Coming up on this episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy.
Dr. Mark Hyman:
In every bite of food, there’s many thousands of informational molecules that could upgrade or downgrade your biological software with every single bite. Literally in real time…
Welcome to The Doctor’s Farmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman, and this is a place for conversations that matter. And I’m excited to be offering you a new little feature of The Doctor’s Farmacy called health Bites. Little chunks of health information that’s going to help you live better, longer, and healthier. And today we’re talking about one of the most important literal health bites, which is that food is medicine. And we’re going to get deep into why that’s true, not just an abstract idea, but actually food is medicine. And it is the most important thing you need to know about your health. Which is how to use food, not as calories, but as information. And it is really my favorite subject. In fact, I’ve started an entire non-profit to focus on helping the government change its policies, to focus on food as medicine, that’s how much I care about it.
So I like to think of food literally as a drug. So my fridge is my medicine cabinet. The grocery store is my pharmacy and the farmer’s market too, for that matter. And there’s all these colorful medicines in there and not the kind of blue pills and green pills and yellow pills, but actually phytochemically rich foods that have so much power to make you healthier. So I want to share a little bit more about this with you today.
Okay. So why is food the most important medicine in your medical toolbox? Why is it the most important thing you could be focused on for your health? And I actually was watching a podcast the other day, with Rich Roll who’s a friend of mine, and there was a guy who was a hundred years old on there and he is like, the most important thing is diet. And he is right. Now, it is the most powerful tool you have to change your health. What you put at the end of your fork is more powerful than anything you’ll ever find in a prescription bottle. It works faster, better, and cheaper. It has the power to influence and improve the expression of tens of thousands of genes to optimize tens of thousands of protein networks, to balance your hormones, improve your brain chemistry, to up regulate your immune system, and even to enhance your microbiome. And it works without any side effects, except good ones. So this is really a drug.
And I’ll just give you a quick story. I’ve told the story before. But it’s so important to understand how quick and fast is. I had a patient, this just patient illustrates this more than anything. She was part of our program at Cleveland Clinic. She came to one of our groups called Functioning for Life. She was 66, she had heart failure, she had angina had multiple stents. She had type two diabetes, been on insulin for years, hypertension. You name it, she had it. Her kidneys were failing, her liver was failing. You only one liver, right? I do remember that from medical school. And she was so sick and she was this big, her body mass index was 43. 30 is considered obese. 40 is severely obese. And she just was enormous. And she took insulin shots every day.
She came to see us and she changed her diet. And she did exactly what I’m going to tell you to do today in this Doctor’s Farmacy Health Bite. And within three days of changing her diet, she was off insulin. And by the way, she was on a pile of pills that cost $20,000 a year for her copay. In three days, she was off insulin. In three months, she was off her medications, her A1C, which is your average blood sugar going from 11, which is almost hospitalized to five and a half, which is normal. Her heart failure reversed. Her kidneys normalized, her liver normalized. She got off her blood pressure pills and she lost a bunch of weight. And after a year she lost 116 pounds and had none of those conditions and was off all her medications. There is no drug on the planet that can do that. All those drugs were managing her diseases.
Food, I don’t even think we should call it medicine. It’s like a miracle cure because it’s so powerful. And I’ve seen this over and over and over in my practice. And honestly, as a doctor, I’ve been doing functional medicine for a long time. Okay. Decades. And I think I was the first one to say, you are not allowed to see a doctor in my practice unless you also see the nutritionist. Because if I’m a doctor and food is medicine, then how am I going to practice without a nutritionist? That is fundamental, fundamental to the premise of functional medicine. And there’s five nutritionists that work with me in my practice.
So what is food? Okay, it’s protein, it’s fat, it’s calories, it’s carbohydrates, it’s fiber, it’s vitamins, minerals. But it’s so, so much more. In every bite of food, there’s many thousands of informational molecules, like code that could upgrade or downgrade your biological software with every single bite. Literally, you change your biological software, you change your genetic expression, you change the way your hormones work, the way your immune system works. You change which bugs you’re growing in your gut, depending on which foods you eat, literally in real time, not over decades or days, but literally within minutes.
So it’s so powerful. And we have the ability to speak to our genes through food. And I think this is why it’s so important to understand how to use food as medicine. Okay, by the way, it’s not suffering here. I’m not talking about eating wheat grass shots and a bunch of Oat Brand or something. I’m talking about yummy, delicious, tasty, amazing, gorgeous food. I had a party for my office staff last night and we had the most unbelievable array of vegetables and foods and dishes and flavors. And nobody went away going, oh, this was healthy food. They’re not thinking, oh, this is healthy food. Because it just tastes so good. So if it doesn’t taste good, no one’s going to eat it, right? But actually food tastes good.
