Eating is one the most important events in everyone’s life. We enjoy eating - it’s part of who we are and part of our culture; in fact, eating is the hottest universal topic of all times. We depend on eating: the foods we eat are the sole source of our energy and nutrition. We know so much about eating: we are born with the desire to eat and grown up with rich traditions of eating. But we also know so little about eating - about how the foods we eat everyday affect our health. We are more confused than ever about the link between diet and health: margarine is healthier than butter or not; a little alcohol will keep heart attacks at bay but cause breast cancer; dietary vitamin antioxidants can prevent lung cancer or can not. Eating is a paradox and a mystery that our ancestors tried and modern scientists are trying to solve.
Based on experiences and traditions, our ancestors have used foods and plant materials to treat various kinds of illness. Manuscripts discovered from a tomb (dated 168 B.C.) in China described prescriptions for 52 ailments with herbs, grains, legumes, vegetables, animal parts, and minerals. Ancient Sumerians recorded the use of 250 medicinal plants on tablets five thousand years ago. Today, plant and food remedies are still the major medicinal source for 80% of the world’s population.
The pharmacological roles of everyday foods have long been neglected by modern medicine due to lack of proven scientific validity. The main focus of modern medicine has been on pharmaceuticals. With the invention of modern chemotherapy by Paul Erhlich in the early twentieth century and sulfa drugs and antibiotics in the 1930’s and 1940’s, it seemed as if chemical medicines would take care of all our ills. However, while there continues to be great strides made in the understanding and use of pharmaceuticals, there is also widespread dissatisfaction with both them and the system of medicine that utilizes them. This dissatisfaction is centered around the feeling that they are too disease-oriented, and perhaps too limited by their precision to cope effectively with the subtle factors and interrelationships that compromise human health and disease. The precise and pure nature of modern biomedical pharmaceuticals also tends to increase their side effects. In addition, with the victory over many common infectious diseases, more people are concerned with chronic degenerative processes and with prevention of disease. The increasing concerns have started a new movement in medical research. More and more mainstream scientists are reaching back to the truth of ancient food folk medicines and dietary practices for clues to remedies and antidotes to our modern diseases.
Research on pharmacological effects of foods is fast-paced and the results are exciting. The mystery of what foods can do for or to us has started to unveil. In order to effectively use foods for our health benefits, the following issues need to be considered:
- Keep up with the most recent scientific findings and make use of them for our health benefits
- Try to use variety of whole foods as much as possible instead of isolated dietary supplements for your health problems - they are safer, cheaper, and usually more effective since they can provide multiple and balanced disease fighting capabilities
- Choice of foods is important: since healing power of a food is depending on the content of pharmacologically active constituents that differ among foods, and certain foods may need to be avoided due to their disease encouraging activities
- How do you prepare and eat your foods can affect their pharmacological effects
- Concerns about multiple health conditions: foods that benefit one health condition may be harmful to others
- Overall nutritional values of foods