This Month’s Food as Medicine Roundup: January 2020

Sahra Pak January 31, 2020
Sahra Pak
As a registered dietitian, Sahra brings her extensive experience in health care and public health to Lighter to improve the health of the population through effective communication, sustainable behavior modification approaches and upstream intervention strategies. Through her work with Los Angeles and Solano County Departments of Public Health, Kaiser Permanente, and partnering with health advocacy organizations such as CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest), Sahra has helped create sustainable food systems, adapted public policy, implemented environmental change, and health education programs.

Thank you for checking out this week’s edition of our Food as Medicine News Roundup! Once a month, I’ll share a collection of important and trending articles in the food as medicine space.

Happy 2020! In our last post, we rounded up the best of 2019 in food as medicine and this is the year when the movement will grow exponentially. Read on to find out what health challenges we will be facing over the next decade according to the WHO (World Health Organization), how healthcare providers can support the health of mothers and our next generation, and which movers and shakers in the food and health industry will make significant contributions to better the health of the population and our planet. 


Urgent health challenges for the next decade:

Collaboration from all sectors is vital.

Experts around the world provided evidence and insight into compiling the WHO’s 2020 list of the most urgent challenges we will face in the next decade. Climate change, infectious diseases, antimicrobial resistance, access to healthcare and healthy food top the list. 

Climate catastrophes exacerbate malnutrition and food supply issues around the world, particularly in vulnerable communities. 25 percent of deaths from a heart attack, stroke, lung cancer, and chronic respiratory disease are associated with the same gasses responsible for contributing to climate change. 30 percent of our global disease burden is associated with food insecurity, unsafe food, and unhealthy diets. 

Unsafe food and lack of access to healthy food are also urgent issues that we must find solutions for within the next decade. For example, in a recent publication from the American Diabetes Association, experts from Harvard University are calling for the exclusion of red and processed meats from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. The researchers found a close association between red and processed meat consumption and diabetes and increased mortality. Furthermore, WHO recently noted that about 34,000 cancer deaths per year (worldwide) are associated with those who consume high amounts of processed meats. It is not just the nitrates ⏤ but the processing such as using salt, curing, smoking, fermenting, and other techniques that increase shelf-life may increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Although further investigation is required, food is medicine and we must change the way we feed our communities. 

The deadline for the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals is quickly approaching and the United Nations General Assembly stresses that the next 10 years must be the “decade of action”. 


"The list reflects a deep concern that leaders are not investing enough resources in core health priorities and systems, putting lives and economies in jeopardy."

- Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General


WHO urges leaders to recognize that health is an investment in the future and requires collaboration efforts not only from the health sector but communities, governments, and international agencies. 


Protecting the health of our next generation 

Needless to say, proper nutrition is key to a healthy pregnancy and the birth of our next generation. In a recent study published in the American Journal of Nutrition, a higher fat intake during pregnancy was found to be associated with epigenetic age acceleration in the baby - which is associated with an increased risk of disease. Although saturated fat was predominantly associated with higher epigenetic age in the offspring, a type of monounsaturated fat most commonly consumed in chicken, avocados and minced meat was also found to have some association. However, not all forms of fat led to epigenetic aging ⏤ the type of beneficial fat seemed to be in the form of Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly the ⍺-linolenic acid (ALA) which is found abundantly in nuts and seeds. 

Another recent study found that metabolic flexibility - the ability to respond to environmental changes (physiological adaptability) may be greater in women with a healthy weight than in women with overweight or obesity. Lipid oxidation rate, an indicator of metabolic flexibility, rose by 29.3 percent among women with overweight or obesity following a meal whereas among women with normal weight rose by 48%. 


"Overweight and obese women metabolize fats differently than lean women, and this could be a reason why many of them see poorer pregnancy outcomes."

- Rachel A. Tinius, Ph. D., Study author



What to look forward to in 2020 and beyond: 

The explosive growth of plant-based foods, personalized nutrition, and advocating for legislation to incorporate food as medicine in healthcare systems.

Who’s at the (food sector’s) cool kids’ table? Answer: plant-based foods, period. Powered by an avalanche or investments and new product developments, the plant-based food category seems to show no sign of slowing down. UBS predicts the U.S. sales of plant-based protein to increase to $85 billion (by 2030) and the sales of plant-based dairy will reach $37.5 billion by 2025. In another assessment by UBS, customized and/or personalized nutrition may generate revenue as high as $64 billion by 2040. The future of food according to a UBS analyst lies in personalization - which includes customization such as incorporating an individual’s likes, dislikes, and needs, as well as genetic profiling. 

A team of attorneys from the Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School (CHLPI) and Community Servings testified at a hearing on proposed legislation that provides a blueprint to integrate food as medicine into health care delivery and financing in the Commonwealth. The legislation aims to improve health outcomes and decrease the cost of care.  


"'Food is Medicine' interventions may be an effective, low-cost strategy to improve health outcomes, decrease the use of expensive healthcare services, and improve patient quality of life."

- Katie Garfield, Harvard Law School Clinical Instructor, and CHLPI staff

So what are you looking forward to within the food as medicine space in 2020? What has you energized? Hopeful? We’d love to hear from you! 

Wishing you and your patients a vibrant and plant-centric 2020!

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