Let Food Be Thy Medicine

Can diet cure diseases?

Peter N. Landless & Zeno L. Charles-Marcel
Let Food Be Thy Medicine
Photo by Anna Pelzer on Unsplash

I live in a rural area where there is not ready access to medical care and hospitals. We have heard that food should be our medicine and medicine our food. This is very appealing to us who have limited health care, but is it true?

The statement “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food” is often attributed to Hippocrates, an early Greek physician. Researchers have carefully examined the available records, and this statement has not been found in his writings.* Hippocrates emphasized the important links between health, food, exercise, and medicine, but did not confuse their specific and combined roles. Regardless of origins, this statement is a double-edged sword with both truth and danger, because it oversimplifies both cause and effect.

Nutrition is one influence among numerous factors determining our health and wellness. When we consume calorie-dense, highly refined foods, disregarding portion size, and wash it all down with endless servings of sugary drinks, we set the scene for obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), heart disease, and even cancer.

Other factors include socioeconomic circumstances, preventive health care, the immediate environment, genetics, exercise, sleep, and avoidance of alcohol, tobacco, and other at-risk behaviors; these all contribute significantly to quality of life. The availability of healthful foods, open spaces, and the opportunity to exercise safely in the outdoors are clear factors that explain how longevity is related more to one’s zip code than to any other single factor!

We may unintentionally shame people when we say “You are what you eat” without giving due consideration to individual circumstances, such as ubiquitous food deserts, poor food security, inaccessible, often unaffordable health care, and general socioeconomic disparities prevalent worldwide.

We need to teach the facts and share solutions compassionately and kindly. This includes educating how to choose the healthiest options from available, affordable foods, and how to prepare tasty, nourishing meals. Adventist congregations can demonstrate the blessing of community gardens by growing fresh produce for whoever may need it. The prudent use of foods promotes health and may prevent lifestyle diseases.

Can diet cure diseases? Eliminating gluten from the diet in those who have gluten sensitivity is the current cure for this specific problem. In scurvy, which is caused by a deficiency of ascorbic acid (vitamin C), the consumption of citrus and other foods rich in vitamin C is curative. Careful nutrition and avoidance of refined carbohydrates, along with exercise, weight loss, stress management, and avoiding the shaming and blaming “you brought this on yourself” approach, can improve and may even reverse type 2 diabetes. Healthy eating is a large part of the cure, along with medicines as needed. We should also beware that obsessive attempts to eat perfectly may lead to serious eating disorders.

The short answer to your question: nutrition matters, medicines matter. We need the balance of prevention, treatment, and best medical practices when healthy or ill. We have an opportunity to demonstrate God’s love and compassion by caring, sharing, and meeting people’s needs in practical ways, as did Jesus. Then He bade them follow Him. Let’s do likewise!

* Diana Cardenas, “Let Not Thy Food Be Confused With Thy Medicine: The Hippocratic Misquotation,” e-SPEN Journal 8, no. 6 (2013): e260-e262,;

Peter N. Landless & Zeno L. Charles-Marcel