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Episode 505
The Doctor's Farmacy

How To Use Food As Medicine

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Globally, the rate of chronic disease is double the rate of infectious disease. The single most important thing you can do every day to reduce your risk of chronic disease and change your biology is choose the right foods. What you put on the end of your fork matters, as food works with all seven of our body systems for optimal function, and it contains phytochemicals critical to our evolution that helps us achieve optimal health.

In this episode of my Masterclass series, I am interviewed by my good friend and podcast host Dhru Purohit about what foods will help you live longer and how food affects every single body function, and we even answer some questions from our community.

This episode is brought to you by Rupa Health and Paleovalley.

Rupa Health is a place where Functional Medicine practitioners can access more than 2,000 specialty lab tests from over 20 labs like DUTCH, Vibrant America, Genova, and Great Plains. You can check out a free, live demo with a Q&A or create an account at RupaHealth.com.

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I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD
Mark Hyman, MD

Guest

 
Mark Hyman, MD

Mark Hyman, MD is the Founder and Director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of Cleveland Clinic's Center for Functional Medicine, and a 13-time New York Times Bestselling author.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

 
Dhru Purohit

Dhru Purohit is a podcast host, serial entrepreneur, and investor in the health and wellness industry. His podcast, The Dhru Purohit Podcast, is a top-50 global health podcast with over 30 million unique downloads. His interviews focus on the inner workings of the brain and the body and feature the brightest minds in wellness, medicine, and mindset.

Show Notes

  1. Food As Medicine PDF
  2. Shopping Guide
  3. Nourishment by Fred Provenza

Transcript Note: Please forgive any typos or errors in the following transcript. It was generated by a third party and has not been subsequently reviewed by our team.

Speaker 1:
Coming up on this episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
There is no more powerful lever you can pull to change your biology in real time. And I’m not talking about something that takes decades or even weeks. Literally days or minutes, you are changing your biology with every single bite of food.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Hey everyone, it’s Dr. Mark Hyman. Welcome to a new series on The Doctor’s Farmacy called Masterclass, where we dive deep into popular health topics, including inflammation, autoimmune disease, brain health, sleep, and lots more. And today I’m joined by my guest host, my good friend, my business partner, Dhru [Purohit 00:00:38], the host of The Dhru Purohit Podcast. We’re going to be talking about my favorite subject, which is food is medicine, and it can have the power to prevent, treat, and even reverse most chronic disease in ways that we have barely begun to imagine. So I’m so excited to have this topic today and to talk to you, Dhru, about it, because this is my favorite thing to talk about.

