Food as Medicine: A Primer

When you think about “food as medicine,” what comes to mind?

If you imagine antioxidant-rich green smoothies or nutrient-packed grain bowls, you’re not wrong. But you’re only hitting the tip of the iceberg—because food as medicine means so much more than a nourishing meal choice here and there.

At its core, food as medicine is the intersection of nutrition and healthcare. And it offers countless benefits—ones that are far more powerful than even the comforting warmth of chicken noodle soup when you’re under the weather. For example, a substantial (and growing!) body of research shows that food has a sizable role to play in preventing—and treating—chronic disease. Impressive, right?

Here at RxDiet, we understand the power of food as medicine—and we want to help as many people as possible unlock their full potential. The first step? Sharing more about the concept and what it means.

So in our first blog article, we offer a brief overview of the evolution of food as medicine—and explain why it matters. We also share more information about our approach to the concept at RxDiet. Keep reading to learn more!

The Evolution of Food as Medicine

Food as medicine isn’t a new concept. The idea that food can heal the sick—and boost vitality in the healthy—dates back to the beginning of written history. For example, the ancient Greeks ate onions to increase their strength, courage, and resilience. Traditional Chinese healers prescribed garlic to treat respiratory and digestive ailments. And the indigenous Aztec people drank cocoa to cure fatigue, chest pain, and even tooth decay.

While many ancient remedies have been debunked by modern medicine, time and research have shown some of these early ideas about the healing power of food to be surprisingly insightful. And in recent years, numerous studies have found plant-based and anti-inflammatory diets beneficial in preventing and reversing chronic diseases.

This is encouraging news—not least because the battle against chronic illness is proving to be an uphill fight.

Chronic Disease and Diet

Chronic disease has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. The statistics are alarming: 6 in 10 Americans currently live with at least one chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease, or cancer (among others). And with 40 percent of American adults now diagnosed with multiple chronic conditions (MCC), the situation will likely grow direr—unless we intervene.

A Closer Look at Diabetes

Let’s take a closer look at the evolution of just one chronic disease: diabetes. Over the last half-century, the number of people suffering from diabetes alone has skyrocketed from 1 million in 1958 to more than 37 million in 2019.

Seniors are especially vulnerable, with the condition now affecting nearly 30 percent of those aged 65 or older. And those diagnosed with diabetes are also at greater risk of developing other chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and chronic kidney disease (CKD). This can lead to a vicious cycle of poor health and costly medical expenses.

The Impact of Diet on the Rise of Chronic Illness

There are multiple factors at play regarding this rise in chronic illness, but diet has played a large role. As lifestyles and eating habits have evolved over the past 100 years, so have leading causes of death—shifting from infectious diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis to lifestyle diseases like those mentioned above.

It would be irresponsible and dangerous to discount the power of infectious disease, as the Covid-19 pandemic has recently reminded us. However, it’s also important to understand that many of those facing the greatest risk from Covid-19 also suffer from diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other chronic illnesses.

The impact of diet on overall health can’t be overstated—and it’s time we start paying attention.

Taking Notice: A National Nutrition Strategy

In September of 2022, the White House brought national attention to the link between nutrition and chronic disease with the release of a National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. The goal is to end hunger and reduce diet-related diseases in America by 2030 through promoting healthy eating and physical activity.

Where Nutrition and Healthcare Meet

This National Strategy consists of five pillars, the second of which is most relevant here. It focuses on “integrating nutrition and health” by prioritizing the role of nutrition and food security in disease prevention and management.

In support of this goal, leading health sector organizations have committed to making nutrition education one of the foundational competencies for professional training in health-related fields. This sounds simple, but statistics indicate that we have a long way to go. American medical students today spend less than 1 percent of school lecture time learning about diet—so it’s no surprise that only 14 percent of doctors surveyed feel qualified to offer nutrition advice.

