Food as Medicine: Harnessing the Power of Nutrition to Prevent Non-Communicable Diseases

Non-communicable diseases such as mental illness, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are becoming increasingly common in today's fast-paced world. Noncommunicable diseases are responsible for around 41 million deaths per year, or 74% of all deaths worldwide.  (WHO, 2022). These chronic conditions not only affecting the individual’s quality of life but also imposing great economic burden on individual, his family and society as a whole. Although a number of factors have a role in various health issues, one important part that frequently goes neglected is our food choices. Our general health and well-being are significantly impacted by the food we consume, and can either encourage or prevent the emergence of non-communicable diseases. We have the ability to make profound changes in our health and stop the progression of these diseases by utilizing nutrition and viewing food as medication. This blog explores that how making informed dietary choices can positively influence our wellbeing.

A diet rich in whole foods has been linked to a lower risk of NCD’s, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. The vital vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber found in these nutrient-rich meals help our immune systems, lessen inflammation, and regulate various bodily functions (Ruthsatz & Candeias, 2020). On the other side, a higher risk of NCDs has been associated with diets rich in processed foods, unhealthy fats, added sugars, and sodium (Gramza-Michałowska, 2020). By choosing wholesome, unprocessed foods and avoiding or minimizing unhealthy choices, we can significantly reduce our susceptibility to these diseases.

A healthy diet with whole, unprocessed foods is like preventive medicine. These meals are a good source of antioxidants and other key elements that the body needs to function at its best. A number of foods, including whole grains, fruits, and vegetables have anti-inflammatory effects that reduce the chance of developing chronic diseases. The risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes can be decreased by eating a diet high in whole grains, fiber, lean meats, and healthy fats. Avoiding excessive consumption of processed carbohydrates and refined sugars is crucial for preventing these conditions. The risk of obesity-related NCDs is reduced by eating nutrient-dense foods and maintaining a healthy weight.

There is a strong relationship between nutrition, gut microbiota and prevention of non-communicable diseases. The trillions of microbes in our gut, collectively referred to as the gut microbiota, interact with the nerve cells in our gut and communicate with the brain via the gut-brain axis. The good bacteria in our gut flourish when we eat a healthy, balanced diet. As a result, the microbiota becomes more diverse, which improves our immune system and lessens chronic inflammation, a significant contributor to non-communicable diseases. Additionally, short-chain fatty acids are also produced by the gut flora. that have anti-inflammatory properties, protecting against NCDs. Additionally, some gut bacteria break down dietary substances like polyphenols to create compounds that can pass the blood-brain barrier. The brain is benefited by these compounds, which improve cognitive function and protect against neurodegenerative diseases. By consuming a diet high in nutrients, we can use food as medicine to promote a healthy gut flora and prevent non-communicable diseases.

Your overall health can be significantly improved by making healthier dietary choices on a daily basis. Here are some helpful tips to assist you in making adjustments for positive change:

Meal Planning and Preparation

Plan your meals in advance and prioritize cooking at home using fresh, whole ingredients. This approach gives you better control over the quality and quantity of your meals. By preparing your own meals, you can avoid the temptations of unhealthy fast food or takeout options.

Reading Food Labels

Make it a habit to read food labels so you can make educated decisions about what you eat. Pay close attention to the quantity of sodium, bad fats, and added sugars in the products you purchase. In the ingredient list, look for little processing and recognizable ingredients. Foods that are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals are generally healthier options. Being aware of what you put in your body enables you to make healthier choices and avoid foods that may negatively impact your health.

Mindful Eating

Eating mindfully will help you develop a better relationship with food and prevent overeating. Spend some time eating gently and enjoying each bite. To control your eating habits, pay close attention to your signs of hunger and fullness. You may make more deliberate decisions and prevent mindless eating by becoming aware of your eating patterns as well as the feelings of hunger and satisfaction. By appreciating the tastes, scents, and textures of your meal, you can stimulate your senses. Healthy food choices are supported by mindful eating, which also improves your whole dining experience.

It's time to reclaim the power of food as medicine, where our plates are filled with processed and convenient foods. The choices we make at mealtime can either cause disease or spark healing within our bodies. Let's fuel ourselves with the delightful abundance of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains so that we can realize the incredible power of food to protect our health and wellbeing. Together, let's make the decision to eat our way to a healthy future.

References

Gramza-Michałowska, A. (2020). The Effects of Ultra-Processed Food Consumption—Is There Any Action Needed? Nutrients, 12(9), 2556. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12092556

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "Healthy Eating Plate." Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/

Ley, S. H., Hamdy, O., Mohan, V., & Hu, F. B. (2014). Prevention and management of type 2 diabetes: dietary components and nutritional strategies. The Lancet, 383(9933), 1999–2007. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(14)60613-9

Ruthsatz, M., & Candeias, V. (2020). Non-communicable disease prevention, nutrition and aging. Acta Bio-medica : Atenei Parmensis, 91(2), 379–388. https://doi.org/10.23750/abm.v91i2.9721

Wikipedia contributors. (2023, May 20). Gut-brain axis. In Wikipedia. Retrieved May 20, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gut–brain_axis

World Health Organization: WHO. (2022). Noncommunicable diseases. www.who.int. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/noncommunicable-diseases

 

 

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About Author

Shabila Ali is currently a Master of Science in Nursing student at the Aga Khan University, School of Nursing and Midwifery in Karachi, Pakistan. She completed her Bachelor's of Science in Nursing from Liaquat National College of Nursing, Karachi. She has gained extensive experience in both in-patient and ambulatory care units at Aga Khan Hospital. Presently, she holds the position of Clinical Head at Infinite Wellness PK.

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