Food as Medicine: Applying an Old Adage in a New Way

As Mark Hyman succinctly stated in his concluding statement at the Food As Medicine conference at Bethesda, Maryland (June, 2012), “It’s not ‘Food As Medicine.’  It’s ‘Food IsMedicine’.”

As a physician, I was taught to rely on prescription, pharmaceutical medications.  I made a big leap of faith when I changed my paradigm and began using nutritional supplements for healing underlying physiology.  But it still came in pills and tablets.  Then I made another leap of faith, when I incorporated the use of acupressure and meditation into my practice.  It was pill-less and tab-less.  But at the Food as Medicine conference, I am being reminded that food should be viewed just as seriously as an intervention as any supplement or technique.  We should take the foods we eat more seriously, and if we do, we will be surprised and quickly rewarded with a rapid return to health.  What a concept!

With this in mind, I was struck by an article posted today by the Orthomolecular Medicine News Service.  The article highlighted the ambivalence demonstrated by a Reader’s Digest article on the dangers of eating red meat.  Apparently, the Reader’s Digest used research to substantiate the negative health consequences of eating red meat, and then, in the same article, recommended that its readers eat red meat.  It is the Standard American Diet at war with the new scientific evidence, which points to a new and better way of eating, demonstrated in the same article.  Here is the article below:

Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, June 19, 2012
Another Reader’s Digest Absurdity:
Red meat is bad – no, wait – good for you!
Editorial by Helen Saul Case

(OMNS June 19, 2012) Browsing through the latest issue of Reader’s Digest, it’s not those witty “Laughter Is the Best Medicine” sections that are making me chuckle. It’s the ridiculous, contradictory health advice that the magazine gives to the reader.

Let’s start with what makes sense. In the article “Is Meat Good or Bad for You?” [1] the author explains that red meat might be killing us. He references a Harvard study [2] that tracked over 121,000 adults for up to 28 years and shares with us that “people who ate three ounces of red meat every day were about 13 percent more likely to die-often from heart disease or cancer-before the study ended than people who didn’t eat meat.”[1] And, folks who eat processed meat fared worse. They increased their risk of early death by 20 percent. This sounds like pretty important information, not to be taken lightly. He writes, “It’s no wonder that many experts recommend reducing or eliminating red meat from your diet.” That’s certainly true.

Alas, the author’s common sense ends there. As my grandmother said, “Common sense isn’t common.” Well, Grandma, is right again.

The author mentions in his rebuttal that regular eaters of lean beef get more protein, zinc, potassium, and B vitamins. Ah yes, protein. Good thing we have red meat! I mean, you can’t find adequate amounts of protein in anything else but red meat. Except for beans, of course. Oh, and cheese. And it’s also in tofu, nuts, lentils, eggs, yogurt, milk, seafood, and more. Still, how do those vegetarians survive!? Apparently they do, if the Harvard study is to be believed, and in greater numbers than the meat-eaters.

Okay, vitamins and minerals sure are important. You can’t get them anywhere but in a steak. Yeah, right.

With all that evidence the author just provided, we still want to know the final verdict: is red meat good or bad? Apparently, “You can still fit a daily serving of red meat into a healthy diet.” [1]

Really? A “daily serving” is considered to be about three ounces. Awesome! I get to eat three ounces of red meat a day!

Wait, didn’t the Harvard study just say that three ounces of red meat a day was killing people? Did the author read his own article? Qualifying the eating of red meat by using the phrase “as part of a healthy diet” makes about as much sense as the huge bowl of sugar-laden breakfast cereal pictured on the front of the cereal box that boasts being “part of a complete breakfast.” But this is only when presented next to a pile of whole wheat toast, fresh fruit, orange juice, and a pound of spinach. Okay, I made up the spinach part.

So, red meat is bad for us. But, according to the article that said so, we’re supposed to go ahead and eat it anyway.

Isn’t that what the reader of the Digest takes from the article? Must be. In the oxymoron box (or maybe just the “moron” box) entitled “How Healthy Carnivores Eat,” it recommends the “perfect” portion of meat is about the size of a deck of playing cards. Perfect for what? A coronary? Goodness knows, when many people eat red meat, the serving is larger than any “deck of cards” outside of a novelty shop. Nor will this advice likely prevent Americans from consuming their 100 pounds or more of red meat a year, an amount way out of proportion to our intake of fruits and vegetables.[3] Oh, but if red meat is a part of a healthy diet, we’ll be A-okay, says Reader’s Digest.

