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HealthConnections - Food as Medicine


Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be difficult, especially for people with chronic illnesses. This week on HealthConnections, Dr. Carole Myers, a professor emeritus in the University of Tennessee College of Nursing, discusses the benefits and drawbacks that surround foods and diets. Dr. Myers speaks with Dr. Rocio Huet, a board certified internal medicine and integrative medicine physician, and her colleague, Jenna Waters, a registered dietitian from the University of Tennessee Medical Center.

WUOT’s Carole Myers: Today we will examine the idea that food could make us sick or make us well. Could one of you talk about the intriguing idea that food is both harmful and helpful?

Dr. Rocio Huet: In our society today, a large percentage of the population is dealing with chronic health issues, which medicines simply manage at best rather than healing the root causes of these chronic illnesses and these root causes are directly related to chronic inflammation, one facet of which is what we put in and on our bodies. Food, which we are ingesting everyday, can make us sick or make us well.

Well, let’s talk about that. How does food make us sick and then follow up with how does food make us well?

Huet: The foods we eat, among other factors, directly impact our gut microbiome and that is this ecosystem of trillions of bacteria, fungi, parasites, viruses, that are inside of our intestinal tract. We are learning how that microbiome has more impact on our microchemistry and functioning than even our own genetics by stimulating the immune system, synthesizing vitamins we need and breaking down toxic compounds. How we eat impacts our microbiome and this is just the beginning of what we understand of this.

Jenna Waters: Absolutely, so simply put our bodies are made to function on real foods. Things that come from nature primarily. When we veer from that path it's certainly a stress on our system and then that cycles into an inflammation pattern which we now know is the root cause to most symptoms and those chronic diseases that Dr. Huet mentioned. So, generally ingredients that we know that fuel and support our bodies are a wide variety of plant foods including: fruits and veggies, of course, lean, well-sourced is key, proteins, ancient grains, beans and legumes, raw nuts and seeds and then, of course, foods that we consider being a withdraw on our system. That would include things like: added sugars, hydrogenated oils which are laced in most processed foods, and then, of course, just highly processed foods and artificial ingredients in general.

Huet: First of all, personalizing is key. There is not one diet plan that works for all people at all times of their lives. Of course, an overall plant based diet is shown to be the best for decreasing heart disease and cancer which are the two top causes of death in the U.S. and worldwide as well as decreasing Alzheimer's.

Waters: Most of us would acknowledge that food impacts how we feel, but the key, of course, is finding specific strategies and structures of a healthy food lifestyle that works for not only us, but our families as well and for people that are in our households. This is the only way that it will be truly sustainable and that it will become a lifestyle. Many people, we find, that want to do a diet or an all-or-nothing approach but then this we find creates more stress. So, just finding that sustainable small upgrade change which can come in the form of some simple, small steps but certainly a way to lead to a path of better wellness.

This transcript has been lightly edited for content.

Greg joined WUOT in 2007, first as operations director and now as assistant director/director of programming. His duties range from analyzing audience data to helping clear WUOT’s satellite dish of snow and ice. Greg started in public radio in 2000 in Shreveport, La., at Red River Radio and was, prior to coming WUOT, at WYSO in Dayton, Ohio, where he also was director of programming and operations.