Food Is Medicine

When children show signs of chronic illness such as autism, ADHD, asthma, allergiesautoimmune disorders and more, it is critical that we begin to see that food is medicine.

As Martha Herbert, PhD, MD, pediatric neurologist from Harvard Medical School says, “If you are already sick or if your child is already sick, it is all the more important that every single calorie have the highest possible range of nutrients associated with it”.

Our sick children cannot afford to eat food that isn’t helping them heal, and they certainly can’t afford to eat food that is harmful to them.  On this page, you can learn about food as medicine.

Food Is Medicine

To begin to think about what constitutes a healthy diet, we need to move beyond the basic understanding of diet in terms of macronutrients (fat, carbohydrate, protein) that we were all brought up on.

We were told that a “square diet” was healthy and it consisted of the following food groups:  Fruits and vegetables, grains, dairy, and meat.  While this covers some of the things we need to know about food, it leaves much out.

We also need to think about what the foods we eat offer us in terms of nutrients and micronutrients (e.g., magnesium, selenium, Vitamins A, B, C and E, chromium, iodine and many other vital nutrients that bodies need).

Additionally, we need think think about the quality of the food that we eat.

If it is conventionally grown, is it going to be as nutritious as something that was grown biodynamically in a home garden?

If it is conventionally grown does it contain residues of toxic pesticides or herbicides?

Is the meat that we buy at a supermarket from a factory farm, where the animal was pumped full of antibiotics, steroids or genetically modified growth hormone?

Or was the animal allowed free access to pasture and food that is natural for that animal to eat?

All of these factors determine whether a food is good for your body or bad, and ought to be taken into consideration.

What Is Not Healthy Eating?

Unfortunately, what has become a cultural norm, the Standard American Diet, is generally not very good for our health.

The Standard American Diet tends to be too high in refined carbohydrates and sugars and poor quality protein, and low in fresh vegetables and good quality protein sources.

We tend too eat too many processed foods (often high simple carbohydrate) that have been stripped of essential nutrients, and not enough whole plant-based foods.

The vital nutrients that our cells need to function properly can be found in whole foods, and when we rely too heavily on processed foods, we deprive our cells of what they need to function.

Processed foods can also contain ingredients that are harmful to our bodies such as:

  • Genetically modified organisms
  • Trans fats
  • Inflammatory vegetable oils
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Aspartame
  • MSG
  • Artificial colorings and dyes
  • Artificial preservatives such as:
    • Sodium benzoate
    • BHA
    • BHT

What Are Some Healthy Eating Guidelines?

We are all unique individuals and diet should be tailored to each person’s nutritional needs (moment to moment) but there are some nutrition fundamentals that can apply to most people.

  • Eat whole foods (organic) rather than processed foods whenever possible
  • Eat large amounts of fruits and vegetables (preferably grown without pesticides or other chemicals)
  • Children can benefit from eating 7-9 servings (1/2 cup) of fresh fruits and vegetables a day (heavy on the vegetables) but children with chronic illnesses are often so nutrient deficient that 9-13 servings of fresh vegetables a day are required
  • Focus vegetable and fruit intake on those plants that are nutrient dense and contain high amounts of antioxidants
  • Include good fats, such as those found in coconut oil, flaxseed oil, olive oil and grassfed butter (if dairy tolerant)
  • Include fresh, clean water
  • Consider protein sources to ensure that they are the highest quality available
  • Cultured foods are great for gut health (including Kimchi, raw sauerkraut, miso, cultured vegetables, etc.)
  • Be mindful of possible food sensitivities as consistent consumption of foods that are inflammatory can lead to health problems (wheat, soy and dairy are common found food sensitivities, especially in the current generation of children)

Children with chronic illnesses often need individualized diet programs because they can have a number of food sensitivities that can exacerbate symptoms, and they also tend to have specific nutrient deficiencies (e.g. iron, magnesium or calcium).

A registered integrative dietitian or integrative nutritionist can help create tailored diets and approaches to healing through food.


In general, most healing diets consist of nutrient-dense whole foods (unprocessed).

Each diet takes a different approach to healing, but almost all successful diets recommend eliminating junk (sugars, processed foods, additives, etc.) and adding in home-made nutritious foods.

Additionally, most diets recommend that you first isolate and then remove any potential allergens from the diet.  (Probable allergens can be determined through diagnostic testing and/or using the elimination diet.)

“Clean Diet”

Eating a “clean diet” means removing all processed foods, artificial colors, artificial and even some natural flavors, preservatives, inflammatory oils and artificial sweeteners from the diet.

This kind of diet should be the basis of your family’s nutrition going forward, regardless of any special diet that you choose for further healing. You can learn more about that here.

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Sources & References

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