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MAY 29, 2024

Eating Your Way to Better Health: The Science and Strategy Behind Food as Medicine

A full breakdown of how the food you eat can transform your health and wellness journey. Learn the science behind living better.

Read time: 4 minutes

When it comes to health, knowing where to turn and who to trust can be tricky. From celebrity fad diets to random doctor’s recommended foods, it's a nutritional minefield.

So, today we’re going to look at the food for medicine concept; its history, the science, medicinal properties of certain foods and their benefits, the importance of balance and moderation and finally the challenges in adopting such a principle.

As always with health & nutrition, it’s important to consult a professional before making drastic changes to your diet and/or lifestyle.

The History Behind the Science

The food for medicine concept is not new. In fact, the earliest evidence of studying how food can affect health can be traced back to the ‘Father of Medicine’, Hippocrates, around 400 BC. In some of his earliest writings we can find the quote; “In food excellent medicine can be found, in food bad medicine can be found; good and bad are relative”.

Even two thousand years ago, the notion of food as medicine being relative to the individual was more important than a one-size-fits-all approach. Today, science has evolved that we now see diets prescribed to treat lactose intolerance and coeliac disease, to name just 2 examples.

But Joe”, I hear you scream, “Kim K followed the Atkins 40 diet and lost 7 kg in three weeks. And in 1952 Marilyn Monroe shared her liquid breakfast of two raw eggs mixed with warm milk, and they both look great!

While I would agree that they both look great, there’s more to it than following your favorite celebrity’s plan.

The Science

Source: The Evolution of Personalized Nutrition: Definitions of personalized nutrition.

The above illustration shows 7 areas of focus that contribute to personalized nutrition, which in turn contributes to food-for-medicine. By focusing on one of these areas, you are not having any kind of profound impact on your health. However, by linking all 7 together and personalizing your food intake, you are on your way to living a healthier and happier life.

The fact that 7 areas of focus is a lot to digest (see what I did there), shouldn’t put you off the thought that personalization is the way to go. And while not many of us have access to leading scientists who can take regular blood samples to check our blood sugar levels, there are ways in which you can monitor the seemingly impossible.

ZOE is a scientifically backed, at-home test kit that allows you to discover how your body reacts to certain foods, it’ll reframe how you view the word ‘diet’, and ZOE offers a monthly membership that allows you to test and implement new foods that will improve your gut health, provide you with more energy, get better sleep, improve your overall health, feel less bloated and, reach a healthy weight.

Key Foods

While a personalized approach is the way to go, certainly in my opinion, there are specific foods that are well known to have various qualities and have a higher nutrient density. The main ones being: Blackberries, raspberries and blueberries - fresh or frozen. High in antioxidants and disease-fighting nutrients.

  • Fish - fresh, frozen or tinned. Good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to the prevention of heart disease.
  • Leafy greens - dark, leafy greens such as spinach and kale are a good source of vitamins A and C, and calcium. It’s also a great way to add fiber into your diet.
  • Nuts - a good source of plant protein and they contain monounsaturated fats, which contribute to reducing the risk of heart disease.
  • Olive oil - a good source of vitamin E. And similarly to nuts, olive oil contains monounsaturated fatty acids.
  • Whole grains - a good source of fiber (soluble and insoluble). Whole grains also contain several B vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients which are shown to lower cholesterol and protect against heart disease and diabetes.
  • Yogurt - contains probiotics which are known as "good bacteria", this can protect the body from other, more harmful bacteria. Yogurt is a good source of calcium and protein.
  • Cruciferous vegetables - these include everyone’s favorite Christmas veg, the brussel sprout. Others in this category include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radishes, and turnips. All of which are sources of fiber, vitamins, and phytochemicals which may prevent some types of cancer.
  • Legumes - this is a broad category and includes various beans (kidney, black, red, garbanzo, soybeans and peas). Legumes are an excellent source of fiber, folate, and plant-based protein. Some studies have shown that they can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Tomatoes - high in vitamin C and lycopene, which has been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

By paying attention to calorie intake and combining foods from across all of these categories, you can feel confident that you’re covering the fundamentals of a healthy diet. But moderation is key.

Challenges and What to Consider

In 2023, ‘healthier food’ cost more than £10 per 1000 calories on average.

Less healthy food costs around $7.29 per 1000 calories (food & drink with high fat and sugar content). At almost double the price per 1000 calories, the fact of healthy eating having a larger impact on your wallet is not lost on me. Below, I have shared 2 meal plans that are taken from my own MyFitnessPal:

Plan 1

Breakfast: 40g of Quaker oats, with 300ml of semi-skimmed milk + 80g blueberries [ 327 cals ]

Cost: Oats ($2.88 for 1000kg box), Milk ($1.50 for 2 pints), Blueberries ($2.25 for 150g)

Total: $6.64


Lunch: 1 chicken breast, with half a pack of Tesco’s own wholemeal microwave rice + small handful of unsalted mixed nuts [ 503 cals ]

Cost: Chicken breast ($2.94 for a 2 pack), Rice (81 cents for a pack containing 2 servings), Nuts ($2.76 for a 200g bag)

Total: $6.51


Dinner: 250g rump steak, with large jacket potato [ 712 cals ]

Cost: Steak ($6.20), Jacket potato (25 - 35 cents per one)

Total: $6.51


Snacks: banana [ 135 cals ], Snickers bar [ 238 cals ], 2 x flat white coffees [ 98 cals each ]

Cost: Banana (19 - 25 cents per one), Snickers ($1.06). Flat white ($5 each)

Total: $11.34


TOTAL DAILY CALS: 2111 cals. Notice that I haven’t included any leafy greens or much veg, this is because I personally don’t count those calories. I have as much veg as I want without being conscious of its properties.


There are a number of items in this list that can be used more than once, for example the box of oats, the milk, the blueberries, the rice, the nuts all contain more than 1 serving, meaning the price can be spread out.

Plan 2

Breakfast: 3 boiled eggs, with 2 slices of seeded bread [ 454 cals ]

Cost: Eggs ($2.32 for large free-range eggs), Bread ($2.32 for one loaf)

Total: $4.64


Lunch: Medium McCrispy meal with Coke Zero from McDonalds [ 822 cals ]

Cost: $9.63


Dinner: Half of a large Domino’s veg pizza, with 500ml Fanta [ 1124 cals ]

Cost: Pizza ($31.29), Fanta ($2.68)

Total: $33.97




Like the first plan, the eggs, bread and pizza can be split into more than 1 meal.

Planning for a Better, Healthier Future

I see cost and information as the two biggest barriers for healthy eating and adopting food-for-medicine. In my first meal plan, based on what we now know about food properties, I am clearly getting more health benefits from antioxidants and disease-fighting nutrients. Whereas in my second meal plan (let’s call this a cheat day), I am loading my body up with unhealthy saturated fat and sugars. And by the evening I will definitely be crashing on the couch.

Over years of diet and exercise, I have found what works for me. Meal Plan 1 makes me feel energized and more alert, whereas Meal Plan 2 is what I’ll have after a big day of exercising or playing soccer.

This is obviously just the start but you'll be able to take these insights and build on them to improve your own health and wellbeing journey. Most importantly, ALWAYS consult a healthcare professional before making drastic changes to your diet.

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Written by Joe Bignell

Joe is passionate about all things health and fitness, pushing through barriers to find his body's limits. He has completed several endurance events, raising thousands for charity.


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