Food as medicine: How a plant-based diet heals and protects

This article is sponsored by Casey Health Institute

Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” The importance of a healthy diet is well-known, yet statistics for obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other lifestyle-related diseases are at an all-time high.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 68.8 percent of adults are considered overweight. The organization warns that being overweight contributes to “heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, liver disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.”

The solution: a healthy, plant-based diet and physical activity.

Casey Health Institute in Gaithersburg, Maryland, uses a multifaceted approach in treating patients, including integrative primary care, naturopathic medicine, health coaching, and nutritional counseling.

Carrie Runde, ND, Naturopathic Physician at Casey Health explains,  “Food, it turns out, can be a major factor for re-establishing good health when it is compromised. This is why the concept of ‘food as medicine’ is becoming better understood all the time.”

What is a plant-based diet?

A plant-based diet includes whole grains, starches, fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans and limiting or eliminating meat, fish, dairy, eggs, oils and processed foods. “Forks Over Knives,” the popular website based on the documentary, calls this a “whole food, plant-based diet” and emphasizes “whole, unrefined or minimally refined plants.”

The Western diet includes primarily the opposite: lots of animal products (high in harmful fat, cholesterol and acid), high amounts of processed and refined foods, high amounts of sodium and sugar and few fruits and vegetables.

“Forks Over Knives” asserts, “A diet high in animal-based and highly processed foods makes people sick and overweight. But many of these sicknesses can be prevented, halted, and often reversed by eating a whole-food, plant-based diet.”

How a plant-based diet heals

The American Institute for Cancer Research says, “Health experts agree that putting mostly plant foods on your plate is the healthiest diet.” Because these types of food are high in antioxidants, healthy fiber, essential vitamins and minerals and protein and are easy for the body to process, a plant-based diet promotes proper bodily functions and healing.

In his book “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest,” Dan Buettner found that plant-based diets were essential to the people he studied. “For much of their lives, they ate small portions of unprocessed foods. Indeed, scientists analyzed six different studies of thousands of vegetarians and found that those who restrict meat are associated with living longer.”

Plant-based diets have been shown to:

  • lower cholesterol
  • reverse and prevent heart disease
  • reverse and prevent obesity
  • lower risk of cancer
  • slow the progression of certain types of cancer
  • lower risk of diabetes
  • improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and improve or cure inflammatory arthritis
  • increase energy and function, improve sleep

Tips for eating a plant-based diet

  1. Buy the right kinds of foods

“Everyday I see the dramatic benefits that improving someone’s diet has on their health. One of the most important things that anyone can do for his or her health is to increase the amount of real, unprocessed plant foods consumed. It’s relatively easy and inexpensive and pays for itself ten-fold in the long run,” says Dr. Runde.

Fill your grocery cart with fruits and vegetables; whole grains, such as wheat, quinoa, millet and oats; legumes, such as black beans, chickpeas, lentils and cannellini beans; healthy starches, such as potatoes, carrots and beets, and nuts, such as almonds, peanuts and pistachios.

Visit the whole-food aisle to find nonprocessed, nonrefined items, bulk items and other healthy alternatives to the standard processed foods.

In an article for, Janet Renee wrote, “Understanding what’s in the foods you eat helps you make healthier choices.” Read labels. Ingredient lists should be short and free of chemical preservatives and fillers.

  1. Make time to prepare food

“Most convenience foods provide little to no nutritional value and have excessive amounts of sodium, sugar, and saturated fats,” wrote Emily Cardiff in an article for

Prepare and pack healthy snacks (fruits and nuts are great), pack a lunch (leftovers of healthy dinners), and cook as many meals as possible. When you are short on time, buy minimally processed snacks and avoid the common fast-food restaurants. Ask about vegetarian and whole-food options at restaurants.

  1. Find recipes you enjoy

There are many plant-based, vegetarian and vegan websites with delicious recipes. Here are a few to try:

Fork Overs Knives (app available)

Oh She Glows

Love and Lemons

If you’re interested in more information on how diet can control and prevent health issues, consult with the medical professionals at Casey Health who are experienced in using food to promote healing and wellness.


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