Healthy Foods Boise ID
If you could quiz just one person about the future of food as medicine, you might want to chat with Jeffrey Bland, a PhD biochemist who is president and chief science officer of the Gig Harbor, Washington-based Metagenics. He has long been recognized as a pioneer in the emerging field of what he and others term functional medicine.
In a nutshell, functional medicine treats what Bland calls the “emerging mechanisms of disease.” In other words, it addresses the potential for disease and seeks to keep disease from developing. Functional foods comprise a major component of functional medicine’s health maintenance arsenal, along with stress management and exercise.
Broadly defined, functional foods are foods that provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition—they have some therapeutic or preventive value that is unrelated to the calories they contain. Many functional foods occur naturally—tomatoes and broccoli, for instance, contain lycopene and sulforaphane, respectively, both of which are physiologically active.
Other functional foods are “engineered,” like calcium-rich orange juice or omega-3–laden eggs from chickens fed a diet rich in flax seed. These have either been fortified with specific nutrients or otherwise enhanced with phytochemicals or botanicals. This type of functional food does not, however, include genetically modified foods.
In Bland’s mind, functional foods contain components that work at a molecular level to help the body fend off disease and maintain overall health. This is not something mainstream healthcare has embraced with open arms.
At the crux of the conflict, Bland suggests, is culture. In the traditional medicines of the East, he says, “it’s not an alien concept to consider that there might be specific, unique principles in certain foods that could have therapeutic effects on health.” For centuries, food in Asia has been considered to have health- or disease-producing attributes, and in modern-day Japan, says Bland, certain food products that contain plant sterols are allowed by law to make cholesterol management claims on their labels.
Western culture’s view of food as medicine has generally been limited to a food’s ability to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiency diseases, Bland contends. Certain foods may prevent scurvy or beriberi, this view admits, but they do not in general have any other unique health-giving attributes.
Attitudes like these must and will change, Bland asserts, if for no other reason than economics. “The present model we have married ourselves to, which is don’t treat it until it’s broken, is basically causing hyperinflation of the healthcare dollar,” Bland says, citing a New England Journal of Medicine article that suggests the next generation of Americans could well be the first to have lower health expectations and lower life expectancies than their parents.
“Something has to change. You either ration quality of care to those who can afford to pay for it, which becomes very nonegal...