Interview with Doctor: Food as Medicine

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This is a guest post from my husband, Jason Leake, and will be part of his new interview series for the blog. To learn more about Jason check out our team page or his post entitled “Real Food From a Man’s Perspective.”
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Recently at a family reunion in Ohio I found myself in a late-night conversation so captivating that I didn’t go to bed until 2:00 AM. I was chatting with Adam Yanke, M.D. and Rupel Dedhia, M.D. who both practice medicine in Chicago, IL. Adam is Lisa’s cousin and is in residency to become an orthopedic surgeon while his wife Rupel is a practicing General Internist (which is definitely not the same thing as an intern, by the way!)

These photos are from a trip to the Himalayas where they provided free medical care to local people. They travel extensively and Rupel’s parents are originally from India, so while the young couple is very much at home in Chicago and have been educated in the US, they also benefit from a world view.

Rupel Dedhia, M.D. and Adam Yanke, M.D. providing free medical care in the Himalayas

So why was I so excited to hear their perspectives? Well for quite some time I’ve wondered about the concepts of food as medicine and holistic care. But who to ask? Not all doctors are trained in nutrition, and can you really get an unbiased answer about, let’s say, acupuncture from a practitioner? How could I possibly explore unconventional therapies without turning my back on Western Medicine, which certainly has its place? And here I finally had a trusted source to ask! Once we got to talking I made Rupel promise to participate in an interview for the blog so I could share the conversation with you. Also be sure to catch the recipe for you at the end.

Here’s what Dr. Rupel Dedhia had to say about Food as Medicine:

JASON LEAKE: Tell us briefly about your professional credentials and practice.

DR. RUPEL DEDHIA: I graduated from Rush Medical College in Chicago, IL in 2007.  My Internal Medicine Residency was at Rush University Medical Center, and I started working in an Academic Outpatient Internal Medicine Clinic in 2010.


JASON: What sparked your interest in cutting out processed foods?

DR. DEDHIA: It was a combination of viewing documentaries such as Food, Inc. and participating in the 10 Days of Real Food Pledge. Our concept of healthy eating in the past revolved around consuming products labeled as “Fat-free, Low-Fat, Diet, Reduced Fat” and so on. After participating in the 10 Days of Real Food Pledge, we were forced to re-evaluate our diet. For the first time, we started viewing nutrition labels in a new way (switching from reading the fat/calorie content to reading the ingredients). We were astonished at not only the number of ingredients (many of which we could not pronounce) as well as the number of processed ingredients (specifically the various processed sweeteners). 


JASON: You mentioned that over time your approach to medicine has shifted away from that of “typical” Western Medicine somewhat.  What have you changed and why?

DR. DEDHIA: I would say my practice has evolved to incorporate nutrition education when taking care of my patients. As a General Internist (physician that treats adult patients), many of my patients have chronic illnesses such as Diabetes, Hypertension, Heart Disease, or Stroke. While I do believe medications are important to the management of these conditions, I do recognize the important role nutrition plays in the overall outcome/prognosis of patients with these illnesses. I spend a considerable amount of the patient’s visit counseling them on specific nutrition/dietary recommendations focusing on reducing processed/refined sugars or sweeteners and increasing consumption of vegetables (specifically green leafy vegetables). I encourage my patient to also look at the list of ingredients that they are purchasing so they can best follow these recommendations.

JASON: How do your patients feel about your change in approach? Could you share some success stories?

DR. DEDHIA: Many of my patients have reacted positively to the incorporation of nutrition to their treatment plan, and I have also seen positive changes in several of my patients as a result. For example, one of my patients is morbidly obese with Diabetes, Hypertension, and Sleep Apnea with poor control of these conditions complicated by poor dietary habits. He admitted to consuming a significant amount of sugary beverages and foods high in refined/processed oils/fats. During his office visit, we spent a great deal of time identifying dietary modifications that would benefit his health. We agreed upon eliminating all sugary beverages and incorporating green leafy vegetables in his diet. After 3 months, he had lost close to 25 lbs and noted improvement in his energy after removing sugary beverages alone, which allowed him the ability to exercise.

I had another patient that was on 5 medications for control of her blood pressure. During the last clinic visit, we reviewed her dietary habits and identified that she too was consuming a diet high in refined grains/oils. We agreed upon increasing fiber in her diet and minimizing consumption of refined grains. At her follow up appointment, she stated that she had started consuming several servings of vegetables and had reduced consumption of refined grains. We were able to reduce her anti-hypertensive treatment from 5 medications to 2 medications! 

JASON: Do you feel most Western doctors prescribe drugs without considering changes in diet first? How much emphasis was placed on the concept of “food as medicine” or nutrition in your formal schooling?

DR. DEDHIA: I think most doctors recognize the importance of nutrition to overall healthcare of their patients, especially in patients with chronic illness. Unfortunately, our training has not been as comprehensive during medical school.  But this is changing!  Most medical schools now require formal nutrition education for their medical students so I believe nutrition will become an important part of the doctor visit in the future.


JASON: Speaking from personal experience, I’ve sometimes been frustrated with doctors making decisions with relatively little information and treating symptoms rather than searching for root causes. I guess I’d prefer a more holistic approach, but I don’t know where to begin. Can you help me understand the options?

