(Article published at www.healthline.com
Written by Jillian Kubala, MS, RD on August 8, 2019)
What you choose to eat has profound effects on your overall health. Research shows that dietary habits influence disease risk. While certain foods may trigger chronic health conditions, others offer strong medicinal and protective qualities. Thus, many people argue that food is medicine. Yet, diet alone cannot and should not replace medicine in all circumstances. Although many illnesses can be prevented, treated, or even cured by dietary and lifestyle changes, many others cannot.
This article explains the medicinal effects of food, including which foods should and shouldn’t be used for healing.
How food nourishes and protects your body
Many nutrients in food promote health and protect your body from disease. Eating whole, nutritious foods is important because their unique substances work synergistically to create an effect that can’t be replicated by taking a supplement.
Vitamins and minerals
Although your body only needs small amounts of vitamins and minerals, they’re vital for your health. However, Western diets — high in processed foods and low in whole foods like fresh produce — are typically deficient in vitamins and minerals. Such deficiencies can substantially increase your risk of disease (1Trusted Source). For example, insufficient intakes of vitamin C, vitamin D, and folate may harm your heart, cause immune dysfunction, and increase your risk of certain cancers, respectively (2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source).
Beneficial plant compounds
Nutritious foods, including vegetables, fruits, beans, and grains, boast numerous beneficial compounds, such as antioxidants. Antioxidants protect cells from damage that may otherwise lead to disease (5Trusted Source). In fact, studies demonstrate that people whose diets are rich in polyphenol antioxidants have lower rates of depression, diabetes, dementia, and heart disease (6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source).
Fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet. It not only promotes proper digestion and elimination but also feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut (10Trusted Source). Thus, high-fiber foods like vegetables, beans, grains, and fruits help protect against disease, decrease inflammation, and boost your immune system (11Trusted Source). On the other hand, low-fiber diets are associated with an increased risk of illnesses, including colon cancer and stroke (12, 13Trusted Source, 14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source).
Protein and healthy fats
The protein and fat in whole, nutritious foods play various critical roles in your body.
Amino acids — the building blocks of protein — aid immune function, muscle synthesis, metabolism, and growth, while fats provide fuel and help absorb nutrients (16Trusted Source, 17Trusted Source).
Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in foods like fatty fish, help regulate inflammation and are linked to improved heart and immune health (18Trusted Source).