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The importance of evidence for food as medicine

The practice of experimentation, researching and exploring ideas has been around for as long as man has existed and recorded information.

Many cultures around the world have used folklore, storytelling and other approaches to share and pass on cultural beliefs and practices. The use of food as medicine, cooking methods and recipes are areas that have formed part of a cultural exchange which has passed on information from generation to generation in different societies across the globe.

For many generations this kind of information has been accepted and valued, forming part of the rich tapestry of cultural knowledge for different population groups. Often these practices and beliefs have never been questioned – it is just “what we know” and “what we do”.

What we know

Foods have been used as medicines for thousands and thousands of years and there are a myriad of examples in recorded histories. You will have your own thoughts around this and particular beliefs and practices within your own family, your cultural background and from your own experiences and other influences.

However, do you know if there is good evidence to support some of your long held food beliefs and practices around food? Does it matter?

The need for evidence

Gaps do exist between long-held cultural beliefs and traditions around food and its use as medicine and the currently established scientific evidence. If evidence is lacking, it doesn’t necessarily mean a particular practice doesn’t work or isn’t effective. It just means we are limited in advocating benefits more broadly to people and populations without first undertaking the research to establish an evidence base.

Whilst narratives of personal testimonials and anecdotes are powerful and emotive, it is important to gather evidence using systematic approaches.

We exist within a period of evidence based medicine. Whilst the philosophical origins of evidence based medicine date back hundreds of years, evidence based medicine has really emerged and strengthened over the last few decades. It has been particularly important in highlighting some food practices and food medicines that can do harm.

Evidence based medicine is the “conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients” and/or more broadly applied to populations.

Recommendations change over time

Importantly, evidence evolves all the time and recommendations do change. Whilst this can be confusing as we are often looking for concrete or definitive answers to questions about food, it is a fascinating area as we learn more about food and nutrition, health and disease all the time and the area of Food as Medicine will continue to develop as further research unfolds.

Talking point

You’ve explored how and why food has been used as medicine in the past, and why evidence is important for food as medicine. It’s now your turn to reflect and share your thoughts with other learners.

Within the Comments, consider sharing with other learners your thoughts on this topic as well as your views on foods that may have been used as medicine in the past.

  • Be sure to describe the food, what it was used for and the evidence for it.

  • If the food is no longer recommended or used as medicine due to lack of evidence or new found evidence, consider sharing your views on why the recommendation has changed.

Don’t forget to contribute to the discussion by reviewing the comments made by other learners, making sure you provide constructive feedback and commentary.

Remember you can also ‘Like’ comments or follow other learners throughout the course.

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This article is from the free online course:

Food as Medicine

Monash University

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