Food As Medicine for Women’s Health
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” said Hippocrates over 2400 years ago. This idea still rings true today.
What you fill your refrigerator with may be a bigger determinant of health than what’s in your medicine cabinet. Most of us eat at least three times per day. That’s at least three opportunities to nourish our bodies with food that creates health, supports hormones, and makes us feel our best.
The truth is that most doctors don’t talk about nutrition very much. I only spent a handful of hours on nutrition curriculum in medical school. As I’ve always loved food and known how vital getting back into the kitchen is for health, I had to learn about food as medicine tools in training outside my initial medical education. Nutrition has become foundational in my integrative medicine practice.
Today’s article will dive into my food as medicine approach for women’s health. Keep reading to learn more about:
- What food as medicine means
- Principles of food as medicine
- Women’s health superfoods
Let’s jump right in!
A Food As Medicine Approach
When your mother made you chicken soup for a cold, she was utilizing food as medicine. Warming, nutrient-rich broth supports hydration and immune health. There is wisdom in this tradition.
There are many examples of these natural, food-based remedies, many of which can be traced to traditional medicine practices like Ayurveda.
Modern science has taken longer to see the value in using food as a medical tool for both prevention and to treat specific health conditions. Still, it now confirms much of what ancient traditions and common sense have taught us about the power of nutrition.
For example, it’s well proven that people who eat more vegetables and fruit have lower risks of a variety of chronic diseases, enjoy longer lifespans, and report more happiness and a higher quality of life compared to non-veggie eaters.
While changes to your diet might not provide a quick fix, it is the best long-term strategy to promote health. Eat more nutritious foods is also generally safe but be sure to talk about diet changes with your provider. And while food is medicinal, don’t replace prescription medications with food.
Principles Of Using Food As Medicine
We’ve been taught that food is fuel and boils down to calories, but food is so much more. Here are some of the ways I think about food as medicine.
- Whole foods are more than the sum of their parts. Whole foods are food in their entire or very minimally processed form. Examples include strawberries, beans, eggs, and extra virgin olive oil.
Each whole food contains various nutrients: vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients (plant nutrients), fatty acids, amino acids, and more. We can only isolate what we understand; there is likely so much to learn about each food and how nutrients work in synergy.
- Food is information. Food relays information to our body about our environment and interacts with our genes. Nutrigenomics is the study of this interaction. Beyond calories, food influences inflammation, hormone balance, fertility, perimenopausal symptoms, and everything else.
- Nutrition is personal. We are each unique in our nutrition needs. What foods our body needs for optimal health will differ from pregnancy to lactation to menopause. In addition, nutrition approaches that feel best for your body will likely change over time. Part of using food as medicine is tuning in and adapting.
Women’s Health Superfoods
There are so many individual foods that can be incorporated into the diet and used therapeutically to support hormone balance and women’s health through life stages. Here are some examples:
- Flaxseeds – Flaxseeds contain phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) that modulate the estrogen response in the body. They are incredibly supportive during times of hormone highs or lows like perimenopause. Try 1-2 tablespoons of ground flax per day.
- Cruciferous vegetables – Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale fall into this category. Sulfur compounds in these vegetables support the healthy detoxification of estrogen in the liver. Eat these daily.
- Yogurt – Unsweetened coconut, almond, or goat or sheep milk yogurt (as tolerated) provides live cultures of beneficial bacteria that support the gut and vaginal microbiomes. Include fermented foods in the diet regularly. A word of caution, for some, dairy might not be well tolerated and could trigger inflammation, listen to your body.
- Bone broth – The broth from slow-cooked quality bones is rich in minerals and collagen protein that supports hair, skin, bones, and joints as we age.
- Tart cherries – Cherries are rich in plant compounds called anthocyanins, which are responsible for the deep color and anti-inflammatory properties. Cherries are also a natural source of melatonin that promotes sleep. Try a few ounces of tart cherry juice in place of wine in the evening for better sleep.
- Wild salmon – Wild salmon contains high levels of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, which are critical for brain health, heart health, and metabolism. More fish in the diet can also cool period pain and cramping. Shoot for cold water fish two or three times per week.
- Turmeric – The deep orange-yellow spice from India is highly medicinal, providing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. It’s beneficial for joint pain and inflammation, brain health, and much more. Be sure to include herbs and spices, including turmeric, in your cooking.
- Oranges – Oranges, sweet potatoes, peaches, and other beta-carotene-rich orange foods have an affinity for the ovaries. They are helpful to include in the diet for fertility and reproductive health. Eat the rainbow of plant foods each day.
When it comes to health, food is foundational. Nutrition is powerful medicine for prevention and as part of treatment protocols for various conditions. It’s also a tool we all have access to at least a few times daily.
Changing dietary habits isn’t always straightforward. If you desire support and guidance, please reach out to our clinic for integrative care from our team of doctors, nutritionists, and other practitioners. Food is medicine; be sure to eat your medicine today.