Functional Medicine is out to change our diet, thank goodness


It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon and I spent it doing one of my favorite things – taking myself on a treasure hunt. I scour my neighborhood on foot within about five miles searching for a particular item I need. Whether I find it or not rarely matters. It’s the fun of looking, the meandering through new neighborhoods and the benefit of the exercise.

At the end of today’s hunt I dropped into a coffee shop for lunch. I ordered a spinach and feta cheese omelette, substituting lettuce and tomato for the french fries and nibbling on the crusts of a piece of whole wheat toast. I couldn’t help but notice what the family at the table next to me was eating.

The boy closest to me had breaded and fried onion rings, french fries and fried chicken. The four other adults and two other children at the table had buttermilk pancakes the size of car tires with whipped cream and syrup. Not surprisingly, everyone, including the kids, was overweight.

A few minutes later, two couples sat down at the table on my other side. They began with sugared ice tea and donuts and then had a similar pile up of fries, grits, pancakes  and meat sandwiches to which they added sweet syrup, ketchup, fake margarine and salt. Everyone was also overweight at this table.

As the man poured ketchup over his wife’s fries all I could think about was the high fructose corn syrup in the ketchup. And maybe hauling him off for wife abuse. As the woman opened the little pack of hydrogenated margarine to put on her grits all I could think about was the harmful effect of vegetables oils and trans fats.

The families at both tables were Hispanic, although I don’t think that makes a difference. What they were enjoying is the typical American diet. What was so troubling was I don’t believe any of them knew that these foods is why they have the health problems they already do, and if they don’t already have them, the high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease they’re going to get.

This week I’ve been digesting a series of Dr. Mark Hyman’s videos. Hyman is the Chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine. He’s just been asked to start a department of Functional Medicine at famed Cleveland Clinic. I’ve never forgotten years ago when I read a line from one of his books, “What you put at the end of your fork is more powerful medicine than anything you will find at the bottom of a pill bottle.”

Functional Medicine treats the body as one whole system, as a mechanism, and looks for the root causes of disease. Traditional medicine looks at the body in pieces, referring out to specialists who cover a particular piece, and prescribes pills for disease symptoms.

Functional Medicine believes food is medicine and that food, fitness, environment, toxins and stress drive the body’s mechanism to either increase or decrease wellness. Immersed as I’ve been this week in Hyman’s teachings – hearing anew that every bite determines which genes express themselves, which enzymes, hormones, DNA get turned on and whether inflammation occurs, I watch people eat seeing the direct route from fork to stomach to disease.

It’s not about the number of calories you eat that we’ve heard for so long but the quality of those calories. The wheat we eat today is not the wheat of yesteryear, it’s been bastardized and raises blood sugar faster than it ever did. A McDonald’s breakfast creates immediate inflammation in the body. It’s horrible – I can’t look at what people eat anymore without wanting to leap over my table and save them.

If you’re interested to learn more, this is a really good presentation Dr. Hyman gave at TED on Functional Medicine and food. Hyman’s also written several books about fat and sugar and insulin resistance. His latest book is The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet.

In one sentence here’s the food key to maintaining health, losing weight and preventing or reversing insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome – get rid of the sugar, flour, artificial sweetener and processed foods in your diet, add more healthy fats – avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, olive oil – and make the bottom of your food pyramid vegetables and lean protein.

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