Food Is Medicine?

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You have no doubt read or heard the quote commonly attributed to Hippocrates, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Whether the “Father of Western medicine” actually said that is debatable. But the concept of nutritious food supporting health is widely accepted by both consumers and health professionals alike. Lately you may have noticed the growing trend of talking about food and medicine as equivalent (especially on social media). This is certainly not the case—no matter how many “influencers” promote the faulty idea. So what’s this trend all about? Let’s take a look.

Does food equal medicine?

That’s an easy question to answer: no. Food and medicine are not interchangeable. For example, consider the need for insulin for a person with type 1 diabetes. No amount of healthy food is going to take the place of it. But is this what the “Food Is Medicine” movement is about? Again, no. Replacing medicine with healthy food is not the idea behind this growing movement. Instead, it’s an approach that incorporates a broad range of methods and initiatives to promote optimal health. Increasing access to nutritious food is certainly an important part of it. Another is providing tailored food options to people with certain health needs.

What is the Food Is Medicine movement?

At the 2022 White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, a National Strategy was announced. It highlighted the role of Food Is Medicine initiatives to end hunger and improve overall health in the US. (Read more about the Strategy here.) As a result, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) began developing the Food Is Medicine approach. The goal? Reduce nutrition-related chronic diseases and help alleviate food insecurity. This includes diet-related research and programs to increase Food Is Medicine (FIM) components and services. Collectively, FIM activities are a vital part of the national effort to end hunger and increase healthy eating by 2030.

What does the Food Is Medicine movement address?

Most recently, on January 31st, 2024, HHS held the first Food Is Medicine Summit. The event included government, industry, education, healthcare, and community leaders and representatives. And together they discussed ideas for effectively promoting wellness and nutrition as important parts of preventive care. FIM initiatives largely target underrepresented communities and low-income participants, but that’s not all. They also include nutrition education for physicians and other healthcare providers, and partnership building among varied organizations (public, private, and governmental).

The Summit resulted in five principles to guide Food Is Medicine initiatives. Briefly, these are:

  1. Recognize that nourishment is essential for good health, well-being, and resilience throughout life.
  2. Facilitate easy access to healthy food that is culturally and regionally appropriate.
  3. Cultivate understanding of the relationship between nutrition and health via nutrition education.
  4. Unite partners to build sustained and integrated solutions.
  5. Invest in the capacity of under-resourced communities.

What types of activities are part of the Food Is Medicine effort?

Accomplishing the far-reaching goals of FIM’s five principles will require input and support from a diverse group of entities. Certainly, the government plays a large role in developing and implementing public policies to provide a pathway for FIM programs. For example:

  • Expanding Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries’ access to FIM interventions, and giving states new authority to test coverage for evidence-based nutrition assistance and medically tailored meals. (Massachusetts, Oregon, and Arkansas have already received approval to run pilot programs.)
  • Increasing the reach of Produce Prescription Programs to American-Indian and Alaskan Native people. These populations are more likely to live in areas where fresh produce is scarce.
  • Supporting food security research and developing outcomes databases and tracking.
  • Providing FIM research grants through various federal offices and agencies.

Educational institutions as well as industry and charitable organizations are also involved. Collectively, they’re contributing to FIM in a big way through partnerships, research, grants, and donations. Here are just a few:

Here at Guiding Stars, helping people make nutritious food choices is our reason for being. Guiding Stars was created to help people quickly and easily select the best foods for their particular needs. We’re excited about the possibilities of the Food Is Medicine movement. But we also know that many of these programs will take a while to come to fruition. In the meantime, we’ll continue to help consumers make smart choices in the aisles every day.