Overview: Food as Medicine
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “In 2016, there were 44.7 million adults affected by mental illness, and 20.1 million people aged 12 years or older affected by substance abuse disorder. More than 8.2 million Americans are afflicted with co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis, such as both a mental illness and an addiction.” Furthermore, it is understood that “optimizing nutrition status improves cognitive and emotional functioning.” (7) Improving our customers’ health and well-being through nutrition is at the very center of Unidine’s mission.
We established the positive impact nutrition can have on recovery in a recent article, The Role of Nutrition Education and Dietary Changes in Substance Abuse Disorder Treatment. The focus of this article will be on one aspect of Unidine’s Fresh Food Pledge: the benefits of seasonal and local foods on health and recovery.
What is the Definition of Seasonal Food?
Seasonal food is produced outdoors in its natural season to wherever it is grown. In the case of local seasonality, which is the basis of our Fresh Food Pledge, the crop is both produced and consumed in the same region outdoors during its natural season. Crop is harvested at its peak ripeness, and extra energy or manipulation of temperature is not needed for storage and transportation. (3)
Seasonality also applies to meat products. The seasonality of animal foods is dictated by the seasonal feed they eat and the natural cycle of when the nutrition they offer is maximized. For instance, we know that salmon season is late spring through early fall, while it’s best to eat oysters in the winter months. This is also why turkey became a Thanksgiving tradition!
How Can Seasonal Produce Benefit Patients’ Health and Also Help Your Bottom Line?
1. Local seasonal produce has a higher nutritional content
The longer the food is stored, the lower its nutrient density. Since local food requires less transit time, it is usually consumed closer to the time when it is harvested. Additionally, it is harvested at its peak of ripeness, allowing nutritional qualities to fully develop (1). As noted in a previous article, “chronic substance addiction damages the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and disrupts or completely blocks the body from absorbing essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids such as thiamine, calcium, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, vitamins A, B1, B6, C, D, E, and K, magnesium, and zinc.” The best weapon against malnourishment and multiple vitamin deficiencies is nutrient density – and using locally sourced seasonal ingredients is one way to achieve this goal.
2. Patients will consume less harmful pesticides and herbicides
When food is grown during its natural season, there is less vulnerability of the crop to disease. This requires less use of chemicals during the farming process and therefore, less toxic burden handed down to the consumer. Many studies have recently determined that toxins can have negative health effects on the lungs, liver, skin, and the overall immunity. Of particular interest to those in recovery is that toxins, including glyphosate, can alter the DNA in liver cells, causing non-alcoholic fatty liver in some cases. (8) Being that liver disease is a primary concern to those with a history of substance abuse, any way that toxic load can be diminished and further damage can be avoided is a win.
3. Dietary variety supplies a variety of essential nutrients
Although it might seem that eating seasonally would limit foods available to us, in fact, the opposite is true. Seasonality naturally lends itself to diversity in eating throughout the year. Mother nature has supplied the perfect variety of foods for us to choose from, and our bodies benefit from such diversity. The adage “You are what you eat,” has recently been proven to be true. The bacteria that make up our gut microbiome is directly influenced by the foods we eat. To put it simply, the more variety, the healthier our gut is, and as a result, the healthier we are. (2) Those recovering from substance abuse especially benefit from eating a high diversity of foods – what gut bacteria is lost during the years of addiction can be replenished with the healthy, fresh, locally grown ingredients on the menu.
4. Better taste
Because local and seasonal ingredients are harvested at their peak, they are at the height of flavorfulness. This easily translates to delightful, made from scratch creations, promoting memorable and authentic meals for our customers.
5. Less waste and therefore less cost
Purchasing locally sourced ingredients through proper distribution channels can be a more cost-effective solution for many clients. More importantly, the art of utilizing every part of the ingredient in an effort to maximize flavor and minimize waste truly strikes at the heart of every culinarian – from using vegetable stems for stock, to meat bones for soup and gravy, there is no limit to where seasonality adds to the overall sustainability effort of the organization. But that’s a topic for another blog!
- Edwards-Jones G. Does eating local food reduce the environmental impact of food production and enhance consumer health?. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2010;69(4):582-591. doi:10.1017/s0029665110002004
- Donovan S. Introduction to the special focus issue on the impact of diet on gut microbiota composition and function and future opportunities for nutritional modulation of the gut microbiome to improve human health. Gut Microbes. 2017;8(2):75-81. doi:10.1080/19490976.2017.1299309
- Macdiarmid J. Seasonality and dietary requirements: will eating seasonal food contribute to health and environmental sustainability?. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2013;73(3):368-375. doi:10.1017/s0029665113003753
- Irving J. VOLUME CONTENTS for VOLUME 94. Food Chem. 2006;94(4):I-V. doi:10.1016/s0308-8146(05)00676-x
- von Koerber K, Bader N, Leitzmann C. Wholesome Nutrition: an example for a sustainable diet. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2016;76(1):34-41. doi:10.1017/s0029665116000616
- Kaput J, Kussmann M, Mendoza Y, Le Coutre R, Cooper K, Roulin A. Enabling nutrient security and sustainability through systems research. Genes Nutr. 2015;10(3). doi:10.1007/s12263-015-0462-6
- Anderson Girard T, Russell K, Leyse-Wallace R. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Revised 2018 Standards of Practice and Standards of Professional Performance for Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (Competent, Proficient, and Expert) in Mental Health and Addictions. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2018;118(10):1975-1986.e53. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2018.07.013
- Milić M, Žunec S, Micek V et al. Oxidative stress, cholinesterase activity, and DNA damage in the liver, whole blood, and plasma of Wistar rats following a 28-day exposure to glyphosate. Archives of Industrial Hygiene and Toxicology. 2018;69(2):154-168. doi:10.2478/aiht-2018-69-3114