Food Is Not Thy Medicine

Do you know how many articles about diet start with a quote „Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food“?

Many. And so does this one.

The content of this quote suggests it’s better to skip this article because it will probably glorify food in an unoriginal and unjustified way.

Even though I’m a nutritionist, I won’t glorify food. So feel free to continue reading.

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food

Before Hippocrates, the cause of disease was considered to be divine intervention. When he came along, it became clear that disease is the consequence of a natural cause.

„Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food“ is probably the most known saying about diet. It’s widely quoted among laymen and scientists alike. Even though it was attributed to Hippocrates, it’s hard to establish its origin and even existence. There’s no mention of it in Corpus Hippocraticum, which is the main work of the father of medicine.

In the age of Hippocrates, this advice maybe made sense, because there was no real medicine around. But today, with modern science of medicine, and many eating disorders, it’s time to abandon the idea that food is medicine.

Food is not medicine

You can have the healthiest diet in the world (if there was such), but you’ll still need medicine to cure the disease you might have.

A diabetic strictly following diabetic diet will still need an external insulin intake just to stay alive.

Cancer hits even those with high-quality diets. Without a doubt, a healthy diet will help you get through medical treatment, but it won’t heal cancer.

The quote „Let food be thy medicine, and medicine thy food“ is so popular and attractive due to two main reasons.

  1. It’s attributed to Hippocrates – father of medicine – so everything he said or wrote must be true.
  2. It suggests the superiority of the natural (food) in comparison to artificial (medicine).

Both reasons are product of paralogisms – inadvertent logical mistakes. In the first case there is a combination of paralogistic arguments from authorities and antiquities, and in the second case, there is a naturalistic paralogism.

The fact that the father of medicine said something is not reason enough to trust it blindly. The fact that the quote is old doesn’t make it true. And of course, the fact that something is natural doesn’t mean it’s better than artificial. If there was even a clear distinction between these.

Okay, but what’s wrong with considering food to be medicine? Won’t this type of thinking lead us to greater quality of nutrition and embetter our health?

I wouldn’t bet on it. The awareness of healthy diet can be developed without glorifying it. And glorification can come back to bite us in the rear regions.

One thing all scientific studies about diet have in common: Food has a very subtle influence on health which usually cannot be noticed without statistical analysis.

People often think too much of this influence, having unrealistic expectations about huge and instant benefits. They don’t understand that consequences of a diet, be it positive or negative, will be visible only long-term – after twenty or thirty years. Changing diet habits won’t suddenly turn around the whole life of bad habits. To see results, the change needs to be maintained.

If food is medicine, there must be specific items (cures) that offer instant solutions for the disease we have?

Chia seeds! Goji berries!

I hope this isn’t news for you, but there are no superfoods. Superfood is a marketing trick used by charlatans to take advantage of human search for a simple solution to dietary problems – the magic pill.

Without further ado, diet is an important factor in disease development. Not as a cure, but as a prevention.

Thinking about food as medicine does no favors to either food or medicine.

No favors

Food isn’t just fuel for the body. Food isn’t just nutrients helping the body to function optimally. Food isn’t just a method of risk decrease when speaking of chronic illnesses. Food isn’t just a tool to reduce body weight.

Food is so much more than medicine. Food is food. It’s a source of pleasure and directly connected to the human psyche and social interaction. Medicalization of food steals these positive attributes from it.

Thinking about food as medicine can lead to obsessions about diet, and developing eating disorders. It can lead to unjustified demonization of a food item and canonization of a different item. It transforms the diet into a stressful process with no joys it can provide.

No favors for the medicine either

The advancement of medicine is the most responsible for prolonging our lifespan, as well as the quality of life. Medicine and cures are a powerful tool for survival in recently unimaginable situations.

Food needs to be distinguished from medicine because otherwise, one can think of replacing medicinal treatment with dietary one, and not treat their medical condition adequately.

In the age of alternative ‘medicine’ being far too present, it’s more important than ever to keep the trust in the science of medicine. It’s not perfect, but it’s far more successful than the alternative.

A quality diet is the best prevention

Diet is an essential component to preserve and enhance health, to give pleasure and joy, and it’s a necessary part of celebrations, mournings, and social occasions.

A quality diet is the best-known prevention from developing chronic disease.

But food isn’t medicine.

Don’t expect wonders from food, but give it the significance it deserves.

Let food be thy food and medicine be thy medicine. Let food be thy prevention and medicine thy cure.