Dhru Purohit:
Yeah. I think it’s a super popular topic, so let’s jump right in. Mark, you have a new book coming out in the space of longevity. It’ll be out in early 2023 in February. And on that topic, why is food the number one key to longevity and what foods do people not include enough? What foods do people not include enough in their diet to help heal the body and encourage longevity?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, the single most important thing you do every day to control every single one of your biological functions that determine health or disease, that will make you live to 100 or make you die at 50, is what you eat. There is no more powerful lever you can pull to change your biology in real time. And I’m not talking about something that takes decades or even weeks. Literally days or minutes, you are changing your biology with every single bite of food. And that’s because food is not just calories. If it was just energy and fuel, it’s just gasoline, it would be fine. You’d burn it, doesn’t matter what you eat. You could eat Doritos, you could eat Coca-Cola, have a Coca-Cola, you could have a broccoli, doesn’t matter. But what we now know is that food contains, particularly plant foods, contain powerful compounds that drive your biology and help you stay healthy and prevent reverse disease.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So what is food anyway? People don’t understand food. They think, oh, it’s just energy, it’s just calories. Yes, it’s calories. They go, it’s protein, fat and fiber and carbs. Yes, it’s all that. But what kind of protein? What’s the quality? What’s the quality of the carbohydrate? Is a carbohydrate from a broccoli sprout the same as a carbohydrate from a can of soda? Well, obviously not, but they’re both carbohydrates. What about fat? Is the fat from margarine or Crisco the same as a fat from fish oil? No, they’re both fats, profoundly different effects on your biology. Same thing with fibers, all kinds of different fibers, soluble, insoluble, different effects on your microbiome. So everything depends on the quality of the food you eat and the information in the food.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
The second thing is that there’s this class of compounds that are in plant foods, and actually also by the way, in animal foods, believe it or not, called phytochemicals. These are plant based compounds. Phyto means plant. Phytonutrients, phytochemicals, they are regulatory molecules that I think have been critical in our evolution. And I actually, I’ve never heard anybody talk about this except, besides me, except David Sinclair, who’s one of the leading aging researchers on the planet at Harvard. And I call it something different than he does, but I think we’ve evolved with these plants to help us run our biology. I call it symbiotic phyto-adaptation. We’ve literally adapted our biology to use the plants to work with us to create health. And they’re all the compounds you might have heard about that are kind of healthy compounds in food like resveratrol or curcumin or green tea extracts like catechins, maybe the broccoli sprouts, so pharaphane.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
These are all these compounds in plants that are their defense mechanisms. They’re their mechanisms to stay healthy and protect themselves against disease and predation and adversity. Why should we be using these molecules in our biology? Well, because we’ve evolved eating these plants and so our bodies are lazy. We don’t make vitamin C because we can get it from food. So we don’t make these compounds, but they’re critical to our long term health. You’re not going to get a deficiency disease in the sense of a vitamin deficiency, but you’re going to get chronic illness if you don’t eat these plant compounds. And there’s 25,000 of them. The Rockefeller Foundation is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to create the periodic table of phytochemicals and how they work with our bodies, what they do. I’ve written a lot about this, and they regulate every single system in our body and we’re going to go into how that works.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
But one of the important things to understand is that these phytochemicals are not just found in plants. New research from Dr. Fred Provenza and Stephan van Vliet, who’s at Duke and now is at Utah State University, have found that animals eating a wide variety of wild, and even domesticated, but a wide variety of plants contain those compounds from the plants in their milk and meat. So if you eat a generally raised grass fed meat that’s been eating maybe 20, 50, 100 plants, it’s very different than eating a cow that’s fed the silage in a factory farm. It’s full of ground up animal, chicken feathers and Skittles, and who knows what the hell else, plus corn and refined oils and all kinds of weird stuff they put in it. Very different composition of the protein in a factory farm meat than a regenerative cow, for example, or a wild elk or whatever.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And we know this is true even from interventional studies, that if you eat protein for protein, gram for gram, the same amount of wild meat versus feedlot meat, it has profoundly different effects on your biology, even though it’s the same grams of protein, the same calories and everything else is the same. So we have to sort of expand our idea of food from just being fuel and energy to being information that regulates everything in our biology that determines healthy disease, whether you’re going to live a long time or die quickly. And that’s really the power of food.

Dhru Purohit:
Mark, let’s talk about the seven systems of functional medicine and how we think about food impacting or interfacing with all of those seven systems. This is something that hasn’t been talked about a ton, but you’ve written a little bit about it and I think it would be useful in the context of today’s conversation.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, maybe we can put it in the show notes, but for my last book, The Pegan Diet, I wrote 15,000 words explaining how this works. Unfortunately it was too long for the publisher so it got mostly taken out. But we have that content, I’m happy to share it in the show notes. People that want to learn about food as medicine, we can provide that.

