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Food AS Medicine : From Fridge to Pharmacy? Science Says YES!!

For centuries, the notion of ‘you are what you eat’ has existed within various cultures and traditions, and indeed for the vast majority of human history, food and medicine were the same thing. Now, science is increasingly validating this wisdom, demonstrating that food is not just fuel, but a powerful tool for maintaining good health and even fighting disease. This re-emerging field, known as "food-as-medicine," is once again returning from the fringes of wellness trends. By applying scientific principles, it’s becoming a rapidly evolving field of nutritional science, backed by robust research, that’s exploring how food is emerging as a powerful tool for preventing and managing chronic conditions.

What’s even more exciting is that it’s finally starting to gain traction in mainstream healthcare.

Modern research methodologies, including randomized controlled trials and large-scale epidemiological studies, are now providing real-time evidence for the direct impact of dietary patterns on chronic disease development and progression.

At its core, "food as medicine" is about recognizing the profound impact that our dietary choices have on our health and well-being. It goes beyond simply providing our bodies with essential nutrients, and delves into how specific foods and dietary patterns can:

  • Prevent chronic diseases: Research increasingly shows that consuming a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats can significantly reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
  • Manage existing conditions: For individuals already living with chronic conditions, specific dietary modifications can play a crucial role in managing symptoms, slowing disease progression, and improving overall quality of life. Examples include low-glycaemic index diets for diabetes management and anti-inflammatory diets for arthritis.
  • Promote optimal health: Beyond disease prevention and management, embracing a "food as medicine" approach encourages the consumption of nutrient-rich foods that support optimal physiological function, enhance immune response, and contribute to overall vitality.

Some of the following examples highlight studies that have explored the link between nutrition, health promotion, and disease prevention.

  1. Dietary Interventions for Cardiovascular Health:
    • The Lyon Diet Heart Study (1999) investigated the Mediterranean diet's impact on cardiovascular health and demonstrated a significant reduction in recurrent heart attacks and overall mortality.
    • The PREDIMED trial (2013) focused on the Mediterranean diet's effects on cardiovascular risk, showing that a diet rich in olive oil, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and fish reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events.
  2. Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP):
  1. Cancer Prevention Trials:
    • The Women's Health Initiative (WHI) Dietary Modification Trial (2006) explored the effects of a low-fat diet on breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and cardiovascular disease, emphasizing the role of diet in cancer prevention.
  1. Nutritional Approaches to Inflammatory Disorders:
    • The Mediterranean diet has also been studied in relation to inflammation. The ATTICA study (2006) found that adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with lower levels of inflammatory markers, indicating a potential role in preventing inflammatory diseases.
  1. Nutrigenomics and Personalized Nutrition:
    • Research in nutrigenomics explores how individual genetic variations influence responses to diet. The Food4Me study (2016) investigated personalized nutrition advice based on genetic information and demonstrated its potential for improving dietary behaviours.
  1. Microbiome and Gut Health:
  1. Plant-Based Diets and Chronic Disease:
    • Various trials and observational studies have explored the benefits of plant-based diets in preventing and managing chronic diseases. The EPIC-Oxford study (2019) associated a vegan diet with a lower risk of heart disease and cancer.

From Nutrients to Bioactive Compounds:

Traditionally, the focus of research was on essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. Current research delves deeper, exploring the vast array of bioactive compounds found in plant-based foods. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts are no longer just sources of sustenance; they are now recognized as nutrient powerhouses. These foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, fibre, and bioactive compounds like antioxidants and polyphenols, each with unique health-promoting properties. Research suggests these components can modulate inflammation, improve gut health, optimise metabolic function, and improve immune response, thereby reducing the risk of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. For example, studies have shown that curcumin in turmeric possesses anti-inflammatory effects, while berries rich in anthocyanins may protect against cognitive decline.

Beyond Individual Ingredients:

While specific compounds are important, a holistic approach is key. The synergistic effects of various components within whole foods often surpass the benefits of isolated nutrients. For instance, the Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer's. This highlights the importance of dietary patterns rather than simply focusing on individual "superfoods."

Precision Nutrition:

The "one-size-fits-all" approach to nutrition is evolving towards personalised eating plans. Genetic variations, gut microbiome composition, and individual health conditions are increasingly considered when designing dietary interventions. This precision nutrition approach aims to maximise the therapeutic potential of food for everyone.

Examples of Food as Medicine in Action:

  • Mediterranean Diet: Extensive research links this diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, to a lower risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and certain cancers.
  • Dietary Patterns for Diabetes Management: Low-glycaemic index diets, emphasising fibre-rich foods and reducing refined carbohydrates, have proven effective in controlling blood sugar levels and improving overall health in individuals with diabetes.
  • Anti-inflammatory Diets:Studies suggest diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish, and fruits like berries, can help manage chronic inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

Here are some examples of research validating the benefits of food as medicine across various chronic conditions:

Cardiovascular Disease:

  • PREDIMED study: This large-scale Spanish study found that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil or nuts significantly reduced the risk of major cardiovascular events compared to a low-fat control diet.
  • PURE study: This global study involving over 200,000 participants observed that higher fruit and vegetable intake was associated with a lower risk of major cardiovascular events, regardless of income level or geographical location.

Type 2 Diabetes:

  • DiRECT trial: This UK study demonstrated that a year-long program of intensive dietary support and weight management, based on real food principles, led to remission of type 2 diabetes in nearly half of participants. (Source:
  • EPIC-Norfolk study: This large-scale study found that higher adherence to a healthy dietary pattern based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes was associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.


  • World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research (WCRF/AICR) Continuous Update Project: This comprehensive report summarizes decades of research on diet and cancer prevention, concluding that diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes can help reduce the risk of various cancers. (Source:
  • EPIC study: This long-term European study observed that higher intakes of dietary fibre and fruits were associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer.

Neurodegenerative Diseases:

  • MIND diet study: This observational study found that following the MIND diet, which combines aspects of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, was associated with a slower decline in cognitive function and a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease.
  • ADNI study: This ongoing study suggests that higher intakes of omega-3 fatty acids and certain antioxidants may slow cognitive decline and brain atrophy in individuals with Alzheimer's disease.

Challenges and the Road Ahead:

Despite the encouraging evidence, challenges remain. Access to affordable, nutritious food is a major hurdle, particularly for underserved communities. Additionally, individual variations in responses to dietary interventions require personalised approaches.

Addressing these challenges requires collaboration between various stakeholders, including researchers, healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the food industry. Initiatives like "food is medicine" programs are emerging, aiming to integrate nutritional interventions into healthcare systems and improve access to healthy food.

MediKane have been at the forefront working in the Food-as-Medicine field for the past 15 years and have produced a scientifically formulated range of products under the brand NutriKane™. For further information on their exciting and innovative products visit their page here.


The science is clear: food plays a vital role in maintaining good health and preventing disease. Embracing a "food-as-medicine" approach can empower individuals to take charge of their well-being through informed dietary choices. As research continues to unravel the intricate connections between food and health, the future of medicine may well involve looking beyond the pill, and towards the plate.