Nuchi Gusui: Food is Medicine for Life


Okinawans, the world’s longest-lived people, believe that the food they eat is “nuchi gusui” which roughly translates as “medicine for life.” – Dr Andrew Weil

Healthy eating is vital to give us the physical energy and mental clarity we need to enjoy life and perform at our best. Yet our diet is neglected at times when we are overworked, stressed or fatigued, when our mind and body is most in need of a dose of essential nutrients.

It can be difficult to change bad eating habits and even harder to know who to trust for diet advice that works. Fortunately, we can still learn from the traditions of generations past who understood that our food is so much more than simply what we do or do not eat. A healthy diet complements a healthy life, both of which we should all learn not to take for granted.

Every traditional culture in history has respected the necessity of food not only for survival but also for good health. Now more than ever, we need to eat responsibly for our own health and restore the traditional food wisdoms of our ancestors.

Here are five simple and flexible principles to inspire a more sustainable food culture that is healthy for our body and the environment.

Eat traditional

Our modern diets of convenience, speed and instant meals are fast replacing many precious food traditions which have nourished healthy families for centuries.

The pre-industrialised diets of people from every culture and climate evolved over thousands of years to include whole foods, recipes and rituals which promote growth and good health. These diets included lean meats, organ meats, seafood, animal proteins and fats, eggs, raw and whole milk products, whole grains, tubers, vegetables and fruits.

Today, we eat refined and denatured foods such as white sugar, white flour and white bread, corn syrup, pasteurised, homogenised, skim and low-fat milk, refined and hydrogenated vegetable oils, protein powders and artificial vitamins. We eat them packaged, canned, bottled, frozen, deep fried, microwaved and processed with so many toxic additives, colourings and artificially strange ingredients. It’s all very clever marketing but it’s not real food.

The good news is that we don’t have to eat any of them by choosing real foods made from fresh, whole, natural ingredients. It’s our choice to eat hand-made and home cooked, but also our responsibility to nourish and pass on the healthiest ways of eating to the next generation.

“The first and foremost measure is appropriate diet. It is not until this bears no results that one should use medicines.” – Ancient Chinese Proverb

Eat quality

The typical western diet is high in quantity but poor in quality, full of empty calories and low in nutrients. Choose the best, nutrient-dense foods and ingredients you can afford by eating less in quantity and better in quality. Learn how to cook in ways that preserve the most nutrients and minimise the use of harmful oils and fats. Substitute canned or preserved foods with fresh organic fruits, vegetables, meats and fish.

The food we eat is not merely a fuel source; it is the building material of every cellular component in our body that constitutes their form and function. It’s easy to forget that our bodies are literally made of the foods we eat and drink.

“Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food.” – Hippocrates

Eat slow

Eating is a pleasurable experience and not a chore by any means. Give yourself plenty of time so that you don’t rush or skip meals. Taste your food and chew it slowly. Share good food with equally good company and conversation, not the television or computer. Eat it at a dining table and not your desk at work. Don’t overeat, the Okinawans practice “hara hachi bu” meaning to eat only until you are 80% full.

Slow food is not instant meals, fast food or take away. It’s about family, friends, sharing, growth, creativity and generosity. Make the time to discover recipes, shop at a farmers market, learn to cook and find foods you love to eat. Learn to experience food with all of your senses, don’t just chew and swallow it.

Diets that result in fast weight loss or weight gain are not recommended. It takes time to change our food preferences and eating habits so aim to make small changes you can keep and benefit from for life.

“Let nothing which can be treated by diet be treated by other means.” – Maimonides

Eat variety

The saying that too much of a good thing can be bad for you is especially applicable to our diet. Eating a variety of foods is the best way to ensure that our body receives a balance of essential nutrients, many of which function best in combination with each other.

Vary your diet by eating foods that are in season, cook with a mix of naturally colourful ingredients and enjoy foods of every flavour and from a variety of cultures. Plant-based phenols and flavonoids which contain antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties found in vegetables, tea, wine and cocoa are frequently bitter, acrid or astringent but very good for your health.

“When diet is wrong medicine is of no use. When diet is correct medicine is of no need.” – Ancient Ayurvedic Proverb

Eat organic

Certified organic and biodynamic foods may look and taste the same as conventional supermarket produce to the untrained eye and palate, but they are superior in many ways that go far beyond the produce itself. They minimise our exposure to harmful pesticides and ensure that the entire production process is sustainable, ethical and in harmony with nature. Organic producers deserve our support to rid the “modern” food industry of synthetic toxic chemicals and unhealthy cost-cutting practices.

Purchasing locally grown organic produce may cost more, but it is one of the best investments we can all make towards our own health, the health and livelihood of sustainable food producers and the environment.

“The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.” – Thomas Edison

Further reading


Jinnan Cai from Clinical Nature

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