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Food as medicine: Eating right can help us achieve holistic health, say experts


While exercise and sleep are both essential to improve overall well-being, food plays a powerful role in one’s journey to becoming holistically healthier.

In a panel webinar discussion on Wednesday titled “Sekaya Prescribing Nature Transforming your Life with Food,” health experts and lifestyle personalities shared insights on why and how food intake mattered in achieving overall wellness.

General internal medicine and Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM)-certified practitioner Dr. Oyie Balburias said food as medicine had been around and attributed to the great philosopher Hippocrates.

“It’s nothing new, it’s been there and our body is not just pieces of organs. Our body is made up of energy and information fields and it’s functioning as a system,” said Balburias.

With the body functioning as a system, Balburias said the body required a lot of substrates, or substances that an enzyme acts on to produce a chemical reaction, as defined by Cambridge Dictionary.

“Most of the substrates, like micronutrients, macronutrients, we get that from food. So of course we’re talking here about whole real and unprocessed foods,” the doctor added.

According to Balburias, we must eat food that is unprocessed and nutrient dense, or those “that contain vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.”

“Food is medicine, food is energy, food is information to our genes and definitely food is how we also communicate to one another,” he said.

However, Balburias said modern nutrition hadn’t been able to provide all of these substrates, which was why people were getting more prone to sickness.

“As I’ve mentioned, our body is functioning as one interconnected, interrelated and integrated systems,” he said.

“More than that, the way our body functions is ingrained into nature, so we have what you call chronobiology or circadian medicine. It’s hardwired to how it’s connected to nature, to life, so we cannot change that,” he added.

Balburias noted that nowadays, “the problem is the way we live right now is not aligned with how our body was designed. That’s why we’re getting sicker and sicker, mentally, emotionally and definitely physically.”

According to the doctor, the world does not only have a pandemic of infection disease, he said “we've been having an epidemic of chronic diseases, of chronic lifestyle related diseases, because everyone is nutrient deficient.”

Culinary medicine

Meanwhile, Dr. John La Puma, board-certified internal medicine physician and co-founder of ChefMD and Plant With a Doc, said culinary medicine, which “blends the art of cooking with the science of medicine to create retro quality meals,” could help prevent and treat disease.

La Puma said culinary medicine blended “different parts of medicine, nutrition and biochemistry and internal medicine and the other kinds of subspecialty into a way to cook healthy and cook simply without saying any one diet is the best diet.”

He added that culinary medicine wouldn’t tell people to “not eat meat” and “eat only plants.”

“It also embraces all styles of cooking, and all traditions of cooking, because each tradition of cooking has a wisdom in it that often has been buried,” said La Puma.

“Often the very healthiest cuisine is in fact your grandmother’s cuisine,” he said.

“So our task in culinary medicine is to help people rediscover the way to cook as a way to change their health,” he added.

According to La Puma, bringing some fields outside of traditional medicine into medicine including culinary arts, agriculture, and horticulture “contribute to how people get well to how they feel better and live in healthier, bigger and more embracing life.”

He said these non-medicine fields “have all something to say in medicine and I think it needs to be at the table, and needs to be written on prescription slips.”

“I’ve always been fascinated with things that are outside the science and challenge of trying to bring them in,” he added.

The proof of food’s power

For instance, functional and integrative medicine practitioner and Health Nest Integrative’s Dr. Rico Jose Manuel B. David or “Doc Bok” said right after he graduated from medicine school, he had a lot of health issues.

“I had obesity, diabetes, hypertension, skin disorders like acne and athopic dermatitis,” shared David.

Apart from his physical condition, David said he also had anxiety attacks and sleepless nights, making him reflect upon himself as a doctor.

“When I started to face a lot of patients in my own private practice, I saw myself, like I think I’m the patient, not the doctor,” he said.

David said after much reflection, he decided to venture into exercise.

The doctor said he lost as much as 50 lbs, but “I did not start with proper food intake, then it’s like burning a lot of calories while taking a lot of calories, also it’s like in and out.”

He shared that despite exercising, he still had some medical issues to face, which was why he decided to explore food which eventually helped him become healthier.

Meanwhile, JP Alipio, the first Filipino to finish the Dragon’s Back race, known as one of the toughest mountain races in the world, said his food intake had also changed his athletic performance for the better.

Alipio said normally, just like any other athletes, his diet tended to be meat heavy, thinking it contained a lot of protein.

Three years ago, however, he injured himself and it took him much longer to recover. The incident eventually led him to discover what adding greens and whole foods to his meals could do for his recovery.

“Essentially, I tried going fully vegetarian during that time and it really worked. For me personally, it made my healing process much faster,” said Alipio.

“Also for training, I found that I recovered quicker when I have a higher cleaner diet, not necessarily vegetarian,” he added.

The athlete said he went vegetarian for six months but since he couldn’t sustain it, he now consumed 70 percent vegetables and 30 percent meat.

“All whole foods, it’s real food, not processed food, and I found that I recovered quicker, my body responded better to the training,” said Alipio.

“Basically if you put garbage in, you also get garbage out no matter how much you train. You know you’re a hardcore athlete, you’re training at a high level, you’re constantly damaging your body every time you do training and you want your body to have the proper nutrients to rebuild itself every time you train,” he said.

“I just found that when I had all the right nutrients, my body was able to respond better and train better,” he added.

Alipio noted that eating processed foods could add to the inflammation previously accumulated from training and running. – RC, GMA News

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