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Cooking Your Way Out of Disease

Cooking Your Way Out of Disease

The slow insidious displacement of home cooked and communally shared family meals by the industrial food system has fattened our nation and weakened our family ties.

The Great Life Cookbook, written my oldest dearest college friends with whom I shared countless communal meals over 30 years ago, is the catalyst that can turn this tide and help Americans take back their kitchens, take back their homes, and rebuild community and connection. Health happens in community.

In 1900, 2 percent of meals were eaten outside the home. In 2010, 50 percent were eaten away from home and one in five breakfasts is from McDonald’s. Most family meals happen about three times a week, last less than 20 minutes, and are spent watching television or texting while each family member eats a different microwaved “food”. More meals are eaten in the minivan than the kitchen.

Research shows that children who have regular meals with their parents do better in every way, from better grades, to healthier relationships, to staying out of trouble. They are 42 percent less likely to drink, 50 percent less likely to smoke, and 66 percent less likely to smoke marijuana.

Regular family dinners protect girls from bulimia, anorexia, and diet pills. Family dinners also reduce the incidence of childhood obesity. In a study on household routines and obesity in U.S. pre-school aged children, it was shown that kids as young as four have a lower risk of obesity if they eat regular family dinners, have enough sleep, and don’t watch TV on weekdays.

We complain of not having enough time to cook, but Americans spend more time watching cooking on the Food Network, than actually preparing their own meals.

In his series Food Revolution, Jamie Oliver showed us how we have raised a generation of Americans who can’t recognize a single vegetable or fruit, and don’t know how to cook. The family dinner has been hijacked by the food industry. The transformations of the American home and meal outlined above did not happen by accident.

Broccoli, peaches, almonds, kidney beans, and other whole foods don’t need a food ingredient label or bar code, but for some reason these foods – the foods we co-evolved with over millennia – had to be “improved” by food science.

As a result, the processed-food industry and industrial agriculture has changed our diet, decade by decade, not by accident but by intention. That we need nutritionists and doctors to teach us how to eat is a sad reflection of the state of society. These are things our grandparents knew without thinking twice about them.

What foods to eat, how to prepare them, and an understanding of why you should share them in family and community have been embedded in cultural traditions since the dawn of human society.

One hundred years ago all we ate was local, organic food; grass-fed, real, whole food. There were no fast-food restaurants, there was no junk food, there was no frozen food—there was just what your mother or grandmother made. Most meals were eaten at home. In the modern age that tradition, that knowledge, is being lost.

The sustainability of our planet, our health, and our food supply are inextricably linked. The ecology of eating – the importance of what you put on your fork – has never been more critical to our survival as a nation or as a species. The earth will survive our self-destruction. But we may not.

Common sense and scientific research lead us to the conclusion that if we want healthy bodies we must put the right raw materials in them: real, whole, local, fresh, unadulterated, unprocessed, and chemical-, hormone-, and antibiotic-free food. There is no role for foreign molecules such as trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup, or for industrially developed and processed food that interferes with our biology at every level.

That is why I believe the most important and the most powerful tool you have to change your health and the world is your fork. Imagine an experiment  – let’s call it a celebration: We call upon the people of the world to join together and celebrate food for one week.

For one week or even one day, we all eat breakfast and dinner at home with our families or friends. For one week we all eat only real, whole, fresh food. Imagine for a moment the power of the fork to change the world.  Imagine if we shared something as simple as sharing meals together – guided by The Great Life Cookbook – how that might transform lives bringing nourishment and healing for body, mind, and spirit.

The extraordinary thing is that we have the ability to move large corporations and create social change by our collective choices. We can reclaim the family dinner, reviving, and renewing it. Doing so will help us learn how to find and prepare real food quickly and simply, teach our children by example how to connect, build security, safety and social skills, meal after meal, day after day, year after year.

Give yourself, your family, and your community the gift of healing and start a supper club, a small communal dinner of shared company, conversation, and culinary delights guided by The Great Life Cookbook.

Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below – but remember, we can’t offer personal medical advice online, so be sure to limit your comments to those about taking back our health!