Dhru Purohit:
Let’s make a PDF and people can download it if you’re okay with it.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. Yeah, for sure. I think it’d be great. So here’s the meta view. Our current view of disease is outdated. It’s based on symptoms, it’s based on diagnoses. You have heart disease, you have cancer, you have autoimmune disease, you have dementia. It tells you nothing about the cause. It’s just a name. It’s like saying, well, I have a headache. What’s causing your headache? Did you get hit in the head with a hammer? Do you have a brain tumor? An aneurysm? You have a migraine? Did you eat gluten? Do you have a cold? Do you have a flu? What’s causing your headache? Saying you have a headache doesn’t mean anything. And it’s the same for every disease, whether it’s depression or cancer or heart disease or diabetes. Just the name tells you what the symptoms are, it doesn’t tell you the root cause.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
When we look at the reimagining of medicine through the lens of functional medicine, assistive biology, network medicine, this is the future of what’s happening. Okay. This is not my idea. This is not Dr. Hyman’s view of the world. This is actually what’s happening in the science. At Harvard they published a textbook called Network Medicine, describing this phenomena of the radical change that’s going to happen as we begin to understand the root causes, the multifactorial cause of disease, and the multiple things we need to do to correct that disease. I’m so excited about this because it’s actually finally hitting mainstream science. It’s not hitting mainstream medicine yet. It’s still on the fringes and unfortunately it’s going to take a while because it takes about 20 years from scientific discovery to implementation of medical practice or longer. This is a big paradigm shift, so who knows, maybe we’ll have a fast one or a slow one. I don’t know.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Anyway, the key is that the body is organized in a very different way than we learned in medical school. It’s not organized into organs and specialties. It’s organized into these seven basic systems that are the functional networks in your body that control every single thing in your body. So every disease that exists today, I mean, obviously not getting hit by a car. I mean, that’s a different kind of thing. But pretty much every disease is determined by imbalances in seven basic functional systems in your body that are controlled by your genes, by your environment, and your lifestyle. So all that dynamic interaction between your genes, environment and lifestyle is regulating these systems and is determining whether they’re in balance or out of balance.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
The single biggest thing you can do every day to positively or negatively affect these seven systems is picking what you eat properly. If you pick the wrong foods, you’re going to damage these systems and cause inflammation and damage to your microbiome, and impair detoxification and hormonal dysregulation, and all kinds of stuff happens as you eat the wrong foods. And we’ll go through each one. So what are these seven systems? There’s your gut, we call that assimilation. Your immune system, your defense and repair. Your energy system, how you make energy in your cells from food and oxygen. Your detox system, how you get rid of internal, external waste. Your transport system, which is your circulation and lymph. Your communication system, which is hormones, neurotransmitters, other messenger molecules, peptides, all kinds of stuff. And your structural system, which is your biomechanical structure, your body, your musculoskeletal system, all the way down to the subcellular structures of your cells and your membranes.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Those are all affected by your lifestyle, your diet, and various insults, like toxins and allergens and microbes and radiation, all kinds of stuff. So our goal is to figure out what are these seven systems? Where are they out of balance? How do you get them in balance? That’s the key to understanding disease and the key to fixing what’s wrong with most people. What is so beautiful about food is that we’re finally understanding how food interacts with each of these systems. But I’m going to take you quickly through an example of each one, positive and negative.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
The gut. If you eat our Western processed diet, you’re going to grow really nasty bugs in there and those bugs are going to produce really nasty compounds that make you sick and even make you gain weight. If you eat the right kinds of foods, full of polyphenols and fiber and probiotic foods like sauerkraut, you’re eating cranberry and pomegranate, you’re having prebiotic foods like asparagus and plantain and Jerusalem artichokes and artichoke hearts, these are going to help create a healthy microbiome. So you can harm or heal the system by choosing the foods you eat.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Your immune system, the same thing. Our diet is very inflammatory. We eat sugar, processed food, refined oils. These are highly inflammatory foods that are driving our biology towards inflammation, which is at the root of most disease. On the other hand, if you eat a whole foods, plant rich, anti-inflammatory, phytochemical dense, high fiber diet, you’re going to be reducing inflammation. If you are looking at energy, for example, if you eat an excess of calories but not enough nutrients, which is what most Americans do, and this is kind of frightening actually when you look at it. We are eating about 500 calories more per person per day than we did about 50 years ago. All that has to be processed and it’s processed in these little energy factories like your car engine called the mitochondria. And these mitochondria are very sensitive to an overload of sugar and starch and chemicals and processed foods.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So if you’re dumping all that in there, you’re going to slow down your energy production. On the other hand, if you’re having good fats and you’re having phytochemical rich foods and antioxidants in your diet, you’re going to be helping the energy production. Detoxification is another great example. If we’re eating foods that are full of pesticides and chemicals and all kinds of stuff, and that are full of sugar, which is damaging liver… By the way, one of the biggest causes of liver failure in the world is sugar. Fatty liver, it’s the biggest problem affecting 90 million Americans. If you’re eating all that, it’s damaging your liver. But if you’re eating, for example, broccoli sprouts or lemon peel or green tea or any number of these plant compounds, what we call plant-based polyphenols and phytochemicals, they up-regulate your detoxification system.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Every day I make sure I have at least a cup or two of some family in the broccoli. Collards, kale, brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, and so forth, kohlrabi. And I try to include that in my diet on a regular basis, which actually how helps to enhance detoxification. Same thing with circulation, lymphatic flow. You want to make sure you’re having foods that are not making your circulation sluggish and inflame with just processed food and you’re eating lots of phytochemical rich foods. Same thing with hormones. If you’re eating, for example, a lot of sugar and starch, you’re driving insulin up. You’re driving your adrenaline up. You’re stress hormones up. If you eat a whole foods, plant rich diet, a pegan diet, you’re doing the opposite to your hormones. You’re balancing your hormones.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
We know for example that if women are eating a lot of sugar, they actually can get a lot of estrogen and that causes them to have all kinds of hormonal issues and infertility and menstrual irregularities and all kinds of problems. And that can be fixed, for example, by having them eat lots of fiber and flax seeds and soy foods and things with lignins in them, that actually help to balance the hormones and getting rid of all that food. Same thing with your structure. If your structure is abnormal, you’re not going to be healthy.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
We used to have a terrible word, it was kind of pejorative, that we used in medicine when we were operating on people who were pretty unhealthy and had crappy diets, because their tissues would just fall apart in your hand. So you’d be operating on them and you’d try to sew them together and this tissues would just fall apart. We called it PPP, piss poor protoplasm, which is terrible. But doctors have to, I guess, keep themselves amused while they’re dealing with really difficult situations. And it’s because their nutrition was so bad that their tissues and their structure was so bad. Whereas now, if you take someone with a healthy diet and you can look at their tissues, they’re very different and they stick together well, they’re structurally sound. I can go into way more examples, but food influences every single one of these things.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So every bite of food you take changes your gene expression, your epigenome, which controls the master switches around aging, longevity. It affects your microbiome, your hormones, your immune system, your brain chemistry, your structure. Everything is affected by the quality of the food you eat. That’s why the most important thing you need to understand around food is medicine is that food is information. And what information or what code are you putting in your body? If you’re putting corrupt code in your operating system, your software’s going to be glitchy, and that’s called disease. And if you’re putting good code in, you’re going to have a really awesome functioning operating system, which is going to create health and vitality. And food is the single most important thing that can do that.

