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On 'prescriptions' for produce
DR. SHIKHA ANAND of Boston had a complaint: "I could write prescriptions all day long for amoxicillin," he said, "but I couldn't prescribe a tomato." Now, thanks in part to him, that's changed, and 1,200 people in the Northeast United States are better for it.
Jane Black, writing in the Washington Post, describes a new-to-D.C. program through which a clinic gives "produce prescriptions" to low-income families for use at any of the five farmers markets in the city. Thirty-five families receive $1 per person per day to use to buy fruits and veggies.
The program follows an age-old admonition of Hippocrates to "let food be thy medicine." Today we have drugs galore and CT scans and wise, white-coated medical professionals. So who needs a turnip?
We all do: Increasing the servings of fresh fruits and vegetables in the diet can reduce obesity and its kindred diseases such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Yet people struggling with these chronic conditions--especially the poor--often don't include enough produce in their diets, either from habit or because their access to fresh food is limited.
Dr. Anand proved the effectiveness of the prescription-produce program by tracking the numbers: Of the 1,200 participants in six Northeastern cities, 66 percent reported eating more fruits and vegetables and 38 percent improved their body mass index.
Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit group, is behind the incentive program. (This is the same organization that's helping our local farmers markets accept food stamps and credit cards.) "Our goal is nothing less than to prove that eating more fruits and vegetables makes people more healthy," says Michel Nischan, founder and chief exec.
And if old Hippocrates was right, it's a way to reduce spending on health care, too. That's something all of us can use.
Now this seems counter-intuitive: "Increasing evidence suggests that the alarming rise in allergic and autoimmune disorders during the past few decades is at least partly attributable to our lack of exposure to microorganisms that once covered our food and us," reports The New York Times.
Because our food and water are so clean, we're not being exposed to microorganisms that in the old days gave us a daily inoculation--sort of a natural allergy shot--that would keep our bodies from overreacting to "intruders," as they do now. Type I diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, and run-of-the-mill allergies may be in part attributable to modern sanitation.
Not that anyone wants to go back to the old days, when poor sanitation caused other problems. But that little bit of dirt in the "natural" (not triple-washed) lettuce in farmers markets? That may be actually good for you.