Changing the conversation about health
Register for Alerts

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