If you have spent time studying healthy eating, you will likely have run across this food is medicine quote from the ancient Greek physician. However, for those who don’t know, here is a quick primer about the author, often called the “Father of Medicine.”
Hippocrates lived somewhere around the 4th or 5th century B.C. Historians cannot agree on the exact details of his life and work, but he is generally credited with bringing a more professional and scientific approach to the practice of medicine, in a time when superstition and mythology figured largely in the treatment of disease.
I solemnly swear...
You may have heard of the “Hippocratic Oath” which, whether or not it can be directly ascribed to Hippocrates, derives its name from his ethical approach to the practice of medicine. It is now rarely used in its original form, but modified versions, with many of the same principles, are used at some medical schools as part of graduation ceremonies.
Is this ancient quote still relative today?
It’s amazing that all of these centuries later, we can still find meaning in the wisdom of an ancient physician. Although he was ahead of his time in many ways, Hippocrates did not have a completely accurate understanding of human physiology and anatomy. Yet one thing that he understood very well, maybe better than many of our modern doctors, is the relationship between what we eat and how well we are.
And that is the crux of it.
Modern medicine has a tendency to focus on the symptoms that we experience when we are ill, and not the underlying cause. In all fairness, as patients, we tend to want the doctor to fix what’s bothering us so we can get back to what we were doing, and, “Oh, while you’re at it, make it a quick fix!” We are often not interested in changing our lifestyle, when having surgery or taking a pill will do.
You are what you eat
Hippocrates recognized that our body is constantly trying to maintain balance—called "homeostasis"—in spite of all of the activity that is constantly going on inside and outside of it. The fact is that what you eat can either make that balance easier to maintain, or more difficult. When, for whatever reason, homeostasis cannot be maintained, you become susceptible to illness and disease.
Ancient wisdom for a modern world
Hippocrates is also attributed with saying, “If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.”
It sounds so simple, but with our much adulterated food supply, we often find ourselves filling up on “foods” that barely qualify as “nourishment,” while at the same time, many of us have traded our walking shoes for carpet slippers, placed strategically in front of the computer or television screen. Our schedules are so overloaded that we feel we don’t have time for real nourishment or healthy exercise, and are just thankful for the convenience of “fast food” and for those pills the doctor prescribed for our heartburn and high cholesterol.
Food is medicine
However, if you could think of food as medicine, you might take a different approach to eating. After all, there is good medicine and there is bad medicine. As a rule you don’t just go to the pharmacy and grab a bottle of whatever’s convenient to chug-a-lug every so often when you think of it.
Instead, you are very careful to take the prescribed dose at the proscribed times for the recommended duration. Why is that? It’s because you know that it is important to take the correct medicine in the proper dose for the necessary interval or it will have a deleterious affect on your health—maybe even a lethal one in the case of taking too much.
In the same way, there are foods that contribute to your good health and foods that are not so advantageous. In addition, the amount you eat, even of good foods, can have an effect on your well being. There are even some foods that seem to have extra special qualities—sometimes called "super foods"—that may play an even more important role in health and longevity.
What would Hippocrates do?
Take some time to educate yourself about the foods that are healthy. You will find that most healthy eating experts agree that we should eat more fresh, whole, unprocessed foods, emphasizing fruits and vegetables, along with some whole grains, lean proteins and monounsaturated fats. You will find that, within these parameters, are many delicious selections from which to choose.
Even if you are convinced that food is medicine, it may take some time to change your thinking and to re-educate your palate, but consider it a worthwhile investment in your healthy future. You already know that there is nothing in the world as good as feeling good.
No doubt, Hippocrates would agree.
Eat and be healthy with my warmest regards,