Using Food as Medicine

03.06.2016 |

Episode #6 of the course How to live a healthy lifestyle by FutureLearn


Food has been used as medicine for thousands of years to help us grow, heal, repair, and live. More recently, scientists have spent years of research isolating different components of food in an attempt to understand their functions and find evidence for their medicinal properties. We now know that the micronutrients in food—vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals—are essential for keeping our bodies functioning. For some health conditions, there is now mounting evidence to show that certain foods can help to alleviate symptoms and even prevent some diseases from developing.


Phytochemicals are naturally occurring plant chemicals that have protective qualities for our health. Scientists are still learning about phytochemicals, but they have been shown to reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases developing, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and eye disease. We also know that they are best absorbed by the body when they are eaten as whole foods rather than in food supplements, and they are found in unprocessed fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and other plants. Many phytochemicals have antioxidant properties too, helping to stabilize damaging free radicals in the body.

Prebiotics and probiotics

Probiotics are often called “good” or “helpful” bacteria because they help to keep your digestive system healthy by moving food through your gut. They are live micro-organisms, with lactobacillus and bifidobacterium the most common types, and are typically sold as capsules. They can also be found in foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut. People use probiotics to help alleviate the symptoms of various conditions, most commonly gastrointestinal problems, certain allergies, and skin disorders. Conversely, prebiotics act like a fertilizer for probiotics, helping the good bacteria to grow. They are fibers from plant foods such as beans, lentils, and onions that the body can’t absorb or break down, and as a result, they serve as a great food source for the probiotics to grow, multiply, and survive.


“Superfoods” is a term originally used to describe nutrient-dense foods, but these days, it’s often used as a marketing term. Kale, quinoa, blueberries, and avocados have all been hailed as superfoods, but while they may seem new, all four have been around for centuries. There’s no doubt that they have great nutritional profiles, but you’ll find comparable foods in the supermarket that come without the superfood price tag. Quinoa, for example, is rich in fiber and a good source of B vitamins—as are all grains. It contains more protein and iron than some other grains, but you’ll get similar nutritional goodness from eating rice and beans.


Recommended free course

Food as Medicine


Recommended book

“10-Day Green Smoothie Cleanse” by Home Comforts


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