To your good health,

Mark Hyman, MD


National Statistics and Data on Family Meals: Trends in Intake, Frequency and Portion

Young, Lisa R., Nestle, Marion. “The Contribution of Expanding Portion Sizes to the US Obesity Epidemic,”Am J Public Health. 2002 February; 92(2): 246–249.

Ogden, Cynthia, L., Fryar, Cheryl D., Carroll, Margaret, D. Flegal, Katherine, M. “Mean Body Weight, Height, and Body Mass Index, United States” CDC Advanced Data Statistic. 2004 October; 347: 1960–2002.

Fiese, Barbara H., Schwartz, Marlene.  Reclaiming The Family Table: Mealtimes and Child Health and Wellbeing,” Society For Research in Child Development Social Policy Report. 2008; 22(4).

Impact of family meals on eating disorders

Newmark-Sztainer, D. et al. Family Meals and Disordered Eating in Adolescents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med/Vol. 162 (No. 1) Jan 2008.

Newmark-Sztainer, D. et al. Are Family Meal Patterns Associated with Disordered Eating Behaviors Among Adolescents? Journal of Adolescent Health 2004, 35(5): 350-359.

Impact of family meals on Emotional Adjustment and Adolescent Behavior

Newmark-Sztainer, D. et al. Family Meal Patterns: Associations with sociodemographic characteristics and improved dietary intake among adolescents. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Mar 2003, Vol. 103 (No. 3).

Fiese, Barbara H., Schwartz, Marlene.  Reclaiming The Family Table: Mealtimes and Child Health and Wellbeing,” Society For Research in Child Development Social Policy Report. 2008; 22(4).

Mark Hyman MD is the Medical Director at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, the Founder of The UltraWellness Center, and a ten-time #1 New York Times Bestselling author.

Comments (27)

  • Eating the right food definitely paves the way for a major transformation.It’s been exactly seven months since I ‘ve stopped eating sugar in all forms,reduced the intake of carbohydrates and dont even sight the fizzy drinks.I enjoy the brisk walk on the threadmill and delighted to have shed the extra pounds. I eat in small portions and snack on fruits and I am glad that my efforts didnt go to waste.I have brought down my A1c from 7.8 to 4.9.

  • I am in complete agreement with Dr. Hyman, one of the most sacred places inside human society is the dinner table. More than 10 years ago, when I became seriously ill, I made a commitment to myself that my husband and I would share a sit down, homecooked dinner every night. I started assembling recipes and learning how to cook. Within a few months it was clear our health, marriage, and lives were improving. Just knowing that we will have time each night to sit down and “talk about it” is consoling to our mind/bodies. Let’s restore the dinner table!!

  • My daughter is 22 and has cooked her own meals (she is a vegetarian) for years. I am proud that I didn’t raise her to eat packaged, processed foods but I also didn’t limit her. I allowed her to make her own decisions about food and gee guess what? She chose wisely. I am NOT a vegetarian (under doctors orders to have animal protein for my health) and yet she is. And is healthy healthy healthy! Oh and I just lost 30 lbs so I am too!

    Keep putting this stuff out there Mark.

  • Amen!
    People need to wake up to what is going on in their homes and decide they want to lead a healthy family! I know I’m in the process of really shaking up my health through good food. It is so important that my husband and I eat meals together as a family with our 3 young daughters as often as we can.
    It breaks my heart daily to see the amount of people – not just adults – but kids as young as 2 and 3 who are OBESE! Wake up and take control! I pray that people will be inspired to take control of their health and lead the life that can be full of joy and blessings!

  • So true !!! Here in NZ the fast food thing is a few years behind USA but heading in the same direction. We are fortunate in that our farm animals are mostly grass fed and live outdoors, thus not needing the amount of antibiotics that housed cattle need. Also, there is less pollution, because of less people and less industry, but we need to take more care, because both are increasing.

  • I’d like to know if it’s true that our present day wheat was genetically modified as is really bad for you. Is the organic whet ok to eat.

  • Isn’t Dr. Hyman the best ever!! Over the years we have been given many good ideas, but Dr. Hymans ideas are specific, direct and global for both ourselves and our families.

    Thank you for being direct and telling the hard truth about the food we consume and what to watch out for and what to avoid – the detail that you provide make a big differenence between just reading the article or actually applying the information to our every day lives.

