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More doctors are prescribing food as medicine – here’s why

What if disease reversal and prevention could be accomplished simply by changing what you eat? For some doctors, the latest prescription is not a new drug, but a healthy plate of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans.

Beth Morris, a physician with GHS Greenville Family Medicine and a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine – Greenville, is board-certified in Family Medicine. She is also the first physician in the area to become board-certified in Lifestyle Medicine.

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Lifestyle Medicine is the evidence-based practice of using lifestyle interventions, specifically a whole food, plant-based diet, exercise, sleep and stress management, to prevent and reverse disease.

“Heart disease, cancer, diabetes and inflammatory diseases are some of the most common diagnoses that I see,” Morris said. “A lot of people don’t realize the benefits of lifestyle change until they’ve had their first heart attack or they’ve been diagnosed with cancer.”

But Morris wants her patients to avoid those fates, and that might be as simple as changing their nutrition. She begins by understanding what they want to achieve and what is stopping them from doing that.

Generally, younger patients are concerned about weight loss and how to meet their weight goals, Morris said.

“Once they hit 40, it’s different,” she said.

For someone who just wants to lose weight, Morris said there are many different diets that can accomplish that.

“If people want to lose weight in the context of minimizing chronic disease down the road, a plant-based diet is the way to go,” she said.

A plant-based diet is one that focuses on whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes – whole or minimally processed foods as they exist in nature, according to Morris.

“It takes effort to be healthy,” she said. “We live in an area that historically has not had a very healthy food environment. The biggest problem is a lack of awareness. A lot of people aren’t aware of how easy it is to reverse their heart disease, reverse their diabetes and feel better.”

For parents, good nutrition is not only important for their health, but it sets up their children for a lifetime of good health as well.

“If you’re not your best self, you are not your best family member,” Morris said. “We want kids to develop good habits when they’re older.”

An important aspect of that is modeling a healthy diet when children are young.

Morris works with her patients to help them come up with a plan for a lifestyle change that can impact every area of health. She recommends patients read the book, “How Not to Die,” by physician Michael Greger. It focuses on the leading causes of death, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancers, and how to prevent and reverse them through nutrition.

“I send them home with homework,” Morris said. “I’m a big believer in understanding why we do what we do. ‘How Not to Die’ gets at the research behind a plant-based diet. Once people read that, they see how compelling it is.”

Morris also recommends the documentaries “What the Health” and “Forks Over Knives.” Some people mistakenly think they will be limited to salads or “lettuce and tomato” on a plant-based diet, Morris said.

“People hear about a lot of different diets,” she said. “What sets a plant-based diet apart is that it’s the only diet pretty much where it’s not based on restrictions. It’s easy to adhere to because people are not left hungry.”

For those who aren’t convinced, Morris urges them to try a completely whole food, plant-based diet for three weeks. The proof, she believes, is in the results.

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