Uh huh. Because that’s your average American: fit and healthy. Eating lots of vegetables every day to deliberately offset that chunk of red flesh. Oh, please. Only about 30 percent of us get either two servings of fruit or three servings of vegetables [4], and only 11 percent of Americans are meeting U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines for both. [5] Surveys have found that there are a whopping 20 percent of folks out there that eat absolutely no veggies at all. [6]

Is it really so daring to recommend we skip red meat altogether? Would the Digest lose subscribers? Would the Digest lose advertisers? Well, they must be losing somebody, because the advice in the article encourages continuing to consume red meat and risk death and disease.

Folks, we don’t need to cow down on cow to obtain our daily dose of zinc and B vitamins. Vegetables have plenty. [7] And though the carnivore in us may be quick to disagree, plenty of widely available plant-based protein-packed foods can be placed in the shopping bag. Healthy sources of potassium are easy to find. Virtually all fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of potassium. [7] A vegetarian diet, selected with care, provides generous amounts of protein and all the other essential nutrients necessary for excellent health.

So, let’s see… eat red meat and risk death. Or, skip the meat, actually try to eat the healthy diet we should be eating anyway, packed with vegetables. And, while we are at it, take vitamins and eat fresh fruit. I think that’s doable.

Do yourself a favor and don’t “digest” Reader’s Digest ridiculousness. Toss it in the trash bin, and you’ll actually be a whole lot healthier for it.

(Helen Saul Case’s paper, “Raising Student Achievement through Better Nutrition,” is available for free access at . She is also the author of The Vitamin Cure for Women’s Health Problems.)

1. Woolston, Chris. “Is Meat Good or Bad for you?” Reader’s Digest (July/August 2012): 36-38.

2. Pan A, Sun Q, Bernstein AM, Schulze MB et al. (2012) Red meat consumption and mortality: results from 2 prospective cohort studies. Arch Intern Med. 172(7):555-63. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2287.

3. Putnam, J., J. Allshouse, L. S. Kantor. U.S. per capita food supply trends: More calories, refined carbohydrates, and fats.” Food Review 25(3) (2002):2-15. .

4. Centers for Disease Control. CDC Online Newsroom. Majority of Americans not meeting recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption.” Press Release, September 29, 2009. .

5. Casagrande, S. S., Y. Wang, C. Anderson, et al. Have Americans increased their fruit and vegetable intake? The trends between 1988 and 2002. Am J Prev Med 32(4) (Apr 2007):257-263. Available online:

6. Balch, J. F., P. A. Balch. Prescriptions for Natural Healing. New York, NY: Avery Publishing Group, 1990.

7. USDA nutrient database, SR24.

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Editorial Review Board:
Ian Brighthope, M.D. (Australia)
Ralph K. Campbell, M.D. (USA)
Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D. (USA)
Damien Downing, M.D. (United Kingdom)
Dean Elledge, D.D.S., M.S. (USA)
Michael Ellis, M.D. (Australia)
Martin P. Gallagher, M.D., D.C. (USA)
Michael Gonzalez, D.Sc., Ph.D. (Puerto Rico)
William B. Grant, Ph.D. (USA)
Steve Hickey, Ph.D. (United Kingdom)
James A. Jackson, Ph.D. (USA)
Michael Janson, M.D. (USA)
Robert E. Jenkins, D.C. (USA)
Bo H. Jonsson, M.D., Ph.D. (Sweden)
Thomas Levy, M.D., J.D. (USA)
Stuart Lindsey, Pharm.D. (USA)
Jorge R. Miranda-Massari, Pharm.D. (Puerto Rico)
Karin Munsterhjelm-Ahumada, M.D. (Finland)
Erik Paterson, M.D. (Canada)
W. Todd Penberthy, Ph.D. (USA)
Gert E. Schuitemaker, Ph.D. (Netherlands)
Robert G. Smith, Ph.D. (USA)
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