  • Isn’t Dr. Hyman the best ever!! Over the years we have been given many good ideas, but Dr. Hymans ideas are specific, direct and global for both ourselves and our families.

    Thank you for being direct and telling the hard truth about the food we consume and what to watch out for and what to avoid – the detail that you provide make a big differenence between just reading the article or actually applying the information to our every day lives.

  • Great article, and as Margeth said, “So true!!!”

    The greatest conversations happen at the dinner table. Technology has picked up and taken over. Fast food, fast-paced scheduled packed lives just don’t take the time to sit down and eat REAL FOOD.

    My husband and I have been married three and a half years and order “take-out” once per week (that’s my night off from cooking). I am cooking so much healthier now than I did in the beginning of our marriage, and am trying to conform my husband to my way of eating (plant-based). He loves fruits and veggies, so I serve more veggies at dinner and he goes off to work every day with his lunch and 3 pieces of fruit that I try to mix up every week so he’s not eating the same things over and over again.

    I can attest to plant-based eating in that I have dropped 5.5 lbs since starting a week ago and don’t miss meat, fat, sugar or any of the other processed stuff I ate. I got my brother on-board and he’s dropped 10 lbs in a week! He is on 4 BP meds, and 2 diabetic meds. His BP this morning was 135/72, and his glucose level was 191 which he states is the lowest it’s been in over a year. When he started eating plant-based, his glucose was 323, so in just one week’s time his numbers are dropping, and he’s never been more excited about the aspect of hopefully coming off his meds one day soon.

    America’s obesity is climbing at alarming rates, and people are being medicated to control their illnesses instead of educated to cure their illnesses. I hope I’m wrong, but at the rate obesity is growing, there won’t be one person in America that doesn’t have a weight problem.

    Great article, Dr. Hyman

  • Living here in southern Alberta, Canada, I appreciate the many local sources of meat, vegetables, legumes and grain that make up a large component of our local economy. I try to buy local food items as much as I can, and in our home we eat almost no prepared foods. One of my favorite foods to make is soup as it is economical, easy to prepare and nutritious. I am concerned at the growing amount of “heat and serve” food that is making its way into our grocery stores. Involving our children in cooking from the time they are young is one way to ensure that we maintain healthy lifestyles.

  • I hate to blow your stats but I was raised in a home where we ate breakfast AND dinner together every day. Really! Every single day. Things like soda, potato chips, candy were special treats served only on holidays, birthdays, etc. Halloween/Christmas/Easter candy was strictly controlled. We had a huge vegetable garden thanks to my father, as well as berry bushes and fruit trees. Most of this stuff was canned or frozen and eaten by us year round. Sounds ideal, right? However, I STILL managed to become anorexic in high school and suffered from an eating disorder until my mid 20s when I finally moved about 300 miles away from my mother. With some work and insight I have managed to maintain good health AND a healthy weight for the last 25 years (5′ 6″ and 130 lb). So while I agree that eating together is helpful (if your parents aren’t always fighting) and I was lucky to have all that fresh food growing up, there are a LOT of other emotional factors that affect over eating. So, for those of you whose emotions drive their eating habits, I suggest reading anything by Geneen Roth. She addresses the emotional/spiritual side of our national obsession with food.

  • Other than cutting out junk food, adding lemons, and taking Epsom salt baths, more specific advice about what to use for detox would be helpful. I have mercury fillings, and I suspect this this causes a never-ending flow of mercury from my teeth, so I need to detox continuously without reducing my intake of vitamins and minerals from my healhy diet. (As-is, I consider myself healthy, but detox matters to me because of the mercury fillings.) How do I detox gently and remove this mercury, using specific foods or spices? Coriander/chili pepper? Chlorophyll? Curcuma? Chili pepper? I use all of these, and I suspect that they work for me, though not sure. Of course, you could say: just have the fillings removed and replaced. Yes, this is possible, but to do this, I would have to find a competent, open-minded dentist, and then hope that whatever synthetic resin that they use instead would not later leech out, just as the mercury amalgams are now. For now, I prefer to try to detox myself continously, mostly using lemons, vegetable oils, and what I already mentioned. Do you, Dr. Hyman, or anybody else have any specific suggestions for me? If so, thanks for your time and attention.

