Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, declared “let food be thy medicine, and medicine be they food.” The principal of food as the foundation of healing is not unique to Hildegard of Bingen medicine. The Hildegard premise of a kitchen as pharmacy also underlies traditional healing systems of Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine. The relationship between food and health is ancient, but something has eclipsed the foundational aspect of food as medicine.
The advent of modern, predominantly pharmacological medicine and the dominant perspective of addressing symptoms over causes, have shifted the focus of healing away from its roots. Further, the industrialization of food and modern lifestyle preference for speed and convenience have led to an enormous increase in food – and “lifestyle”, related chronic illnesses.
The Healing Power of Food
Like many healers of her time, Hildegard was keenly aware of how food and lifestyle impacted health. Though much of the inner workings of the human body remained a mystery, the simple notion that what people ate directly related to the quality of their health was central to her practice.
Accordingly, here at Healthy Hildegard we dedicate a lot of time to further exploring the role food plays in preserving and restoring our health. In this effort, a basic knowledge of food’s healing power sets a solid foundation for a healthy life full of vitality.
Old is New
Today, modern science continues to affirm Hildegard’s health advice. Recently, a group of German scientists went so far as to test the probability of health claims made by Hidlegard some 800 years ago. While many of her claims were unsupported by modern science (so far), enough were that they concluded her work to be the culmination of much more than mere random associations between plants and healing properties.
At the core of Hildegard’s health regime is a balanced diet of spelt, fruit, and vegetables. Modern science continues to support the health benefits of a whole, plant-based diet – including prevention of Type 2 Diabetes as well as obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease Adopting a diet rich in these whole foods serves a preventative role in health related to diseases, including reducing the risk of most types of cancer.
Health and nutrition practitioners and researchers alike are turning much of their focus to the ancient idea that food is medicine – particularly when it comes to prevention. But they have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to reversing the trends that have taken hold over the past 50 years.
Following these modern trends in terms of diet and other lifestyle choices is decidedly unhealthy. The sharp increase in the prevalence of “lifestyle diseases” like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity (officially deemed a disease by the American Medical Association in 2013), is largely a result of the increasing preference for packaged, processed, prepared foods over whole foods. Simply going along with modern convenience is turning out to be deadly.
How Your Food Can Heal You
In the meantime, here are some of the many ways that foods can act like medicine by preventing disease and even possibly slowing the effects of aging:
Inflammation is getting a lot of attention from researchers and nutrition experts lately. For good reason, it is the likely a precursor to most diseases – and a major factor when it comes to aging. The inflammation response is a defense mechanism. This means it is activated as a result of a stressor or threat and it can happen in almost every part of our body. In fact, obesity has been linked to a form of chronic inflammation response. One of the recurring attributes of foods within the Hildegard diet and healing foods is their anti-inflammatory properties.
The highly processed nature prevalent in the modern diet results in a reduced intake of micronutrients. Processing often destroys or separates the plant components resulting in a much lower nutritional density in the refined forms we consume. As a result, even simple things like flour are fortified with nutrients to make up for what was lost.
Unfortunately, many processed food items are not fortified. And those that are, still do not provide the nutrients in their natural states – together with the fiber, proteins, and fatty acids, which may result in a lower level of utilization when we consume them. Incorporating whole and raw plants into your diet will help you consume the enzymes, fats, trace elements, and vitamins that are not found in processed foods.
Alkaline vs Acidic
The pH level of the human body is closely regulated. Your body is constantly working to maintain a pH of 7.4 (a slightly alkaline range of 7.35 to 7.45.) Studies show that the modern human diet has a much higher acidic pH load than that of our ancestors.
Highly processed foods loaded with simple sugars increase the acidity within the body. More acid means that the body is stressed to seek balance and more time in the acidic state means more time exposed to potential disease. An alkaline diet can support many benefits including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and improved cognition and bone health.
Hormones are often overlooked when it comes to dietary choices. Actually, they are often overlooked entirely. Hormones are cyclical, elusive in their far-reaching functions, and can vary widely in terms of levels and functional ranges in each individual. For these reasons, they can often be a vexing source of many different health issues like diabetes, obesity, fatigue, depression, autoimmune disorders, and accelerated aging – and require close scrutiny to manage and treat.
Even so, we can control a lot by simply choosing foods that do not disrupt our natural hormone balance or that can help restore a healthy balance. Excess sugar, un-sprouted grains, alcohol, and certain plants like soy are known to disrupt hormone balances. Opt for cruciferous vegetables, healthy fats (coconut oil, avocado, wild fish), leafy greens, and mushrooms to help maintain your hormone balance.
Blood sugar – or glucose, levels have also been subject to a great deal of stress due to the modern diet (read: sugar). Increased sugar consumption means the body must work harder to respond and manage blood sugar levels. When stressed to far, the body’s insulin response can no longer keep up and thus diabetes takes hold. Even without diabetes, the collapse of the insulin response is tied to weight gain and other hormonal changes. In addition to diabetes, poorly managed diets high in sugar and processed carbohydrates can lead to mood disorders, sleep problems, fatigue, and neurological damage. Low glycemic foods can help maintain a balanced blood glucose level and reduce the chances of getting diabetes or other serious illnesses.
Detoxification is a popular phrase in modern health and wellness circles. But the truth behind “detox” is that your body is fully capable of this task. In fact, it is doing it right now. Eliminating waste and other harmful substances is a naturally occurring process that, when healthy, requires very little in terms of intervention or external stimulation. But this doesn’t mean your diet does not have any role to play. Your foods can do a great deal to help (or harm) your natural detoxification process. As can your lack of food, or a properly administered healing fast.
Poor waste elimination is normally a result of poor dietary habits. Digestive health is tied to hormonal health and liver functioning. Our modern diet and lifestyles introduce a number of unhealthy chemicals from our diet and environment that can disrupt our digestive health. Hildegard knew how important Gut health is for overall health. This remains to be true. Our dietary choices directly influence the health of our gut and thus our ability to detoxify.