You might be surprised to learn that scurvy — a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C — once was responsible for more deaths at sea than storms, shipwrecks, combat and all diseases combined.
Some 2 million sailors died between the 17th and 18th centuries until the Royal Navy realized supplies of fresh fruits and vegetables would prevent it.
Today, our society is far more aware of the importance of vitamins and minerals. But at the same time our awareness has increased, researchers have noted reduced amounts of iron, protein, calcium, and vitamins B2 and C in vegetable crops.
There are many possible reasons for this trend, including farming practices that favor high-yield plant varieties, the use of chemical fertilizer and harvesting crops before they are ripe to meet market deadlines.
Our unhealthy diets are also cause for concern. As a society, we’re eating more saturated fats, salt, sugar and processed foods than ever. And many of us aren’t consuming the recommended daily amounts of fruit and vegetables.
The World Health Organization tells us unhealthy diets are one of the major causes of chronic disease epidemics, including obesity and high blood pressure, glucose levels and cholesterol.
The Food-as-Medicine Movement
Trends like these have helped inspire a growing “food-as-medicine” movement. In large cities and small towns across America, doctors are suggesting wise food choices to counter some of the chronic diseases that affect us.
The ideal will probably always be to get your nutrients from foods. But some doctors may recommend vitamin and mineral supplements for those who are unlikely or unable to increase the amounts of fruit and vegetables they eat.
Whatever your situation, be sure to talk with your doctor as you consider what is best for you. You may need different nutrient options, whether from food or supplements. For a pregnant woman, for example, consuming too much vitamin A may cause birth defects.
Taking Medication? Consider Avoiding These Foods
You should avoid a few common foods when you take certain medications.
Grapefruit Juice: This tart juice, while an outstanding source of vitamins A and C and other nutrients, can interact with some cholesterol-lowering medications and raise or lower their levels in the bloodstream.
It can also affect other medications in much the same way, including antihistamines (commonly used for allergies), blood pressure drugs, thyroid replacement drugs, birth control, stomach acid-blocking drugs and the cough suppressant dextromethorphan.
Green Leafy Vegetables: High in vitamin K, these vegetables can reduce the ability of blood thinners to prevent clotting. The good news: There’s typically no need to stop eating your leafy greens. Most problems arise from large increases or reductions in the amount you eat.
Natural Black Licorice: A natural ingredient in this licorice, glycyrrhiza, can drain your body of potassium while increasing your retention of sodium. If you consume it with the heart medication digoxin, it increases the drug’s effect and can cause an irregular heartbeat.
Natural black licorice can also affect high blood pressure medicines. Artificially flavored black licorice does not contain glycyrrhiza and is not a concern.
Foods with Tyramine: People who take certain depression drugs and Parkinson’s disease medication should avoid foods rich in tyramine. They include chocolate, aged and mature cheeses, smoked and aged/fermented meats, hot dogs, some processed lunchmeats, fermented soy products, and draft beers.
If you have concerns about any medicines you’re taking, talk to your doctor about what you may need to avoid.
Need to make a change?
If you think you may need to change your diet to get the nutrition you need, ask your health care provider for advice on what healthy foods you can add to your daily diet.
Sources: Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, June 18, 2013; Preventing Chronic Diseases: A Vital Investment, World Health Organization, 2005; Fortify Your Knowledge About Vitamins, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2016