  • thank you, Dr. Mark Hyman, for all you share! it’s so valuable and important. you make information accessible and bring understanding to those of us without the science degree. much gratitude for all the crucial info that you so freely share on so many key subjects. linda jaseck of urban zen integrative therapy

  • What a wonderful, generous idea.
    Similar project is going on in Central New Jersey with 35 “supper clubs” hosted in private homes and are open to all. They started as “Suppers for Sobriety” and now address many needs such as “suppers for balancing blood sugar”, “suppers for teens”, etc.
    The founder and leader, Dorothy Mullen, also initiated school gardens in each public school in her town. Just like you, Dr. Hyman, she sees how everything is connected…
    This is Suppers book:

  • It’s the world we live in today…too many people are dependent on the government to take care of them, for someone else to pay their bills, for someone else to buy and prepare their food, for someone else to raise and teach their children and for someone else to pay for their drugs while they ignore personal responsibility.

    Our culture has lost it’s way. We no longer teach our children to think critically nor is there a public forum to discuss a difference of opinion without civil discourse. Those of us who are working toward bringing back the family of a man, woman and children into the center of life know that health plays one of the most important roles.

    I commend Dr. Hyman in setting the pace to bring home the need to eat well and live safe and well. If each one of us touches one soul at a time, we can begin to make positive changes.

  • It’s awesome to go to see this site and reading the views of all mates about this article, while I am also eager of getting knowledge.

  • HI there
    please put an easy-print option onto all of these articles. I like to keep them and print but have to copy all the text into word, reformat, remove ads etc. can you not please add an easy print facility to all your online articleS?
    thanks and love your work!!

  • Hi Dr. Hyman
    I am a type 2 diabetic. I have followed an extensive diabetic program with a functional Dr. I followed the “get rid of diabetes in 6 months” program to a T because the program was very very expensive and included suppliments. The program has been over for almost a year now and I’m still following the protacol and my fasting glucose level has doubled what it was before I started the program. I have even doubled my meds instead of cutting back on them. I’ve never been heavy. 160 when I was pregnant with 1 child. My normal weight (what I am now is 138 and I’m 5’7″ and I’m 65. I refuse to take insulin. I’ve been a diabetic for 13 years and I excercize everyday for an hour (Jazzercise) and eat vegetables and meat for breakfast and all day long. No bread, glutin,casin,sugar,soy or corn. On the program I went down to 125 because for some reason all Drs. seem to think loosing weight (no matter how thin you are) will get rid of Diabetes. NOT SO.
    I’m puzzled – what am I doing wrong? My food choices are really slim especially eating in restaurants. I’m ready to just give up. I’d rather die early and enjoy my life instead of sacrificing so much for nothing. Everything that use to be fun isn’t anymore. Social gatherings, holidays, picnics (and there are a lot of them.) CAN’T GO. Might eat something bad because that’s all there is. I have to bring my same old boring food and that’s no fun. Anyway for a lot of people especially genetic diabetics you cannot be cured in 30 days like the books say, believe me I’ve tried them all. It’s all false hope. If your just overweight maybe you have a shot. There’s no hope for me. I’m too much of a challange for Doctor.

  • Sugar in excess causes all kinds of mood swings. I imagine a lack of nutrients also causes such issues. The moods cause behavior issues and thus how/what we do and do not eat becomes important for more than just our physical health, but for our emotion, mental and social well-being.

  • I love it! I work with Life Enthusiast, and one of our favourite campaigns is #eatrealfood! Real food and healthy relationships are the best preventative medicine available 🙂 Also, as a twenty-something I formed a Diner’s Club with a group of about six friends and we would meet together bi-weekly and cook real food. We would usually pick an ethnic theme, and take turns hosting and purchasing ingredients. We were all able to expand our culinary skills, and really experience and enjoy food, and the sanctuary of that time together as we cooked and ate…and cleaned up together 🙂 This reminds me that I really need to start up another group like this in my new community, as I moved earlier this year. Thank you for sharing this important message!

  • Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve visited this site before
    but after going through a few of the posts I realized it’s new to me.
    Anyways, I’m certainly happy I discovered it and I’ll be bookmarking
    it and checking back regularly!

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