And by the way, you might not know this, but flavor in food… And the reason why the food industry puts so many chemicals and additives and colorings and flavorings and sugar and salt in food is to make it taste good. How do you take process ingredients and make them taste edible? You have to add all this crap. But if you eat real food, inside the food are the molecules that give food its flavor. So think about this, if you ever grew a garden or had a fresh tomato grown in your organic garden like a cherry tomato or something, it went at the end of the summer in August and stuck in your mouth. It’s like an explosion of flavor. Whereas if you take a tomato, it was grown in some hot house and shipped across the country and it was designed to fit in a box in a certain size and square and not squish. It looks like a tomato, but it doesn’t taste very good.
And the reason for the difference in taste, the reason is the phytochemicals, these plant compounds that produce the flavor. But guess what? Those phytochemicals that produce the flavor are also the medicines in food. So flavor and medicine in food go together, not the flavor that you add to with kinds of crap, but the actual flavor of the food. Think of a ripe peach at the end of the summer, that melts in your mouth and squishy and juicy. I’m drooling already. Okay. So basically it is the end of the summer, it’s peach season. Though you want to just understand that you want to seek out flavor. And Dan Barber actually did a company called Row 7 Seed where he created a company to improve the flavor of foods by breeding them to produce more flavor. But as a side effect, the way they get the flavor is through the phytochemicals. So I want to help you really understand this is so important.
Now the next question I want to answer is what is this whole field of nutrigenomics? You might have heard about personalized nutrition or nutrigenetics, nutrigenomics. This is the science of how food regulates your gene expression and your epigenetics. When you eat, it’s literally sending messages to turn genes on or off. I’m going to turn on the antioxidant genes or I’m going to turn on the anti-inflammatory genes, or I’m going to turn on the genes that cause cancer, or I’m going to turn off the genes that cause cancer, or I’m going to turn on the genes that cause heart disease or turn off the genes that cause heart disease. So we really think of them as the food as the little signals and the code that is regulating your biological software. And you want a new operating system, that’s an operating system of health and wellbeing. Well, you have to put in the right code. And the right code is the right food.
So what messages are you sending to your biology when you eat a double cheeseburger, fries, a Coke? What messages are you sending to your body if you’re eating, like we had last night, this water crest salad, we had this incredible watermelon gazpacho with mint. We had… Oh my God, so many different things. Eggplant with all kinds of spices and sauces on it. It was so delicious. And spices also are in full of these phytochemical flavor things. So there’s so many ways that we should be thinking about how we regulate our body. What if you had fresh wild salmon and wild berries, maybe wild strawberries. Ever taste a wild strawberry? It’s bursting with flavor. And fresh wild greens like they had in Icaria where they live to be a hundred years old. And that’s a very different set of molecules that you’re putting in your body that regulate what’s going on.
So this is really about personalized nutrition. It’s about understanding how genes are affected by what you eat. And then also we have to think about how each of us are different. But as a whole framework, the power of food is medicine is huge. And the power of understanding the phytochemicals in food is huge.
And here’s another interesting phenomena that’s that’s going on around food is you think that all the phytochemicals were in plant foods, right? So you need phyto means plant, not dog, not Fido the dog, but plant foods. And the phytochemicals come from plants. So how would you get them in animal food? In milk or meat? Well, turns out that those animals that are eating industrial feed lot food, corn, and silage, and all kinds of weird things. They feed them Skittles and ground up feathers, that doesn’t do very well for those animals in terms of the quality of their meat or their milk. But if you have a grass fed cow or sheep or goat or a wild animal eating all these wild plants or even, grass fed, pasture raised animals that are forging on a lot of varieties of plants, those compounds in those plants will be taken up in the milk and meat. And now this is being studied and we’re seeing these phytochemicals in the meat and milk of these animals.
So for example, if you look at a wild animal, like a kangaroo, and they did study in Australia and they’re starting to do more of these studies here, they give them to people and see what happens to their blood chemistry versus the same amount of meat from, let’s say a feed lot cow versus a kangaroo. And the kangaroo meat, same ounce for ounce of meat will reduce inflammation where the feed lot meat will increase inflammation. Why? It’s because of what the animal’s eating. That’s the message.
Okay. So how do we personalize our diet for us? What should we be eating? What’s an optimal diet? It doesn’t really have to be complicated. Listen to your body. I always say the smartest doctor in the room is your own body. How do you feel when you eat this? And I just talked to someone yesterday. She said, when I eat dairy, my nose starts to run immediately. Well guess what? Your body’s telling you something. Listen to it. Don’t eat the dairy because you’re having some reaction. Or if you eat a ton of pasta and you feel like you’re go into a food coma, probably good clue you probably shouldn’t be doing that. So listen to your body.