To promote health and reduce food insecurity, medically tailored meal providers have also committed to expanding their services to those who are most in need—including individuals enrolled in Medicaid and Medicare programs. Research shows that providing medically tailored meals and groceries to people suffering from chronic illnesses can result in the following:

  • Improved clinical outcomes
  • Fewer hospitalizations
  • Lower healthcare costs
  • Overall better quality of life

Results like these speak for themselves. What’s not to love?

Food as Medicine: The RxDiet Approach

At RxDiet, we’re working to simplify access to medically tailored meals by combining the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and online grocery delivery. Our unique technology creates recipes and meal plans tailored to each member’s medical needs and taste preferences (because those are important, too!)—and then delivers groceries directly to their door each week.

RxDiet founder and CEO, Dr. Roman Kalista, shared the following regarding our mission and vision:

Healthy diets have been the number one step in the management of the majority of chronic conditions for ages. However, only a few of us have left the doctor's office with a dietary prescription for what to eat every day. We developed RxDiet to make dietary advice easy to follow by having healthy groceries delivered directly to members’ doors.

By combining the latest scientific research with cutting-edge technology, RxDiet makes healthy eating simple, enjoyable, and affordable.

Promising Results (And Untapped Potential)

We have already worked with a group of advanced-stage diabetes patients to significantly reduce their blood sugar levels in just three months. And—encouraged by these promising results—we are now working on pilots for three new groups:

  • People with hypertension
  • Patients undergoing cancer treatment
  • Women with high-risk pregnancies

As we conduct more research, we hope to communicate and deliver the benefits of healthy eating and medically-tailored meals to as many people as possible. Because every one of us deserves the opportunity to eat—and live—well.

Wrapping Up: Food for Thought

The concept of “food as medicine” has come a long way from its earliest iterations in ancient Greece and China. And modern nutritional interventions—like medically tailored meals and produce prescription programs—cannot cure the American chronic disease epidemic on their own. However, scientific research has revealed promising results when it comes to nutrition’s role in preventing and treating diet-related chronic illnesses.

At RxDiet, we believe great food is the best medicine. That’s why we’re committed to providing evidence-based nutritional guidance that improves the health—and the lives—of our members. If you’d like to learn more or request a demo, visit us today. We’d love to hear from you!

Changing habits is hard

Eating healthy will help you live a healthier life! Well, dah! This fact is universally accepted and not argued with. So why, then, the adoption of both food benefits (offered by most Medicare Advantage plans) and healthier eating habits is so low? The answer is exceptionally straightforward: changing habits is hard, and members don’t know what benefits their health plan offers nor how to get them.

Food is a Magic Drug

In 1928, a chance event in Alexander Fleming’s laboratory created Penicillin, which many call a “magic drug” for its wide application and usability.

RxDiet helps people battling obesity and associated health challenges live healthier and feel better

At RxDiet, traditional approaches such as educational resources, diet/nutrition guides, and workout plans still need to deliver meaningful results.

Digital or Telephonic Healthcare – Which Way Is Better?

Spoiler: The answer is BOTH A lot of “digital-first” and “digital front door” products and vendors are penetrating the healthcare market and specifically, the healthcare payer space. At RxDiet, we believe that while digital solutions are the future, the future may not be here quite yet!

Going beyond prepared meals in Transition of Care Programs

A recent study found that members receiving food (prepared meals) post-discharge from the hospital experienced fewer readmissions than those not signing up for the program.

Meal programs for maternal health

Gestational diabetes impacts over 300,000 pregnancies in the US each year. If expectant parents act quickly to change their diet during pregnancy, they can combat gestational diabetes and dramatically reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. We designed RxDiet to make that change simple and affordable.

A history of food as medicine

The ancient Greeks ate onion for its curative qualities, traditional Chinese healers prescribed garlic for respiratory and digestive ailments, and the indigenous Aztec people drank cocoa to cure fatigue. While many ancient remedies have been debunked by modern medicine, numerous studies have found plant-based and anti-inflammatory diets beneficial in preventing and reversing chronic disease.

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