Dhru Purohit:
Mark, there was a great stat that you shared in Food Fix, and also the marketing that you were doing around the book, about just how many chronic diseases and deaths from chronic diseases every year have been attributed back to largely food. Can you share that stat with us and walk us through some of that information?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. Well, there’s a global burden of disease study that has been done. It’s a really profound study. It’s still ongoing, it’s massive study. It’s constantly collecting data. And the study was shocking. For the first time in history, obesity and chronic disease that’s caused by food outstripped smoking as the number one cause of death in the world. And I think conservatively it’s estimated that it kills 11 million people a year. Now think about it. I mean, if 11 million people died every year from something else, we would be up in arms trying to deal with it. If for example there was a new virus or something that was killing 11 people, like COVID, look what we’ve done with COVID. We go crazy trying to deal with COVID. We’re not even talking about this. We’re not even addressing the fact in America, we are a minority of the world’s population, about I think 5%, and make up up to 20% of the COVID cases in deaths.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Why? We have the best healthcare system in the world. Because we’re the unhealthiest population driven by our modern American diet. And so when you look at the globally the deaths from chronic disease, it’s about double that of infectious disease. So we have about probably 40, 50 million people a year dying globally from chronic disease, and some of it’s smoking for sure, like lung diseases, but the majority of it is actually somehow related to diet. So diet is the number one killer in the world. And what’s amazing to me is that the number one killer is food and yet the National Institute of Health, our government’s research organization, spends almost nothing on nutrition and chronic disease. It’s staggering. And I’m involved with a campaign that derived from the book called the Food Fix Campaign. It’s a nonprofit that I created to drive policy change, and one of the things we’re advocating for is a national institute of nutrition, which many other countries have. We don’t.

