Healthier Together: Food is Medicine

SEATTLE — It’s common knowledge that “food is the best medicine,” but local doctors tell KIRO 7 it’s much more than a phrase.

“There’s a whole train of thinking and a whole body of work around ‘food as medicine’ because we know that what we put in dramatically influences how we function,” says Dr. Nicole Saint Clair, the Executive Medical Director of Regence BlueShield.

“There are a couple of different ways that healthy foods, and in particular fruits and vegetables, help us. Not only by giving us the full variety of vitamins and co-factors that we need to function, but overall, we talk a lot about inflammation. I think most people have heard inflammation is the cause of pretty much everything, but looking at what’s causing that inflammation is really important, (including) what we can do to reduce it. Many of the things that can reduce inflammation, (like) antioxidants, (which) are found specifically in fruits, vegetables, and healthy foods,” Dr Saint Clair said.

Access to healthy foods depends on where you live, as food insecurity continues to be an ongoing issue in Washington, the Pacific Northwest, and nationwide.

In 2009, the USDA began mapping food deserts, which are areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food.

“This is a very big problem because if the only place you can shop is a convenience store or the cheapest place you can get food for your family is McDonalds, it’s going to be very difficult to eat healthy,” Dr. Mary Ann Bauman, the Board President of American Heart Association Western States Region, said. “This is an ongoing issue and it affects the next generation that’s not even here yet if we don’t make progress in this.”

Food deserts not only exist but can also come from the closure of grocery stores.

In November, KIRO 7 spoke with Alvaro Guillen, the director of Connect Casino Road, a non-profit that provides services to help immigrants establish new lives in Everett.

Guillen was concerned about ongoing crime, which he said could lead to the closure of a local Fred Meyer store.

“It would be devastating for the community,” he said. “It would create a food desert. And it would add to the current racial health disparities that already exist.”

Food insecurity is prevalent in Pierce County, but there are food banks countywide willing to help residents in need.

That includes The Market by the Bonney Lake Food Bank, which was featured on KIRO 7.

“I think part of our plan is to try and reinvent what food insecurity could look like. It’s to provide health and wellness, and the reality is one-out-of-eight Americans are experiencing food insecurity. But they also do not have the ability to afford their own good health,” said Stacey Crinch, CEO of the Market by the Bonney Lake Food Bank.

Solving food insecurity is a nationwide issue demanding more attention, as doctors continue to advocate for a healthier diet and lifestyle.

“If you do nothing else, get your 150 minutes of exercise a week (and) eat your full rainbow of a healthy diet. That is huge (and) is going to take you so far,” Dr. Nicole Saint Clair said.