Food as medicine
I recently had to spend an unanticipated couple of days in Memorial Medical Center. Aside from the unpleasant and painful circumstances that precipitated my visit to the ER, my experience was actually quite pleasant. In contrast to the pale, green sterile drabness of my hospital rotation in dental school 40 years ago, Memorial felt more like a stay in a nice hotel.
One would think that all the advances in health care would result in us being able to live happy, healthy, longer lives. I hate to pop the bubble, but sadly, the opposite is true. In December 2016, the National Center for Health Statistics announced that for the first time since 1993, life expectancy had declined in the United States. A special report in the New England Journal of Medicine predicted that for the first time in over two centuries, children would have shorter life spans than their parents. Why is this? Put down your Diet Cokes and Doritos for a moment and ponder the following statistics. Six of the 10 leading causes of death are directly related to our diets: heart disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and kidney disease. And equally disturbing, rates of childhood obesity, diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and even heart disease are surging.
Medical science is advancing, but industrial food science and the effects of eating its highly processed foods are progressing faster. We are all in canoes trying to paddle upstream against an increasingly rapid current.
For years, we have been told that the solution to many of our chronic health problems was to consume fewer calories and get more exercise. So we started drinking diet sodas. Then we found out that artificial sweeteners are bad for us, so we switched to bottled water. Then we were told that the plastic bottle we are drinking from is made with bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic compound used to make plastics and epoxy resins. Alarmingly, BPA acts like a hormone and interferes with our endocrine system and appears be an “obesogen,” which means it causes weight gain no matter how few calories you consume. So the FDA bans BPAs in baby bottles and sippy cups and the food industry responds by replacing it with bisphenol S, which ends up having the same kind of deleterious effects in the bodies of children and adults alike. Do you see the pattern here? The food industry is leading us down a dark path. And the only way back is to start eating real food, cooked from scratch.
A 2010 report found that of the 34 nationalities considered, Americans spend the least amount of time cooking, an average of 30 minutes a day. What’s more, many people don’t really know how to cook, they only know how to heat things up. This results in a dependence on packaged foods with high sugar and salt content, unhealthy fats and chemical additives. Unhealthy substances even exist in the packaging.
What we choose to eat can either be medicine or poison. For far too long, the focus of medical science has been to prescribe medications to manage the symptoms of chronic disease, rather than addressing the root cause, which is consumption of industrialized processed foods.
The thought of cooking one’s own food can be daunting. It’s easy to find excuses not to. “I don’t know how.” “I don’t have time.” I can’t afford it.” “I don’t want to give up my potato chips and soda.” As with tobacco, it’s going to require a cultural shift. It will happen, but it’s going to take a grassroots movement. The processed food and pharmaceutical industries are too powerful and won’t give up their huge slice of the pie without a fight. The insurance compensation model is slanted towards treating illness, rather than preventing it. The FDA is heavily influenced by the industries it is supposed to control and regulate.
A grass roots movement is taking place right now in Springfield. Ten years ago, Mike Suhadolnik, a trainer at Springfield’s CrossFit Instinct, began a program called Doctors Get Fit. His mission was to teach health care providers to care for themselves through nutritional modification and guided exercise. Over several years of study, refinement and exchange of information, a successful protocol was developed that has helped many people reverse chronic diseases without drugs.
In 2017, Suhaldolnik took the lessons and experiences of Doctors Get Fit and established the FASTERS program, applying those same principles to the general public. The FASTERS program, which is offered totally without cost, is now beginning its second year and numbers over 300 members. For over a year, without missing a single day, Suhadolnik has sent out an educational, motivational message or email to every participant in the program. He has also hosted monthly support group meetings where further exchange of information and motivation occurs.
Suhadolnik’s program has garnered attention across the country and is providing a model for programs in other communities. The FASTER protocol, in addition to daily “off the couch” mobility exercise, includes the following dietary guidelines:
• No processed foods
• No dairy
• No grains
• No sugar
• Fruit limited to berries and green apples
• Some starch (black rice, potatoes)
• Balanced ratio of macronutrients (30 percent protein, 30 percent fat, 40 percent carbohydrates)
• Protein (fish, fowl, eggs, minimize red meat)
• Fats (nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, unprocessed coconut oil, unprocessed olive oil)
• Carbohydrates (all plant-based vegetables, especially richly-colored and tons of leafy greens)
• Hydration (minimum of 128 ounces of water throughout the day)
The protocol also recommends dedicating eight hours or less for meals, with no snacking, and the remaining 16 hours or more for fasting. This should include fasting at least two hours before bedtime. The idea is to vary, as much as possible, the split between fasting and eating.
Suhadolnik explains, ”Following the protocol makes it possible for us to shut down our production of insulin, allow our energy system a pause to unload the toxins, become insulin-sensitive again and soon regain and maintain our health.”
Applying the FASTER protocol to everyday life and achieving independence from processed foods requires cooking skills beyond just knowing how to operate a microwave. Bon Appetit magazine’s website has a useful section that focuses on healthy recipes and cooking techniques (www.bonappetit.com/healthyish). Lincoln Land Community College’s Culinary Institute at the Springfield campus offers healthy eating classes to the general public. They can be contacted at 217-786-2292. My column in Illinois Times will continue its mission to promote healthy eating and food preparation.
Contact Peter Glatz at firstname.lastname@example.org