Dhru Purohit:
Well, that begs the question, why don’t you think, especially here in America, why don’t we have that? And why is food largely ignored by conventional medicine? Most doctors, as you know, most people, most human beings for that matter, are good natured. They want to help people, they want to make a difference. But why is it that we’ve lost sight of the impact of food when it comes to health?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
All you have to do is look at the medical school curriculum. I mean, I had nutrition. It was about a couple hours devoted to kwashiorkor, marasmus, xerophthalmia, and rickets, which are vitamin deficiency diseases you see no longer in the developed world, and rarely in the developing world anymore. It was sort of like a historical tour through the history of vitamin deficiencies. And there was no mention of anything related to chronic disease. It was just staggering. And yet food is the number one cause of chronic disease, the number one cure, and doctors know nothing about it. So they’re completely uneducated. The last place you want to go to get advice about nutrition is your doctor, unless they’re someone like me who spent their life studying nutrition. But it’s really a problem. And so we have this blind spot.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
The other thing is that doctors don’t believe that it works. Why? They go, well, you’re a little overweight, your cholesterol’s a little high, why don’t you improve your diet. Or your blood pressure’s so high, why don’t you eat healthy, exercise, and come back in three months and we’ll decide what to do. Now, that means almost nothing to people. What does eat healthy mean? What does have a balanced diet mean? What does eat in moderation mean? Nothing to most people, they have no clue about how to navigate the nutritional landscape we live in. And we live in a toxic nutritional landscape where the easy choice is the worst choice for you and the harder choices are good for you. In other words, you have to go hunt and gather to find something healthy to eat, which is tough.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So, I mean, I’ve traveled all over America and it’s like, it’s bad out there. I mean, unless you get into some pockets where there’s some awareness and consciousness and good food, it’s mostly a nutritional wasteland. So doctors really can’t be faulted because it’s not part of their curriculum. One of the efforts I’ve been involved with is called the ENRICH Act, which is an act in Congress to fund nutrition education. The other thing we need to do is to actually change licensing exams so that doctors cannot become a doctor unless they pass a test, which includes a whole section on nutrition. Now, I hate to say this Dhru, but most of the curriculum in medical school is driven off the licensing exams, what you need to know to pass a test to become a doctor. And if there’s zero on nutrition, that’s what they’re going to learn. Zero on nutrition.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So if you make 10% of the questions nutrition related and chronic disease related, guess what? The medical schools are going to have to include it in their curriculum. So we have a long way to go to fix this, but the other thing is that doctors don’t actually ever see it work. If I have a patient with heart failure and kidney failure and liver failure and diabetes, and I say to a doctor, “Well, I’m going to reverse all that using food,” they’re going to go, “Good luck, buddy. I mean, I’ve never seen it. Can’t happen.” In fact, I had one patient at Cleveland Clinic who came to see me who was overweight, diabetic, high blood pressure, kidney failure, and he followed everything I said. He lost a bunch of weight, his kidneys reversed, his heart failure got better, his cholesterol normalized, his blood sugar normalized, everything was corrected.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
He went to see his kidney doctor and his doctor’s like, “What the heck did you do? I’ve never seen this before. I’ve never seen kidneys actually improve.” We can slow it down, we can medicate it, we can manage it, but they are untrained in how to use food as a drug. And it’s not the same for everybody. It’s not like one diet fits everybody. What I treat an autoimmune patient with is different than I’ll treat a diabetic patient with, different than I might treat an Alzheimer’s patient with, different than I’ll treat someone who’s got chronic fatigue. It’s very, very different depending on what is going on. And I literally, just like there’s hundreds or thousands of drugs, there’s thousands of different permutations of diet that can be personalized and prescribed as a drug that works better, faster, and is cheaper than any drug on the planet.

