You shouldn’t underestimate the benefits of having a doctor who focuses on nutrition.
This article will look into the idea of food as medicine, examine how long doctors study nutrition, and then we’ll discuss the benefits of having a physician focused on real food.
As part of the ‘nutrition heroes’ segment, we’ll also take a look at the work of someone who has made a significant difference to people’s lives.
Today’s nutrition hero is Dr. David Unwin.
Food as Medicine
Food as medicine certainly isn’t a new idea. In fact, it used to enjoy more popularity than it does today.
I’d be surprised if anyone hasn’t heard Hippocrates famous quote: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
Spoken words that stand the test of time, Hippocrates quote perfectly sums up how we should view food.
Sadly, misinformation is everywhere.
“Bad genes” is used to explain away illness by the doctor, and then we take some shiny blue pill to fix all our problems.
Is this really how our modern medical system should look? Or should we focus on prevention; eating the right foods, avoiding the things that do us harm, sleeping well, and following a beneficial exercise plan?
The answer is, of course, the latter.
Unfortunately, getting this message out to the public is difficult. What chance do they have when informed that their illness is “just bad luck”, and that the solution lies in a drug?
What do Doctors Know About Nutrition?
You often hear sweeping statements on this – either that doctors lack nutrition knowledge, or that doctors are experts who know everything about our health.
Neither are true, and the answer lies somewhere in between.
Many doctors do know lots about nutrition and prioritize it as part of their treatment programs.
Others, unfortunately, just come out with the old “eat a balanced diet” line (what does that even mean?)
The majority of people trust their doctor when it comes to nutrition advice, and act upon it without question.
How Much Nutrition do Doctors Study in Medical School?
A common complaint is that medical schools don’t focus enough on nutrition.
But is it true?
A 2010 survey of medical schools in the US revealed that the average time spent on nutrition training was 20 hours over a 4-year period. Based on the responses to the survey, the study authors determined that “basic science courses are taught, apparently with little connection to human diets or common diseases” (1).
A further study surveyed 106 different medical schools. Out of these schools, seven didn’t require students to take nutrition training. In the remaining 99 schools, students had an average 23.9 contact hours of nutrition training throughout their entire medical school stay (2).
In a survey of all accredited US medical schools, the results revealed that only 27% of the schools achieve the required 25 hours of nutrition training set by the National Academy of Sciences (3).
These findings are entirely shocking.
Nutrition plays a huge role in our health, and if doctors are not adequately trained, it’s no real surprise that they don’t practise preventive nutrition.
Medical students should study nutrition for a minimum of 25 hours in US medical schools. However, 73% don’t achieve this target.
What Does Food as Medicine Mean?
Food as medicine just means eating real, nutrient-dense quality foods to
improve our health. The term can, however, be misunderstood.
Some people attack the idea of food as medicine, and when you hear people proclaiming a packet of dried berries a ‘miracle cure,’ then you can’t blame them.
So, here are three guiding principles on what using food as medicine really means:
1. Wherever possible, use foods rather than drugs and supplements
Real food is always the best source of nutrients. Food contains a complex mixture of beneficial micronutrients designed by nature itself.
Supplements, on the other hand, mix random blends of synthetic nutrients that don’t appear to have the same benefits on our health.
If we look at randomized controlled trials, we can see that vitamin and mineral supplementation has virtually failed to show any effect on the risk of chronic disease. However, there is substantial evidence that both disease risk and survival are improved by fruit and vegetable consumption (4).
Of course, drugs and supplementation can be very useful in some cases – especially for certain medical conditions.
But we shouldn’t rely on a daily tablet to safeguard our health.
2. Find a Doctor Who Supports Your Focus on Nutrition
The relationship between doctor and patient is critical and built on trust.
For this purpose, it’s essential that both of you are working on the same team to improve your health.
Providing urgent medical treatment isn’t required, then a doctor knowledgeable in nutrition should understand if you want to focus on diet rather than simply jumping on a pill.
Millions of people around the world are taking daily drugs for cholesterol, lowering blood sugar, acid reflux and more. But how many of them need to? Even more concerning is that these drugs often have dangerous side effects.
Nutrition intervention should be the priority, and drugs should be an option if that fails.
Our medical system has this upside down!
Sounds like how people describe the paleo diet, but I’m not talking about that diet specifically.
But we should eat a diet that is compatible with what our bodies evolved to expect. Were our ancient ancestors eating cornflakes for breakfast and some peanut butter jelly sandwiches for lunch? Not likely.
Were they consuming hundreds of grams of ultra-processed powders each day, washing it down with sugary liquid? No.
The typical Western diet is full of refined food; vegetable oils, sugar, and flour. These foods are all destroyers of health.
If you’re feeling unsure about exactly what constitutes a healthy diet, then have a look at the above two links – they’ll be an immense help.
The Benefits of Having a Doctor Who Focuses on Nutrition: Why Dr. David Unwin is a “Nutrition Hero”
Dr. David Unwin is a nutrition hero.
The reason? He thought outside the box for the benefit of his patients.
Now if you don’t know this doctor, here are a few quick details:
- A GP in the UK since 1986
- Award-winning doctor: National Health Service Innovator of the Year Award 2016
- First GP to win the award
- Several published studies on treating Diabetes with a low-carb diet
When we think about ‘food as medicine,’ there’s no better person to mention. Dr. Unwin has shown just how much of an impact a healthy nutrition strategy can have on our health.
His practice currently spends ￡45,000 less per year than average on diabetes drugs. And the reason why is simple: his patients don’t need as many!
Instead of accepting the status quo of using pills and potions to treat his patients; he delves into their diet and lifestyle, pinpoints the problem, and advises them on how they can use a low-carb diet to reverse their condition. And that’s why he’s a nutrition hero.
Medication vs. Food
The video below shows a brilliant roleplay between Dr. David Unwin and his wife, Dr. Jen Unwin.
This roleplay perfectly highlights the incredible difference between a conventional, prescription-happy doctor and one who focuses on nutrition and tackling the root cause of ill health.
Where Can I Find a Doctor Who Focuses on Nutrition?
A website named FOODMED has an incredible resource for anyone looking for a low-carb, real-food focused doctor.
The Low Carb Map of the World contains a listing of physicians and other health professionals from around the world. So, no matter where you live, you can find the closest person to you.
I hope this article has given some insight into the relationship between nutrition and our medical system.
Rates of chronic disease – especially diabetes and the metabolic syndrome – are skyrocketing around the world.
How many of these new diagnoses would have been preventable?
And how many people lose their loved ones prematurely?
They are somber questions, but ones that need to be asked. We need more doctors who focus on fixing the cause of illness rather than just medicating the symptoms.
To sum up, we need to start thinking of food as medicine once again.
Hippocrates had it right all those years ago.