Share your location for a better experience

Please enter your city or town so we can help you find the right care at the right place.

Click the X to continue without setting your location

Get care nowSign in

Health news and blog

    Nutrition and weight loss

    Your prescription for nutrition: How to embrace food as medicine

    Learn how you might apply these nutrition principles in your life


    In a world where fast-paced lifestyles often dominate, it's crucial to pause and recognize nutrition's critical role in our lives. The relationship between nutrition and well-being is not just significant, but essential. Food serves as a potent form of medicine, capable of disease prevention, boosting your immune system, and enhancing your overall quality of life.

    Merin Kinikini, DNP, a registered dietitian at Intermountain Medical Center, provided valuable insight into food as medicine, and how you might apply its principles in your life.

    “Throughout much of history people subsisted on what they could ‘hunt and gather’– this would vary depending on what environment a person was exposed to, but overwhelmingly it was a diet high in fiber, high in phytonutrients, and a diet void of processed foods,” said Merin. “The idea of using ‘food as medicine’ is to get back to a whole food, nutritionally dense diet.”

    Food and Physical Health

    We’ve written articles about heart healthy diets and diets for active lifestyles, but how exactly does food affect your physical health? It might help to picture your body as a machine, and how its fuel impacts its function. What you eat plays a crucial role in maintaining your well-being.

    Your immune system relies heavily on nutrients you provide through your diet. Antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables, such as vitamin C and beta-carotene, can bolster your body's defenses against infection and disease. Meanwhile, protein-rich foods like lean meats, fish, and legumes improve your immune system.

    The benefits of a nutrient-rich diet extend far beyond immunity. Whole grains, such as brown rice and quinoa, are packed with fiber, which not only aids in digestion but also helps regulate blood sugar and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

    “We also want diets high in omega-3 fatty acids (from oily fish, nuts, seeds) and quality protein from healthy sources, instead of saturated fats,” said Merin. “A diet often mimicked for these qualities is the Mediterranean diet, and there’s been much research into the longevity and health of those who follow this diet over time.”

    Conversely, indulging in sugary treats and processed foods can throw a wrench in the works, leading to inflammation and other health issues.

    “As our society started moving more toward grains, and especially processed foods, we saw a spike in our chronic diseases that one gets over time,” said Merin. “We have also seen a spike in autoimmune diseases, largely attributed to our processed food diet.”

    The food choices you make today have the power to shape your health tomorrow. By embracing a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, you can nourish your body from the inside out.

    Food and Mental Health

    What’s on your plate affects more than just your waistline. Your food choices can significantly impact your mood and mental health. Research suggests that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may reduce the risk of depression and anxiety. Similarly, foods rich in antioxidants, such as berries and leafy greens, protect against cognitive decline and promote mental clarity.

    On the flip side, excessive consumption of refined sugars and unhealthy fats has been linked to increased feelings of sadness and fatigue. These foods not only lack essential nutrients needed for peak brain function, but may also contribute to inflammation in the body, which has been implicated in mood disorder development.

    “Our brain, like every other organ, is impacted by our diet,” said Merin. “If we have a diet high in sugar and processed foods, our brain is more likely to be inflamed and subject to disease just like in other organs.”

    The gut-brain connection offers more insight into food in mental health. Consuming a diet rich in fiber, prebiotics, and probiotics nourishes your gut microbiota, promoting a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria and supporting optimal brain function.

    “Fermented foods are another really good way to help the microbiome and get added nutrients,” said Merin.

    Beyond the biological mechanisms, we’ve also written about the importance of mindful eating. Mindful eating, or the practice of paying attention to the sensory experience of eating, has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood, and enhance overall satisfaction with meals.

    How to embrace food as medicine

    If you're not sure how to meet your daily nutritional needs, fear not! Here are some tips to embrace food as medicine:

    Prioritize plant-based foods

    According to the CDC, only 1 in 10 U.S. adults meet recommended fruit and vegetable intake. If this is you, consider adding 1.5–2 cups of fruit and 2–3 cups of vegetables to your daily diet. Fruit and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that promote overall health.

    Include healthy fats

    Ditch the saturated fats, and incorporate healthy fats into your diet, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and oily fish. These fats are essential for brain health, hormone production, and more.

    Diversify your protein

    Mix up your protein sources by including a variety of plant-based options such as beans, lentils, tofu, and tempeh, as well as lean animal proteins like poultry, fish, and eggs.

    Mind your portion

    Pay attention to portion sizes to avoid overeating and maintain a healthy weight. Use smaller plates and bowls, and be mindful of fullness cues to prevent mindless snacking.

    “Plan to pre-prepare your meals on the go, such as having cut up fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds on hand for when you get the ‘munchies’ – and NOT having processed foods on hand, that are unhealthy, but what we generally want as a craving,” said Merin.

    Stay hydrated

    Drink water throughout the day to stay hydrated and support bodily functions. Aim for at least eight glasses of water per day, and consider incorporating hydrating foods like cucumbers, watermelon, and citrus fruits.

    Seek support

    Enlist the support of a registered dietitian, such as Merin, to help you stay on track with your dietary goals. “Anybody who wants help figuring out good options for them, and how to implement these great tips, can make an appointment with a registered dietitian,” said Merin. “They have known that food is medicine for their entire career.”

    For those feeling overwhelmed, Merin encouraged patience and grace. “Don’t be too hard on yourself, nobody is all of none,” she said. “Making small changes at a time and setting yourself up for success will pay huge rewards over time.”

    It’s important to remember every meal is an opportunity to nourish your body and promote optimal health. By embracing food as medicine and adopting practical strategies, you can take control of your health one delicious bite at a time. 


    Nutrition and weight lossNutrition servicesWeight loss and bariatricsWeight loss and bariatricsNutrition services

    Your prescription for nutrition: How to embrace food as medicine