Dhru Purohit:
Let’s switch over to some practical takeaways. People are always curious, what does Dr. Hyman eat? And what are some of the top foods that he might want to call out that are super beneficial to be including in a diet, especially if somebody doesn’t have these food or isn’t eating them in the right quantities? So you already gave us one previously. You talked about the broccoli family and the importance of cruciferous vegetables that are there, and how you try to at least get one serving of those a day. Are there any other foods like that you think of as being super healing to your overall health that you’d also recommend to the listeners of the podcast?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
For sure. I mean, it’s so second nature to me now Dhru, but when I go to the drug store… I mean the pharmacy… I mean the grocery store, which I actually think of as my drug store, I go through the vegetable aisle and I go through the grocery store and I’m looking at all the drugs. I think, oh, I want this drug and I want that drug. And okay, this olive oil has got high polyphenols because it’s special olive oil and it has the ability to be antiviral and it actually helps my blood vessels and arteries. Oh, here’s a mushroom. This shiitake mushroom or maitake mushroom is going to help my immune system. Oh, this artichoke, oh here, this one’s a prebiotic food and the artichoke plus it helps up-regulate my detox pathways. Oh, and this particular fiber, this prebiotic fiber from plantain, if I like plantain, is actually going to help my microbiome. Oh, this one has got extra CoQ10 in it and it’s going to help my mitochondrial. Oh, I’m going to get this fat because this fish oil helps to improve my membranes and help my structural system.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And so it’s kind of a… I’m probably annoying to go shopping with because I have this… If you could literally have the thought bubble in my head, over my head as I’m going through the grocery store, you would see what I’m thinking. And it’s so fun and I think I break it down in a bunch of categories. So there’s protein, fat, carbs, and fiber. And then there’s the phytochemical world and then there’s the seven systems in our biology. So I literally, every day I’m eating the best quality of the protein, fat and fiber and carbohydrate, but I’m also thinking about, how do I help my detox system? How do I help my microbiome? How do I help my immune system? How do I do that?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And so I’m picking the foods from the grocery store that are helping me with each of these aspects. For example, I had kudzu noodles, which are amazing. Kudzu is a Japanese starchy thing that they made into noodles. But they’re not like starchy noodles, they actually are incredibly helpful for your microbiome and gut soothing and healing. Or I’ll have shirataki noodles, which are made from konjac root, which have zero calories but are an incredible prebiotic and also help to slow the absorption of sugar and glucose. So I can have pasta without actually having any guilt. So I think about this as I’m going through grocery and I think about, okay, I’m going to look at the vegetable world. I’m going to buy all the colors.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I’m going to buy prebiotic foods, which are the fibers. I’m going to buy… I mentioned a few of them. I’m going to buy probiotic foods. I’m going to include maybe some sheep yogurt, or I’m going to have a sauerkraut, or get pickles. Or I’m going to have seaweed because it’s full of minerals. Or I’m going to have these class of phytochemically rich foods that are full of polyphenols to help my microbiome and I’m going to buy pomegranate, or I’m going to get some cranberries to throw in my smoothie. So I’m literally thinking about how do I… For each of these foods that I’m buying, what are they doing to my body? And how do I construct a diet that tastes yummy and is delicious, but also is the right medicine?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And so I think about so you want colorful fruits and vegetables, you want mushrooms, you want the right quality protein, so that would be, obviously you can have plant proteins, which are fine, but you also, I think most people will need animal proteins in the form of regenerative raised beef or other their animal products, fish, chicken. But it should be organic and regenerative. And fats, you want to have all the good fats, olive oil, avocado oil, fish oil. Those are really the basic foundational things. And then that’s all that’s in my kitchen. And also I’ll have nuts and seeds, so I have lots of nuts and seeds. So I buy mushrooms, I buy nuts and seeds, I buy colorful fruits and vegetables, I buy the right fats, I buy the right proteins. And it’s just second nature to me now and after I learned how to do it.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
We actually have a guide. I think we have a guide on food as medicine that we did for one of our public television shows, which is like a shopping guide that we could probably post as well. It kind of goes through all the categories of the different foods and which are the best ones in each one to do all these things. So we can provide that for people listening.

Dhru Purohit:
Yeah. We’ll definitely put that in the show notes. All right, Mark, this is the part of the podcast where we take questions from our community. Questions from our community. All right, first question. Can you explain the benefits of bitter foods and why they’re so healing for the body?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yes. Okay. So any of the strong tasting compounds in food are phytochemicals. Flavor follows phytochemicals. Phytochemicals cause benefit in the body. So if you want to eat medicine, the best way to do it is eat the most flavorful food. What we’ve done in America is bred food to be tasteless. Okay. If you ever have gone into your garden, and maybe you have an organic garden, you have a cherry tomato plant and it’s late August and it’s summer and it’s warm out and you go out there and it’s ripe, and you stick it in your mouth. It’s like an explosion of flavor because it’s rich in phytochemicals. If you eat one of those cardboard tomatoes that they bred to ship in boxes and not squish, it looks good, but it tastes bad. Okay. And so flavor represents phytochemical richness in a food.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So we want to make sure we’re eating foods that are really rich in these phytochemicals and these flavor profiles, which are full of these compounds like alkaloids, polyphenols, and bitter tasting compounds. So things that are strong actually are good for you. So bitter melon, for example, is a great example of a very bitter food they use a lot in Chinese cuisine and it’s an acquired taste. Okay. But I actually really like it. It turns out that this is incredibly powerful at balancing blood sugar, so it’s great for diabetics. Other bitter foods might contain other alkaloids or compounds that also affect your health beneficially.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Now, the body is very smart in regulating how much you eat, because it’s like, you can’t eat too much of it. You can eat a whole bag of cookies, but you probably couldn’t eat four pounds of broccoli rabe, because it’s a little bitter and you’d kind of get sick of eating it after a while. And the body does that naturally because if we gain our nutritional wisdom, which is… I want to talk about this in a minute. We actually can direct ourselves to finding the right food. What’s happened to Americans and increasingly globally to the population is that our nutritional wisdom has been hijacked by a highly processed, toxic food system that has removed from our palates all the normal regulatory sensing pathways in our brain, so we don’t have a sense of what’s good for us anymore. So we’ll crave all the wrong stuff and not the right stuff.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
There’s a wonderful book called Nourishment by Fred Provenza. He’s one of my heroes. Nobody’s probably ever heard of him, but it’s one of the most beautiful, profound books I’ve ever read called Nourishment about reclaiming our nutritional wisdom from animals, who know exactly what to eat. So if you take an animal and let it graze, there might be 100 plants. Now some of them contain toxic compounds. These phytochemicals are not there to actually help you, they’re there to help the plant. And they’re deterrents. They don’t want to get eaten or they want to protect themselves from this or that. So if you take too much of them, they can be toxic.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So for example, certain animals will graze on sagebrush when there’s nothing else to eat. But the sagebrush is kind of a bitter plant and it has a lot of terpenes. Now the terpenes can be toxic when over-consumed. So what they found is that these animals will stop eating it once they’ve consumed a certain amount and the blood levels get a certain level. They then repeated a study where they actually just injected it into their vein. And when the blood levels got at a certain level, they stopped eating it. So even though they weren’t actually eating the food, it was like a way that the body had its own set point for how much you should eat of this stuff.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So bottom line is all these weird tasting foods and all these funny foods are actually really good for you. You want to eat as many of them as possible. Seaweed, bitter melon, broccoli rabe, bitter foods, weird foods. I have a Japanese friend and she introduced me to all these incredible different flavors and tastes, these umami flavors that are just not part of our culture but have a lot of powerful medicinal products.

