer rates for those leading a healthy lifestyle are reduced by 60%. She argues there would be a revolution in healthcare if there was a drug that had this level of efficacy.

Taking a course of anti-biotics wipes out 1,200 of the microbes from our microbiome.

The highlight of the day was Prof Tim Spector’s keynote on microbes. Punchy headline comments like “there is only 1% difference in our DNA but our personal gut microbiome is entirely unique,” “Taking a course of anti-biotics wipes out 1,200 of the microbes from our microbiome,” “There is a fat busting microbe,” “We start life with a completely clean microbiome slate.” “How to increase your micro-biodiversity,”…..I wanted to eat up all this new information!

It’s hard to find balance in the field of food and nutrition, on the extreme end are the militant tutters, judging everything and everyone who eats the slightest of unhealthy foods and on the other a large number of “don’t tell me how to live my life” consumers. So what and how do we bring about change?

Hospital food needs to change – end of. Supermarkets – need to put public health before profit – end of.

  • Healthy eating can have a positive impact on health outcomes both as a preventer and for treatment of illnesses. That’s a fact.
  • All healthcare providers should have an understanding of the role of diet and nutrition and for many cases this should be a first port of call in discussions on a patient’s health. It demands coming out of the comfort zone of constantly prescribing medication. Dr Andrew Well from the University of Arizona reckons we could lower the prescription rate by 50% if we were given dietary advice instead. GP, consultant, specialist nurse, (and sadly some dieticians) should all be fully knowledgeable on the latest scientific discoveries and advice.
  • Equally, many patients have no clue about how to eat or cook healthily. People need to be educated without judgment.
  • Hospital food needs to change – end of.
  • Supermarkets – need to put public health before profit – end of.
  • Patients are far more likely to understand self-management if diet and lifestyle changes are included. Nutritional changes can provide a great basis for collaboration and feelings of empowerment.

In conclusion, food may not exactly be the forgotten medicine but it is certainly the overlooked and marginalised. It’s time to bring food right into the centre, under the spotlight.

© Carrie Grant

4 thoughts on “Carrie Grant on food as medicine

  1. Dani

    Brilliant! Education with proven knowledge around correct foods to eat is vital. I would love to see children be motivated to eat well ,patients to be offered good nourishing food. My age group were brought up to engage with a high carb intake,sweets, cakes etc plentiful. So I guess parents should also be encouraged to monitor various food intake. Chewing your food slower and eating from a smaller plate definitely helps.
    I can definitely notice the difference when I over indulge with sweet things and high carbs. I am now following a much healthier eating plan and notice I have more energy and my memory is better plus I sleep deeper and longer.

  2. sue hunter

    Great work, Carrie. I think that we were the first generation to experience fast food and processed food. I feel the Government should lower the price on healthy foods, and up the price on “unhealthy foods’.
    I think the reason for people not cooking is they are reluctant to, as takeaway meals are so readily accessible and cheap. I remember watching Jamie Oliver tackling this issue, and felt the girls feeding their toddlers were lazy!!! Sorry, I am probably wrong, but that was the impression I got watching them and what they said.
    I also feel the difference when I eat too much processed food, and try hard to limit my girl’s intake, too, but sometimes a treat is necessary!

    Good luck with your cause and all your hard work.

  3. Ladey Adey

    Well said Carrie. We see the concern for diabetes amongst other concerns within public health, the amount of sugar which is in processed foods is incredible.

    what we eat is so important for everyone – to live well is to eat well.

    Thank you – great blog

  4. anton borg

    I was one of the delegates; I was as impressed by the conference as Carrie; so much so that I have joined the College’s council!
    The one missing participant in the conference was the food indusrty itself; the major food suppliers were invited but did not attend. Today’s World at One news broadcast on the BBC carried a report about the NFU’s complaint about Tesco’s use of fictitious farm names as a form of promotion. We need to find a way of pressurising supermarkets into becoming more involved in the campaign for healthier eating. Pressure needs to be applied on outfits like Smith’s which always have large chocolate bars on the checkout and attempt to flog them to customers at every opportunity. Pressure also needs to be applied to regulate the herbal medicine industry to support the British Herbal Medicine Association’s campaign to demand minimum pharmaceutical standards of production for herbal products sold throughout the UK; the BHMA’s THR quality mark is an excellent example of what can be done to protect consumers.