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Food Is Medicine: An Idea Whose Time Is Coming

That the earth is flat was an idea whose time came—and went! Copernicus and Galileo argued otherwise in the 16th and 17th centuries, and their ideas eventually prevailed. Yet in the 21st century, economic ideas, promulgated by Thomas Friedman in The World Is Flat, resurrected the earlier notion. Friedman did not dispute scientific evidence; rather, he argued that remarkable advances in technology had dissolved geographic boundaries.

Yet another ancient view—that food is medicine—asserted by Hippocrates, a Greek philosopher and physician, is resurfacing in a manner he never could have imagined. Today's researchers are corroborating the centuries-old notion that food not only nourishes our bodies but also helps protect against disease.

Here are four of the latest findings:

Compound in Broccoli Helps Lung Disease Patients: Researchers have discovered that sulforaphane, a compound found in broccoli, brussels sprouts and cabbage, is effective in combating inflammation in patients suffering from the lung condition known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Sulfopraphane is even more effective than anti-inflammatory drugs in combating the disease.

Eating Fish Lowers Risk of Diabetes: Researchers at the University of Valencia found that increased consumption of fish is linked with a lower occurrence of diabetes. The study, which compared dietary habits of a sample of adults in Spain, found that those who ate more red meat experienced an increased risk for weight gain and obesity, while those who ate more fish had lower glucose levels and a decreased risk for developing diabetes. The study also noted an increase in consumption of red meat among Spanish citizens. Mercedes Sotos Prieto, lead author of the study, concluded that “we ought to establish dietary intervention programmes so that we do not stray from the Mediterranean diet. In other words, such a diet involves decreasing the amount of red meat that we eat and maintaining equal levels of fish consumption.”

Vitamin D—Fortified Yogurt Protects against Heart Disease: A study published in BioMed Central's journal BMC Medicine has shown that vitamin D—fortified yogurt may help prevent heart disease in patients with diabetes. During the 12-week study, patients were given a plain yogurt drink or a drink fortified with vitamin D. According to Dr. Neyestani, a researcher at Tehran University of Medical Sciences, the patients who consumed the vitamin D—fortified yogurt experienced improved cholesterol levels—a decrease in total cholesterol and unhealthy LDL levels and an increase in healthy HDL levels. In addition to lowering cholesterol, the vitamin-fortified yogurt has been shown to improve fasting glucose and insulin levels in diabetes patients.

Coffee Consumption May Help Prevent Endometrial Cancer: Good news for coffee fans! A study published in the Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention journal confirms a link between long-term coffee consumption and a reduced risk of endometrial cancer. Dr. Edward Giovannucci, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, noted that several recent studies link coffee consumption with a decreased risk for diabetes and some types of cancer. In the study, drinking more than four cups of coffee daily was shown to reduce the risk for endometrial cancer by 25 percent.

Marlene Dietrich said, "In America, sex is an obsession. In other parts of the world, it is a fact." The same can be said about our view of food. As an indication of our national obsession with food, diet and obesity were among the top two search words on the Internet in recent years. That food has positive benefits is a particularly timely idea. In the 21st century—some 25 centuries after Hippocrates lived—we may come to realize that food is not our worst foe but rather our best friend.

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