Is food the key to bringing down medical costs?

America is eating its way to ever-increasing rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.  We continue to get sicker because we consume a diet that provides nutrient poor foods prepared using unhealthy fats and excessive levels of both salt and sugar, while not providing a full range of health protective micronutrients.

There is overwhelming scientific evidence that links this empty, unhealthy diet and nutrition pattern to these diseases, and in turn billions of dollars in excess medical costs.

Americans make more than one billion visits to doctors every year. Many of those are return trips by the same people. What if there was a way to lessen those visits without medicine alone? Doctors agree that care plans would be 70 to 90 percent more effective if they included food.

The question is how many times have you walked out of your doctor’s office with a true plan of what to eat and what to avoid? Not many. That’s why it’s time to take your health plan into your own hands.

The key to living longer, remaining physically and mentally vital, lowering your risk of a range of chronic diseases and reducing health care costs is to build your diet around what I call the essential Healing Cuisines. The concept of food being great medicine is exactly what we teach students at the Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts in Austin, Tex. Research clearly shows that the epidemic of obesity leading to diabetes and ultimately heart disease is largely preventable and reversible through adopting these food principles.

We aren’t talking about a diet or meal plans. We are talking about changing the way you eat forever. Healing Cuisines are fundamentally plant-based, nutrient-rich and whole-foods based.  They primarily avoid animal-based foods, dairy, refined sugars and processed foods.  The value of each of these cuisines in fostering health has been proven through both science and tradition.

I recommend that people try each of the cuisines for at least two weeks, and in that time observe how they feel physically and emotionally during and after meals, and when they wake each day.  By observing our individual experience we can begin to adapt our eating to meet our personal constitution, biome and genetics.

Vegetarian (a plant-based diet, includes dairy and eggs)
The vegetarian cuisine excludes the consumption of animal meat in cooking. Vegetarians do eat eggs and dairy. The balanced vegetarian diet consists of fruits, vegetables, plenty of leafy greens, whole grain products, nuts, seeds, legumes, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.

The health benefits of this cuisine are found in the increase in plant-based calories, and through limiting refined foods. This cuisine forms the basis of preventing heart disease and many cancers. Reducing meat consumption can reduce risk of death by up to 44 percent.

Vegan (excludes all animal products)
Vegans abstain from the consumption of any animal products in the diet (this means no meat, eggs or dairy). A balanced vegan diet consists of fruits, vegetables, plenty of leafy greens, whole grain products, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

The health benefits of the vegan cuisine build on the vegetarian diet, by further excluding animal products. Research has found that vegan diets reduce the risk of gastrointestinal cancers as well as breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers. Also going without consuming animal products also means vegans consume no cholesterol. Cholesterol is what clogs arteries and can lead to heart disease.

Macrobiotic (a primarily whole grain, whole food cuisine)
The macrobiotic diet includes one third to one half whole grains, combined with a good variety of other unrefined plant foods.  This cuisine avoids the use of most processed foods, and relies on generous amounts of greens, and other seasonal vegetables.  Root vegetables, sea vegetables, fermented foods and beans are features of the cuisine. Spicing is limited, and the diet and lifestyle is considered very healing.

This cuisine, by virtue of its balance and simplicity tends to be health-supportive and is often used by cancer patients to support treatment and healing.

Ayurvedic (the food system which supports the practice of Ayurvedic healing)
Ayurveda is a system of medicine native to India. The cuisine seeks to balance our individual nature, our relationship with ourselves and with the environment around us through our food choices.  This cuisine relies most heavily on a range of spices and other healing ingredients which are used to complement personalized choices, resulting in greater health.

Many people use this cuisine to improve their quality of life when living with a range of chronic diseases, including digestive diseases and immune system weaknesses.

Raw and Living Foods
A raw foods diet consists of primarily uncooked, unprocessed foods, which never experience a temperature above 118 degrees. Raw food cuisines can include the use of raw eggs or dairy, but most often this is a vegan cuisine.

Living foods are foods in which growth or enzyme activity is still present, as well as fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurts, and cheeses.  Fermented foods have healthy bacteria that promote good gut health and digestion and less inflammation. By eating more alkalizing foods nutrients are better absorbed and toxins are released more efficiently, which contributes to greater health through eating this cuisine. This cuisine can be used to kick start weight loss, or to improve symptoms of allergies of many kinds.

Rich Goldstein is the Owner and CEO of The Natural Epicurean and a nationally recognized entrepreneur, speaker and expert in the fields of business, yoga and sustainable lifestyles. Rich holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Albany in New York (SUNY-Albany) and a Master’s degree in Public Health from the University of Texas School of Public Health. Rich’s work integrates the wisdom of Eastern and Western philosophies on health and well-being.