Dhru Purohit:
All right. Next question, Mark. Any long term advice to avoid a reoccurrence of cancer, specifically when it comes to thinking about the foods that I’m eating and the diet that I’m consuming?

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I mentioned this before, but when I was in residency, I had a rotation on the oncology ward. And I asked the oncologist, I said, “Doctor, how much of cancer that we see today is related to diet? A percent.” And I thought he would say 10%. He said 70%. I was shocked. And I think we are really underestimating the role of diet and cancer. Yes, it’s environmental toxins. Yes, it’s partly genetics, but sugar in our diet is the number one cause of cancer, period. And the lack of the good medicines and food that we’ve been talking about, the good nutrients, is also a factor. So we want the protective foods and to eat more of those, and we want to get rid of the harmful foods and not eat those. And the truth is that cancer is happening all the time in all of us. Our immune systems are on constant surveillance in trying to address it.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
But if you are eating a crappy diet, you’re not providing your body with the basic raw materials to just function and regulate your immune system. Zinc, vitamin C, vitamin D. Vitamin D we know is highly related to cancer if your vitamin D levels are low. And so we can actually help our bodies create a different environment in which the cancer has trouble surviving. So at an extreme level, a ketogenic diet shuts off the fuel source for cancer. And it’s been shown in many studies to actually improve the outcomes of chemo, radiation, and so forth. It’s been shown to sort of help even reverse cancers in some animals, like stage four melanoma, pancreatic cancer stage four, which are death sentences, have been shown to be completely reversed by ketogenic diets. So we know that with cancer, diet plays a huge role and we want to create a terrain that is inhospitable for cancer.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
The difference between functional medicine and traditional medicine is a whole idea of the biological terrain, the host. Not everybody who is exposed to the flu gets the flu. Not everybody who’s exposed to COVID gets COVID. Not everybody who gets COVID gets in the hospital or sick. Why? The terrain. We see that more with COVID than anything else. The people who are ending up in the hospital are the ones who are chronically ill or obese or overweight. Those are the ones who are susceptible, because their terrain is unhealthy. So we want to create a healthy biological terrain for people which allows them to be more resilient and deal with the constant changes and mutations that happen all the time in our body that we’re adapted to deal with.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
But if you don’t have a healthy biological terrain, you’re screwed. And the way to get a healthy terrain is by what you eat. I mean, I’m amazed at… I mean, I don’t want to brag or anything, but I mean, I got wrinkles and stuff and I’m gray a little. And I’m getting older, but that’s mostly sun damage from the sun. But I look for myself from the neck down, my tissues, my skin, my muscles, my body is like a 30 year old or a 20 year old, because I’ve been feeding it all the right stuff. For my whole life I’ve been interested in this. I’ve never eaten junk food. I never had soda. I never went to McDonald’s. I mean, of course I went to McDonald’s a few times in my life, but it’s not like I’ve been eating crap my whole life.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Even when I was a kid, my mother, we grew up in Europe and in Europe, they went to the fresh market every day. They didn’t basically have big refrigerators so they would just go to the market and they’d get their fresh meat. They’d go to the butcher, they’d go to the dairy guy, they’d go to the vegetable guy, the fruit guy and the bread guy, whatever. And they would just eat real fresh whole food and that’s all they ate. And so I grew up like that. And I’m amazed, I look at people my age without clothes on, in a shirt in a gym or whatever, and I’m like, wow, their bodies are just degrading. It’s not inevitable. And if we put the right fuel in, we literally, we are made from the stuff that we eat. It’s just that’s simple.

