Its time we educated our primary healthcare practitioners to make food our first and best medicine. [Photo: BigStock]

Food: our first and best medicine

6 April, 2019

More and more of are becoming sicker than ever before.

Many of us will know someone with diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, degenerative, digestive or autoimmune disorders or who has been diagnosed with cancer.

Worldwide, chronic diseases are escalating out of control. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) statistics report that 1.9 billion adults were overweight in 2016 and of these, over 650 million were obese.

The WHO’s Global Report on Diabetes (2016) calculated that over 422 million adults were living with diabetes in 2014, compared with 108 million in 1980.

Millions of our children are stricken with obesity, diabetes, autism and other distressing health conditions in epidemic numbers. The WHO statistics for 2016 reported that 41 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese, as were over 340 million children and adolescents (aged 5 – 19).

But despite all we know about the contribution of unhealthy, nutrient-poor and highly processed diets to the Western scourge of chronic diseases, the WHO’s World Health Day 2019 campaign and manifesto says nothing about how these diseases are lifestyle-driven, largely preventable and often reversible.

WHO – silent on diet?

The campaign says nothing about the fundamental importance of a balanced and varied diet of fresh, nutrient-dense, chemical-free foods and how the right nutrition is at the very heart of restoring, maintaining and improving health and quality of life for populations around the globe.

These foods are far from ‘rocket science’. They’re the deep nutrition found in traditional foods like meat, eggs, butter, cheese and milk from grass-fed animals; bone and mineral broths; organic fruit and vegetables; wild-caught seafood; cultured and fermented foods; and healing herbs and spices. They’re the very foods that kept generations of our ancestors free from the chronic diseases which plague us today and they will do the same for us.

But today, we fall prey to fad diets and follow nutritional advice based on poor or mis-informed science (or often, no science at all). We’re confused about what we should eat for our health and we find it increasingly difficult to make food choices for better health.

We no longer understand where our food comes from, or how it’s produced and we’re losing the skills to cook real, ‘whole’ foods from scratch. We in the UK are now leading the global race to the bottom of international league tables for health and disease through our consumption of ultra-processed foods.

The WHO’s 2019 campaign hands the first-line responsibility to the primary health care sector:

“At its heart, primary health care is about caring for people and helping them improve their health or maintain their well-being, rather than just treating a single disease or condition… Primary health care should be the first level of contact with the health system, where individuals, families and communities receive most of their health care—from promotion and prevention to treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care—as close as possible to where they live and work.”

And indeed, from the cradle to the grave, no matter where we might live on the planet, health workers in primary teams are the first (and often the last) touch-point for local populations. We’re entreated to make health a reality through:

“individuals and communities who have access to high quality health services so that they take care of their own health and the health of their families; skilled health workers providing quality, people-centred care; and policy-makers committed to investing in primary health care.”

More than words

I wholeheartedly support these aims, but words are not enough. That’s why my book, Once Upon a Cook – Food Wisdom, Better Living is a call-to-action to end the confusion about what to eat or where to shop. It’s a call to care where our food comes from, to change the way we eat and to become more conscious and much healthier consumers. It offers hundreds of pages of traditional food wisdom supported by sound, independent science, a plethora of resources and scores of delicious, contemporary recipes to help us reclaim our kitchens and take back our health.

If we’re serious about making health a reality, we need to start by empowering our communities with the confidence to expect and demand better.

We need to educate our primary health teams on the right nutrition (based on sound, evidence-based science, not industry-led and nutritional dogma) and equip them with the knowledge, skills and resources to educate and support their communities to reclaim their kitchens and take back their health.

And we need to focus on working with and supporting our farming and food systems to get the traditional, high quality foods that kept generations of our ancestors healthy back onto our tables.


  • Izabella Natrins is the author of Once Upon a Cook – Food Wisdom, Better Living (Better Living Press). She is a nutrition and lifestyle expert with over 30 years’ experience in the health space. A former research psychologist, Izabella is a qualified nutrition and health coach, a Ballymaloe-trained, nutritional chef, a health educator and speaker and the founder of the health and wellness website
  • Read our review of Once Upon a Cook – Food Wisdom, Better Living