Opinion: Fresh produce as medicine
By Frieda’s Specialty Produce CEO Karen Caplan
The more mainstream acceptance of food as medicine is really good for the produce business. Whether people are going vegetarian, eating clean, or following an anti-inflammatory diet, fresh fruits and vegetables play major roles in helping them follow their healthy-eating plans.
Here’s a very personal example. My colleague’s husband was suffering from severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. If you’ve ever experienced either of these, you know how debilitating, painful, and limiting these conditions can be. After unsuccessful treatment with several different prescription drugs, his rheumatologist suggested trying injectable biologic drugs (like Humira® and Enbrel®).
After reading about the potential side effects, he was hesitant and sought a second opinion from a naturopathic doctor (something he had never done before). The naturopath put him on a strict anti-inflammatory diet, which meant he could not eat sugar (except lots of fresh fruit), dairy, gluten, red meat, or nightshade family vegetables, like tomatoes and potatoes.
The doctor was optimistic that his arthritis would resolve and skin would clear up within six months. He amped up his diet with lots of whole foods, and endless fruits and vegetables; he also pretty much avoided all packaged foods. Three months later, my colleague’s husband’s skin had cleared up by 90 percent and his arthritis pain was gone. Yes, gone. Oh, and he lost 30 pounds.
Some progressive healthcare providers in the U.S. are beginning to offer "produce prescriptions". The state of Michigan has the right idea with a program that offers grants to medical centers to offer their patients a prescription in the form of vouchers to purchase fresh produce from local farmers markets. And in Minnesota, a health insurance company offers its members monthly deals on healthy groceries and fresh produce through participating retailers.
With advances in science and technology, fresh produce is also finding its way into health research laboratories. One exciting example is what’s happening with white button mushrooms at City of Hope, a famed California cancer center. Researchers freeze-dried regular white mushrooms into a powder, then made 500mg tablets with the powder. In a clinical trial, researchers gave the capsules to prostate cancer surgery survivors and monitored their Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA). The results were dramatic. They also noted that cinnamon, blueberries, and pomegranates may have beneficial qualities now being tested in clinical trials.
Speaking of mushrooms, it looks like 2016 will be a big year for them, with mushroom broth the new vegetarian alternative to bone broth. This animal-based broth or soup stock is made with bones and has been trending over the past several years with paleo diet followers and foodies alike. Bone broth fans claim it has healing properties ranging from alleviating their joint pain to strengthening their immune systems. With the rich, umami flavors of mushrooms and their natural medicinal qualities, mushroom broth could be the ultimate plant-based health elixir.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if medical research verifies what we already know? A diet rich in plant-based foods may be the single, most important key to a long, healthy life. And, changing your diet at any time in your life—preferably sooner than later—might be the best way to get yourself healthier. I feel fortunate to be in an industry like fresh produce that has such life-altering potential.
As scientific research progresses, maybe mainstream medicine in the U.S. will figure out a way to make diet a higher priority too. And that would benefit all of us.