Side shows at the Vermont state fair. Photo by Jack Delano,  from the Library of Congress.  Public Domain.
Side shows at the Vermont state fair.
Photo by Jack Delano,
from the Library of Congress. Public Domain.

I wonder when Hippocrates—or whoever it really was—said “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food,” whether he meant it literally. Perhaps he meant something more fuzzy, like “eat good food for better health.” Or maybe he did mean it in the plainest possible sense: “When you are sick, use food to cure yourself; when you are well, eat good food to prevent sickness.” Whichever he meant, over the last three years or so I have come to apply this precept in an astonishingly precise way. Here’s the story.

Food Medicine crop

In 2011, my strong, healthy husband got sick. It started with food poisoning at a country fair. Over the six months after that, he got steadily worse: infections, indigestion, exhaustion and pain. Doctors gave him antibiotics for the infections, without looking for the root cause, and the antibiotics destroyed his digestive and immune systems. Soon he couldn’t eat anything without nausea and pain after the meal. We got suckered by an “alternative treatment” doctor who tried to con us into paying tens of thousands of dollars for questionable treatments (not approved by the FDA) for his own “experiential” diagnosis that contradicted lab tests. Meanwhile, my husband struggled to go to work every day and came home completely wiped out. Construction on our handmade house ceased. Travel plans were canceled.

Finally, a specialist got to the root of the problem (a kidney stone had worked its way into the bladder and was wreaking havoc there), and a simple surgery set us back on the road towards health. OK. Fine. Good. But there were still the weakened immune and digestive systems. He still couldn’t eat without nausea and pain.

Let’s speed up the story. Eventually, with the help of an M.D. who was also a Registered Dietician and natural health practitioner, and by spending hundreds of hours educating ourselves on the internet, we started healing ourselves with food. We found that adding acid and digestive enzymes to each meal in the form of a supplement or—even better—fresh pineapple took care of most of the indigestion. Adding serious doses of probiotics every day as supplements or, again, organic unsweetened full fat yogurt, took care of most of the immune problems. And finding out what foods contributed to the formation of kidney stones rounded out the diet.

So what do we eat? Well, it’s still very difficult. My husband has to balance seven (sometimes contradictory) lists of foods to avoid. Here’s his diet:

  1. Low sodium
  2. Low oxalate
  3. Sugar free
  4. Lactose free
  5. Gluten free
  6. No red meat
  7. Oh, and Stuff He Doesn’t Like.

What’s left? Particular fruits and vegetables. Fish and poultry. Eggs. Rice, corn, quinoa, and oats. Some seeds. Some beans. We’re making it work. He’s so thankful to be feeling well that he says he wouldn’t mind eating the exact same boring foods over and over every day. We’re trying to move ever further into the natural, organic, whole, raw and local foods worlds.

And of course I’ve had to alter every recipe in the world. No, that’s not even quite right. I don’t really follow recipes. I never have; I’ve always thought of recipes as friendly guidelines or inspiring ideas. I rarely measure. I just follow my nose.

So my new necessity to make meals without ingredients—bricks without straw—is a serious challenge, but one that hasn’t totally sidelined us. I simply substitute. Just as Peter Schickele says about music that “If it sounds good, it is good,” so also I say “If it smells good, it is good.” Your nose will tell you what flavors to put together, your eyes will blend colors and textures, and of course you can dip a finger in now and again to check the taste.

The moral of the story is: be your own food-and-health advocate. Do your research. Experiment. Get second (and third, and fourth) opinions. Cook up new stuff. And follow your nose.

Check back next week for a DELICIOUS low sodium, low oxalate, sugar-free, lactose-free, gluten-free vanilla cinnamon granola recipe!