Dhru Purohit:
All right, Mark. Those are the questions that we had for today. I’d love to pass back to you to talk a little bit about a recap on the topic of food being healing and food being medicine. And then you can go ahead and conclude us out.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, I mean, our recap would probably take a couple hours, because food and food is medicine is one of the most foundational ideas that can change your life. That can change the course of your health trajectory, it can change your health span, your lifespan. That determines pretty much everything about the quality of your life. Because if your diet is crap, you’re going to feel like crap. Your body’s going to become degraded and decrepit. And if you understand that food is medicine, that food is information, that you have the power to upgrade or downgrade your biological software with every single bite. That the food you eat regulates all of your basic systems, your immune system, your gut, your detox system, your energy system, your structural system, your communication and hormonal system, your detox system. All those systems are regulated by what you eat and you want to put good quality ingredients in because that is the single most important thing you can do every day to control your destiny.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I heard a great quote from Eric Adams, I think the new Mayor of New York. He was diabetic, he was going blind, he had all these medications he was taking, all these heart disease things he had struggled with. And his doctor says, “You know, you’re just going to have to live with this.” And he says, “I realized it was my dinner, not my destiny that was causing the problem.” I think that’s a great line. It’s my dinner, not my destiny. I think that’s what we should be thinking about. What’s for dinner? And it should be medicine. And it should be medicine that tastes good.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And the good news is, as I said before, flavor represents the medicine in food. The more natural flavor something has, and I don’t mean slapping MSG on something to make it taste good. I mean natural flavors that are in food, comes from the quality of the food. The quality of the food is determined by the quality of the compounds in the food, and the compounds of the food, the phytochemicals, are determined by how it’s grown, where it’s grown, all sorts of variables. And this is a lot of what I talked about in Food Fix. But I think it’s such an important concept that we reframe our relationship to food from being just a source of energy to being a source of information. And the truth is that disease is an information problem. Aging is an information problem. And if we have the right information, we can improve the quality of our lives and our health. And if we put in the wrong information, we’re going to degrade our health.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So understanding that food is medicine, how it works, where it works, with all these various things, and I think it doesn’t have to be complicated. You just need to bring that little guide with you that’s going to be in the PDF in the show notes that’s going to actually say, okay, well here in each category are the best foods in each of these categories. What are the best nuts? What are the best proteins? What are the best seeds? What are the best veggies? What are the best fruits? What are the best grains? And so on. How do we pick the right foods that have the highest nutritional density? And that’s really the thing you should be thinking about. Where am I going to get my medicine? How do I change my grocery store into a pharmacy with an F?

Dhru Purohit:
Mark, that’s such an important reminder and one that I think we all need to get a chance to hear. That’s why you’re the man. You’re the food is medicine man to be there to remind us. So super appreciate that. And I think it’s a good time to go ahead and conclude us out.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Thanks, Dhru. It’s been a great conversation. I could talk about this all day, as you probably can guess. And if you loved this conversation, please share with your friends and family on social media. Leave a comment, how has food helped you heal or renew or repair? How has it been medicine for you? Subscribe wherever you get your podcast and we’ll see you next week on The Doctor’s Farmacy.
Speaker 1:
Hi everyone. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast is not a substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. If you’re looking for help in your journey, seek out a qualified medical practitioner. If you’re looking for a functional medicine practitioner, you can visit ifm.org and search their find a practitioner database. It’s important that you have someone in your corner who’s trained, who’s a licensed healthcare practitioner, and can help you make changes, especially when it comes to your health.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

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