“Let food by thy medicine and let medicine be thy food”. Hippocrates is thought to be the source of this quote, but Dr. William Li, world-renowned physician, scientist, and author, reiterated this concept during his keynote speech at the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation’s Annual Conference on August 4, 2020. Dr. Li authored a recently published book entitled, Eat to Beat Disease, and during Dr. Li’s speech he describes the concepts held within.
According to Dr. Li, there are five body defense systems that forms key pillars to good health. Each of these systems is influenced by diet. When you know what to eat, to support each system, you can then use your diet to maintain health and beat disease. The five defense systems are angiogenesis, regeneration, microbiome, DNA protection, and immunity.
Angiogenesis: The process by which blood vessels are formed. Angiogenesis keeps the sixty thousand miles of blood vessels found in your body working to support health and fight disease. This is the common component in cancer tumors.
Regeneration: The process of creating and renewing 750,000 stem cells that power our bodies. Stem cells maintain, repair and regenerate our bodies.
Microbiome: The bacteria that is found within our bodies that act to defend our health.
DNA Protection: This is our genetic blueprint. Foods can help repair damaged DNA caused by daily living, but can also help lengthen our telomeres, which protect DNA and slow aging.
Immunity: Our immunity defends our health.
Too much or too little of each of the above defense systems can cause problems in the body systems in fighting disease. When the angiogenesis function is out of control, it feeds cancer tumors. The key to keeping all of these systems in balance.
After learning that specific food plays a very important role in improving or repairing our body the question becomes what foods to eat? Dr. Li discusses a 5 x 5 x 5 framework that supports the five defense systems. That is in order to support the 5 defense systems you choose five health-supporting foods you already like to eat and then eat them up 5 times each day. Choose foods that specifically support each defense system, although many of these foods will support more than one system. This emphasis on diet then becomes a tool in the toolbox to fighting disease instead of solely depending on modern medications.
Let’s look at just a few of the 200+ foods that support the various defense systems.
There is overlap in foods that serve more than one defense system. The goal is to eat 5 different foods every day that support each system.
It may be easier to think of your daily diet simply like fruits, veggies, proteins, nuts, sweets, and drinks. Some sample snacks and meals to incorporate into your day to help hit the 5x5x5 goal are found in Dr. Li’s book Eat to Beat Disease. Breakfast can be heavy on the fruits with a smoothie. A snack mid-morning might be a small bowl of mixed nuts and add dried cranberries and fresh blackberries. Lunch may include a salad or leftovers from dinner. Dinner may be a protein (chicken thighs, salmon, or tofu) and a mix of easy oven-roasted veggies. Sprinkle throughout your day a few cups of tea or coffee, a glass of pomegranate juice, and a piece of dark chocolate and you’ve met your goal. If you choose several foods that you enjoy and keep them on hand, you can easily add them into your day-to-day meal prep.
Some flexible, healthy recipes to try:
Any fruits (berries, bananas, apples) and veggies (spinach or kale) add soy milk and a little water and whip up in your blender. Also, frozen organic smoothie packs are available at grocery stores or Costco to make your prep time a bit faster and easier.
Other great recipes can be found in Dr. Li’s book, on the Allrecipes app or other cookbooks like Better Homes and Gardens 365 Vegetarian Meals.
One last thought, what dose of these foods needs to be eaten to reduce the risk of a given disease? This depends on what diseases you are fighting or trying to prevent. It can be as small as 2 cups of coffee per day to prevent a myocardial infarction or 26 cashews per day for colorectal cancer. However, any change from processed foods and sugary drinks to healthier options will have an impact on your health.
Food and medicine and food as medicine is a concept that is relatively new as an adjunct to modern medicine. For more information on how each of the five body defense systems work and/or how foods plays a scientific roll within each system, read Eat to Beat Disease or listen to Dr. Li’s recent keynote speech at the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundations Annual meeting. Dr. Li also has a fascinating a TED talk and is often a guest on a variety of popular podcasts.