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Food is medicine

Have you ever wondered where the phrase “you are what you eat” came from? As pointed out on the Culinary Lore website, this statement, regardless of its origin, is not just a simple observation about bad food bringing on bad health. It can mean something profound, something more philosophical, referencing food as a culture.

Humans eat a great diversity of food. The food we eat, and how we eat it, says a lot about us as a people.

The person most responsible for the use of this phrase today is English nutritionist Victor Lindlahr. According to Culinary Lore, in the 1920s, Lindlahr proclaimed, “Ninety percent of the diseases known to man are caused by cheap foodstuffs.” In 1942, he parlayed this conviction into a successful book: “You Are What You Eat.” According to Lindlahr, “Food is medicine.”

It is a concept that remains relevant today. A study published this year in Annals of Internal Medicine found that adequate intakes of vitamin K, vitamin A, magnesium, zinc and copper were associated with a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease — but only if the intakes came from food and not supplements.

At the same time, science has shown that the more meat we eat the higher our risk of diabetes, heart disease and strokes. Over consumption of red meats, and especially processed meats, metabolizes as toxins that damage our blood vessels and other organs. The process is linked to heart disease and diabetes. The remedy? Fruits and vegetables.

The more fruits and vegetables we eat the lower our risk for these diseases. Fruits and vegetables contain special plant nutrients that neutralize toxins. These are antioxidants, which are really good for us. They cannot be isolated and packed into a pill. They come from a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Even a little improvement in diet can yield positive results.

A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that consuming just 3 percent less animal protein and replacing it with plant protein was associated with increased life expectancy. People do not need to give up eating meat. We just have to eat less of it and make sure we ramp up our intake of fruits and vegetables.

To further advance this concept of food as medicine, let us take a closer look at a single food group associated with summer: fruit.

Let us start with a recognized superfood: blueberries. They are rich in antioxidants, which we already know lower our risk of disease. But according to Kristin Kirkpatrick, manager of wellness nutrition services at Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute, blueberries also reduce oxidative stress on the brain and have been shown to improve learning capacity and motor skills.

“Phytochemicals give fruits and vegetables their color,” Kirkpatrick tells U.S. News. “Foods high in these chemicals have the most effective means of improving your health, and blueberries have one of the strongest concentrations available.”

Kirkpatrick also points out that studies show everyday consumption of citrus fruits helps prevent cognitive decline.

Avocados are a summertime favorite. They are also considered a fruit because they fit the botanical criteria for a berry. While avocados are high in fat, it is considered a “good fat” that helps our brains function, according to Marilyn Gordon, a registered dietitian with Nova Southeastern University in Florida.

The monounsaturated fat in avocados helps prevent high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. They are also a good source of lutein, a nutrient associated with better cognition.

For me, this summer’s star is pineapple. Forget the kind that comes in a can. Granted, buying a pineapple from the vine can be a prickly and intimidating process, but it is well worth it. First, they are exotic and great to look at. The round scales you see on the surface are actually individual flowers or berries that grow together around a central core.

Pineapples are rich in vitamins, enzymes and antioxidants. They can help boost the immune system, build strong bones and aid in digestion. Despite their sweetness, pineapples are low in calories — one cup of pineapple chunks contains only 74 calories, according to the USDA National Nutrient Database — and they’re high in important dietary fiber.

According to Holly Layer, a registered dietitian, fitness instructor and food lover who has dedicated an entire website to her love of pineapple (The Healthy Pineapple), the pineapple is unique in that it is our only source of dietary bromelain, a digestive enzyme that helps break down protein foods.

Another reason why pineapples are such an amazing summer treat is they’re 85 to 89 percent water. Pineapples are also fat-free, cholesterol-free and low in sodium. Pineapples contain 20 milligrams of magnesium per cup, which helps regulate blood pressure, nerve and muscle function and could help you sleep better.

Avoid processed foods whenever possible. Consume more fruits and vegetables. Amazing things can happen when you give your body what it needs.

Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness.

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