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April 25, 2019

By Michele Raglin, MD

What would you say if I told you there was a way to boost your mood, cut your risk of heart disease and cancer, and reduce how much medicine you may be taking every day?

Studies have shown that changing your diet from one based on processed foods and animal protein to that of mostly vegetables, fruits and whole grains, can drastically improve your health.

One of my patients got started on juicing, the process of extracting the juice from raw fruits and vegetables. This produces a vitamin and mineral-rich liquid to drink. The change showed in his blood work as his labs were remarkably improved. Another patient who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis experienced great relief from her symptoms after changing to a plant-based diet.

Many physicians, including myself, struggle to find the time to talk to patients about using food as medicine, even though changes in diet can help control and potentially reverse some common chronic health conditions.

When patients develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, we have medications that help, and that’s good. But in my 20 years of practicing medicine, I’ve found pills often don’t cure the problem; they just put a Band-Aid on it until we diagnose the next problem . . . and prescribe another pill.

To help end this cycle, I’m talking more with my patients about lifestyle changes, including diet. One of diets I recommend, the Mediterranean diet, was named healthiest diet for 2019 by “U.S. News and World Report.” It is also considered one of the easiest diets to follow, and the best for reducing the risk of developing diabetes.

If you already have diabetes, studies show that the Mediterranean diet helps keep blood sugar under control.

In addition to calling for lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy oils, the diet also suggests gathering with family and friends for meals as often as possible, and adding some type of physical activity to your daily routine.

Other recommendations of the eating plan include:

  • Cut out processed foods such as crackers, soft drinks and processed cheeses
  • Limit consumption of poultry, eggs, butter and whole cheeses
  • Eat red meat only once in a while
  • Adding fish to your menu twice a week

The Mediterranean Diet is a good roadmap for healthy eating. It’s easy to follow. It’s delicious. Yet, I face resistance to making this change from some patients.  They feel they are “too old” to change their diets. Some say food is their only enjoyment in life. Others say since their spouse won’t change their eating habits, they are helpless to make the change.

It can feel overwhelming. Starting with small adjustments in your diet can help ease the process.

Try to make one healthy change per week. Add a cup of veggies to lunch and dinner the first week. Replace bacon and eggs for breakfast with oatmeal or a fruit and vegetable smoothie. Or just cut down on the number of times you eat out each week. Find something that works for you.

Patients have told me that they feel so much better when they are successful at changing their diet.

If you still find yourself reluctant, try focusing on a reason you want to make the change.

If you are a caregiver, your reason might be to continue taking care of your loved one. It’s essential that you stay healthy if you want to do so.

Perhaps you are getting older and want to stay as independent as possible. Eating a better diet and staying active will improve your overall health so you can be more independent.

Some of my patients are motivated to change their diet so they reduce the amount of medication they need to take to stay healthy, or to get off the pills altogether. This is especially true when it comes to staving off diabetes.

Why take a medication to prevent diabetes when you can prevent it more effectively with a lifestyle change? Adopting the Mediterranean diet or another plant-based diet can decrease the risk of developing diabetes by 58 percent among people diagnosed with prediabetes. That’s better than just taking the diabetes medication Metformin, which reduces the risk by only 31 percent.

Give yourself the gift of health, so you can be healthy for others in your life. Whether it’s to stay independent and active, to be on fewer medications, to improve energy levels, or to feel good, figure out your reason to improve your eating habits, and give it a try.

Michele Raglin, MD, earned her medical degree from University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio, Texas, and completed her residency at the Kaiser Medical Center in San Francisco. She is board certified in internal medicine and is a member of the American College of Physicians, the Texas Medical Association and the Nueces County Medical Society.

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