DR. DEDHIA: Honestly, this topic is quite broad. I can briefly describe Integrative Medicine which is a form of medicine often thought of as “healing oriented medicine” that takes into account the whole person including all aspects of their lifestyle. Integrative Medicine Physicians will generally focus on the physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and environmental influences that affect a person’s health. It is important to realize that Integrative Medicine is complementary to conventional medicine. It is not alternative medicine, which refers to an approach to healing that is utilized in place of conventional therapies. Integrative Medicine emphasizes the importance of preventive medicine to the overall care of the patient. For more information, I encourage you to visit Nccam.nih.gov to understand the differences between many of the complementary modalities that are utilized in Integrative Medicine including Acupuncture, Mind-Body Medicine, Energy Medicine (Reiki), Reflexology, and Nutrition. Many major academic centers have Integrative Practitioners or even Integrative Medicine Centers (i.e. Duke, Mayo, Northwestern, etc.).

JASON: So it sounds like Western and complementary medicines can coexist. I always thought they were mutually exclusive! How might a visit with a doctor trained in integrative medicine differ from one trained in Western medicine only?

DR. DEDHIA: A greater emphasis may be placed on incorporating lifestyle modifications in addition to conventional therapies. For example, we know both poor diet, lack of exercise, and stress can cause elevations in blood pressure. For a patient treated with blood pressure medications, a visit with an Integrative Medicine practitioner will likely incorporate aspects of stress relief through various modalities (either Mind-Body Medicine, massage, or meditation) as well as incorporating a comprehensive nutrition and exercise treatment plan in addition to medication treatment. A focus of this treatment will be on preventive care to prevent conditions such as heart disease and stroke (for which hypertension is a risk factor).


JASON: What is your best advice to 100 Days of Real Food readers so they may experience good health, balance, and happiness?

DR. DEDHIA: Read ingredient labels so you can eliminate refined/processed sugars! Also increase fiber in your diet…consider trying a green smoothie to incorporate at least 4-5 servings of vegetables in your diet. I’m sharing one of our go-to recipes for your readers (below).

A big thanks to Dr. Rupel Dedhia for sharing her perspective and recipe! I hope this interview makes you think. Please let us know your experiences with food as medicine or integrative medicine in the comments. And just for fun here’s a photo of us all in Thailand last year after a local cooking school. :)

Lisa and Jason Leake with Rupel Dedhia, M.D. and Adam Yanke, M.D. near Chiang Mai, Thailand in September 2011.

Before I share Dr. Dedhia’s favorite green smoothie recipe, I’d like to mention one of our repeat sponsors…Molly’s Suds! Monica, the owner and a mom, created the “cleanest” laundry detergent around that doesn’t contain any dyes, hidden perfumes, petrochemicals, formaldehyde, or sodium lauryl/laureth sulfates. It’s super concentrated so you only have to use 1 tablespoon per load. Visit their website and give it a try yourself.

Dr. Dedhia’s Favorite Green Smoothie
Serves: 4
 
Inspired by Victoria Boutenko with Raw Family
Ingredients
  • 2 cups spinach (consider rotating greens-kale, Swiss chard, lamb’s quarters, and dandelion greens with stems removed)
  • 1 pear (can substitute an apple or orange)
  • 1 ripe banana (can substitute 1 cup of blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries)
  • 1 cucumber
  • 3-4 whole carrots
  • 2-3 celery stalks
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 2-3 cups water (adjust to desired consistency)
Instructions
  1. Using a high-speed blender (Vitamix works well), blend all the ingredients. Best if served immediately.

 

I enjoyed a green smoothie during lunch today.

 

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45 comments to Interview with Doctor: Food as Medicine

  • Sara

    Just FYI…the world’s oldest woman died today, but when they asked her what her secret was in a previous interview she said…”I mind my own business. And I don’t eat junk food”. Nice.

  • dave

    I agree that food is medicine! The one thing I’m noticing in many of your recipes is the use of whole wheat. Even if a product is listed as 100% whole wheat doesn’t make it healthy. Wheat over the year has bee so genetically modified. It’s really not much better than it’s counterpart white flour other than it doesn’t raise blood sugar as fast. So many people are becomin allergic or sensitive to gluten-which is also wheat. It’s a cause of inflammation,can be linked to the obesity epidemic and much more. Have you thought of using coconut flour or other alternatives in your recipes?

    • Denise

      I’ve been confused around the wheat debate as well. I did a little looking and found wheat is not genetically modified, but it has been hybridized – crossed with other varieties of wheat. I’ve also been learning about better methods of preparing wheat/grains such as soaking and sprouting in order to remove phytic acid. Personally I have decided to continue to enjoy wheat but try to diversify the grains we use by including spelt, kamut, etc. and to begin soaking the grains. There is so much conflicting information out there it is frustrating sometimes!

    • JMSH

      Sigh. You wheat haters all sound the same spreading your fallacies, probably from “that book” you read by a cardiologist who starts out by saying “wheat is bad, stop eating it” but then later tells you to just go ahead and cut out all carbohydrates. There are NO peer reviewed studies out there linking wheat to all our ills, unless you are celiac, so I really wish this nonsense would stop. Wheat got a bad rap because most Americans ingest the highly refined, sugar laden, chemically processed wheat. In addition, there are currently no genetically modified wheat plants, so I’m not sure why people continue to believe this. I will continue to make the yummy whole wheat recipes on this site and enjoy them.
      Loved this interview, BTW. As a public health researcher, it was right up my alley! I’ve just discovered your site and have been enjoying reading the articles while my little one naps. Thank you for your hard work!

  • Elizabeth

    You can throw raw (hard) carrots in there? Should they be boiled first or anything?

  • [...] about determining if the symptoms are food related? Always speak with a medical professional first. Try to find a doctor that is open to discussing food sensitivities AND food allergies and the powerful role that diet [...]

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