And it’s amazing to me after, decades and decades of being a doctor, that people, even the smartest people I know, do not connect what they eat with how they feel. It’s just mind boggling to me. And then when you start to connect the dots and they go, wow, this is powerful. So you need to customize what you’re doing. You need all the bad stuff, you got to take it out. Processed food, sugar, junk food, refined oils, all that stuff goes. Just take all the bad stuff, we know all it is. I’ve talked about it forever. And then add in a ton of good stuff. I went to the farmer’s market and you bought all this stuff the other day and it’s yummy, it’s fresh, it’s local. It’s way more tasty than stuff you buy in the supermarket. If you can do that, do it. If you can’t, fine even, with SNAP or food stamps, you can get double bucks. So you can go to the farmer’s market for it. Even if you’re struggling with food security.
So really important to customize your diet. And then what is what actually is in a good diet? And I’ve written a lot about this. I wrote Food: What the Heck Should I Eat? The Pegan Diet. There’s no guessing what I think. But essentially it’s whole real food. I used to do a lot of speaking in churches with the Daniel Plan I did. And I used to say, it’s really easy to figure out what to eat. And I just asked you to have one question. Did God make this or did man make this? Did God make an avocado? Yeah. Did God make a Twinkie? No. Did man make an avocado? No. It’s pretty easy. Even a kid in kindergarten could figure out what to eat. So ask yourself, next time you go buy something who made this? Was it coming from nature or God, or was it just coming from a factory somewhere? And then you should probably stay away from the stuff that’s not actually made by God or nature.
So you want to eat a whole foods, real foods, lots of plant foods, 80% of your diet should be unprocessed, whole plant foods. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds. Obviously some grains and beans are good. Some aren’t, like gluten is problem. Especially modern wheat. You probably want to stay away from that. You need to eat foods that have good fats in them. Avocados, nuts, olive oil, fatty fish, like sardines, mackerel, herring. You also want to eat a lot of fiber. So that’s going to happen naturally, as you eat a lot of plant foods. You want to make sure you have prebiotic foods like plantains and artichokes and asparagus.
And I even sometimes add that from a microbiome. You also want polyphenols for your microbiome. Things like cranberry and pomegranate and green tea and all these prickley hair and olive lead extract and all these different things that you can use to actually increase the growth of the good bugs in your gut. Because that determines so much of… Because you’re not only feeding yourself, you’re feeding all those guys in there. And then you can also take fermented foods. Things like tempeh and sauerkraut and meso and kimchi. These are all foods that are traditionally made in dots. Because we had to preserve our food in the past, we didn’t have refrigerators. So we had way of preserving all this stuff.
And also protein’s important. Now, especially as we get older, now you don’t want too much protein, but you want enough protein and you want the right kind of protein. And I’ve written a lot about this, especially in my book, Young Forever, but there’s basically a few… The rule is a palm size amount of protein at most meals. And this can be plant proteins, but often need a lot more. Nuts, seeds, grains and beans are okay, but they’re lower quality. They don’t have all the amino acids you need for or in the right volumes for building muscle. Particularly as you get older. So I like grass fed meat, I like pasture raise chicken. I like pasture raised eggs. I like small wild fish. I like goat weigh. These are my go-to proteins. So that’s want to think. Tofu, tempeh are probably the most dense plant-based proteins, but you want to eat the right protein.
Now, what should we not be eating? Well, it’s stuff that’s not food. Obviously what I’m saying is is junk food. There’s junk and there’s food. So obviously if you see a label with 45 different ingredients, don’t eat it. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, don’t eat it. If you don’t recognize what the ingredients are, don’t eat it. You can shop around the outside of your grocery store. There’s a few key tips that you should just stick to 100%, never fall off of this, its no high fructose corn syrup, ever period. Why? Well, one its sugar and two its a special form of sugar that does a lot more damage and is a lot more likely to cause harm.
The next is hydrogenated fats. Never eat anything with that. And it’s supposed to be not safe to eat according to the FDA, but it’s still everywhere in the grocery stores. I don’t know what, how they’d get away with this. But seven years ago they said it’s not safe to eat and it’s still in the grocery stores. You go figure. Anyway, I won’t get into that. Refined vegetables, want to stay away from that. Stay away from additive, chemicals, preservatives, pesticides. If you wouldn’t sprinkle it on your salad or on your vegetables at night, well, why would you eat it? Who has mutilated hydroxy toluene in they’re cupboard? But that’s the most common preservative found in most processed food. Also artificial sweeteners really bad. They tend to cause bacterial overgrowth in the gut. They actually increase the risk of obesity and diabetes. You don’t want to do that and they’ll wreck your health.
So what’s the number one take home philosophy? Just that simple question. Did God make this or did man make this? And ask yourself that next time you pick something up at the grocery store. So I hope this Health Bite has been helpful. Remember food is medicine. It’s the most powerful drug on the planet. Use it well, enjoy it. And that’s really it for this week’s Health Bite. I hope you enjoy this episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy. If you’d love it, share with your friends and family on social media. I’ll leave a comment, have you used food to heal your body and your soul? And we’ll see you next week on The Doctor’s Farmacy.
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.