Science and Tech


Doctors Are Prescribing Food As Medicine

From dietitians on staff at grocery stores to a new conference all about nutrition, more doctors are considering writing an RX for healthy food.
Posted at 4:32 PM, Jun 11, 2018

There’s a famous Hippocrates quote, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Now modern physicians are taking a note from the ancient Greek.

“Before there was medicine, all we had was the wisdom of our elders and the food of our elders,” Dr. Robert Graham said.

Dr. Robert Graham is one clinician taking that Hippocrates quote to heart. He's taught hundreds of health care workers how to make healthy plant-based meals. Graham thinks that if patients see doctors eating well, they'll eat healthy too.

“The pharmaceutical approach, the medical approach, really hasn't gotten us that far in health and wellness. Because if it had, we wouldn't be having these chronic diseases of diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease, arthritis, and to a certain degree cancer,” Graham said.

The trend of thinking of food as medicine is catching on around the country. Some grocery stores offer on-site dietitians to help shoppers pick healthy foods. Hy-Vee has more than 200 dietitians working at the company's 245 grocery stores. In some rural areas, the dietitians cover several locations. And some hospitals have “shop with a doc” programs.

Amy Saxe-Custack of Michigan State University even started a program where doctors gave pediatric patients $15 prescriptions to buy produce at a nearby farmers market.

"It is a prescription, it looks like a scrip, and it says fresh fruits and vegetables," she told Newsy. 

Saxe-Custack is one of the presenters at Nutrition 2018, the inaugural meeting of the American Society for Nutrition. Researchers and doctors at the Boston conference will present 2,000 studies, many of them about the healing or preventative powers in our meals.

Among the findings: Eggs may reduce diabetes risk factors, and low-fat or fermented dairy may lower the risk of colorectal cancer. Edible mushrooms may fight inflammation, and coffee could be good for your liver. 

The doctors Newsy spoke with say they still prescribe patients medication because food can't replace all the benefits of immunizations or antibiotics. But they think a smart diet could help address chronic health issues like heart disease — in some cases, without the need for extra drugs.

If nothing else, it can be cheaper: Recent numbers show Americans spent on average about $1,200 annually on prescription drugs. Food for thought, for sure.