If you live near Huntington Beach, California, you might have noticed doctors wandering around the aisles of your local Ralph’s market. They aren’t there as customers, they’re there as doctors, and they’re trying to help people change the way they look at overall health and the types of foods that they’re eating.
The Mary and Dick Allen Diabetes Center recently started practicing a new “Shop with Your Doc” program that has doctors meet with their patients at the grocery store so they can advise them on healthy food choices and point out things they want to avoid.
Daniel Nadeau, physician and program director at Mary and Dick Allen Diabetes Center, tells us that sugar and processed foods are a large contributing factor to rising diabetes levels in kids.
"In America, over 50 percent of our food is processed food," Nadeau says. "And only 5 percent of our food is plant-based food. I think we should try to reverse that."
While the ‘food-as-medicine’ mantra has been preached for decades, it’s just now starting to become common practice. Physicians, doctors and medical institutions are beginning to prescribe changes to diet along with their normal pharmaceutical recommendations to help their patients achieve a healthier life.
Dr. Richard Afable, president and CEO of St. Joseph Hoag Health, says that more and more medical institutions all over California are beginning to transition from health care organizations to ‘health’ organizations.
For example, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital has created the Therapeutic Food Pantry program that will start sending home patients with bags of food specifically tailored to help treat their condition (as well as detailed instructions on how to cook them).
"We really want to link food and medicine, and not just give away food," says Dr. Rita Nguyen, medical director of the Healthy Food Initiatives at St. Joseph. "We want people to understand what they're eating, how to prepare it, the role food plays in their lives."
While food alone is oftentimes not the final solution to one’s problems, research and data being collected in the food-as-medicine field all point to one thing: salt, sugar, fat and processed foods are making rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, skyrocket.
"What people eat can be medicine or poison. As a physician, nutrition is one of the most powerful things you can change to reverse the effects of chronic disease,” says Dr. Brenda Rea of the family and preventative medicine residency program at Loma Linda University School of Medicine.
"As what happened with tobacco, this will require a cultural shift, but that can happen," says Nguyen. "In the same way physicians used to smoke, and then stopped smoking and were able to talk to patients about it, I think physicians can have a bigger voice in it."