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Eating Locally & the Food as Medicine Movement

Hilary McClaffertyAccording to Hilary McClafferty, M.D., F.A.A.P., co-director of fellowships at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, eating locally grown foods is a habit that more people should make part of their daily lives. Indeed, eating local isn’t a fleeting trend but a conscious return to the way in which humans have consumed food for thousands of years. The movement – which some say has its roots in the agricultural price supports and farm subsidies of the New Deal – has been a decades-long effort to improve local economies, develop more self-reliant food networks, and generate a greater appreciation for healthful food consumption practices.

What does “local” mean? Though there is no single authoritative definition, eating locally is perhaps best described as an arrangement in which producers sell food directly to consumers through regional farmers markets, farm-to-school lunch programs, and similar set ups that eliminate long-distance transportation and retail intermediaries. “There is growing interest in the benefits of eating locally in the pediatric population as well. We are seeing interest in schools and community centers to develop and implement school gardens, farm-to-school cafeteria programs, and even community gardens within children’s hospitals where the children have a chance to get involved and help grow their own food. The children really take ownership of the projects and learn about healthy nutrition along the way,” says McClafferty.

The primary benefit of eating locally grown foods is that it gives your body the nutrients it needs and limits the substances that can be harmful to you in high quantities, such as refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, salt, and synthetic trans fats, just to name a few. A growing body of research strongly suggests that, by choosing to eat local, you can avoid or reverse a variety of maladies that can both shorten your lifespan and diminish your quality of living, such as diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension, and even many different types of cancers. “Food as medicine” is a term now commonly used to describe an emerging recognition among health professionals – and integrative medicine practitioners, in particular – that food plays not just a supplemental but a central role in the health of people the world over. Physicians have looked at the data and the results are unmistakably clear: a diet that consists primarily of highly processed foods can drastically increase one’s chances of prematurely contracting one or more adverse health conditions. “Learning about nutrition is a fundamental part of our fellowship program. We have physicians, physicians assistants, and advanced practice nurses come in from all over the U.S. and from many other countries, and almost to a person tell us that they had received minimal nutrition training in their professional programs. We make it a point to provide a really robust foundation early on in our training that they build on throughout the two-year training”, says McClafferty. According to a report from the World Health Organization, the vast majority of deaths attributed to heart disease and stroke were ultimately caused by high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, and insufficient consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Integrative medicine is a widely accepted approach to care that takes into account the whole person – including his or her dietary habits. In addition to treating illnesses and injuries, practitioners of integrative medicine also place significant emphasis on health promotion and disease prevention through science-based interventions and a strong patient-practitioner relationship.

The American Board of Integrative Medicine® (ABOIM®) is a Member Board of the American Board of Physician Specialties® (ABPS), the official multi-specialty board certifying body of the American Association of Physician Specialists, Inc. (AAPS). The ABOIM® offers a path to certification that makes it possible for qualified physicians to present themselves as experts in integrative care. Eligibility requirements, as well as examination and application information, can be found here.