Food as “Good Medicine”

 Food as “Good Medicine”

One of the basic principles of many Native American tribes is the need for balance.  Native Americans have long understood the importance of keeping a constant vigil over their daily lives in order to maintain a sense of wellness and wholeness.  Tribal philosophies emphasize that without addressing all areas of our lives and working to get each one in optimal working order, we cannot achieve lasting good health.  Our body, mind, and spirit need to be nurtured and maintained on a regular basis or our health begins to suffer.  We have perhaps no greater impact on our lives and our destinies than when deciding what we eat. This is one area most people desperately need balance.

Native American philosophy is steeped in moderation and self-control. Tribal life and survival depended on it. One person in the tribe could ill- afford a reckless or selfish act for it might have very well put another at risk. Tribes lived as large families and cared for one another using this concept of balance. The strongest of the tribe would be the first to go without food in order to ensure that the elderly and the young were fed and nourished.

When we speak about nutrition from a Native American point of view, we must understand that every aspect of a person’s life is to be kept in check. A measured and methodical thought process is the only way to ensure consistent good self-care.

Food was just as important to Native tribes of the past as it is in our culture today; with one very important distinction. Food was respected, revered, and used in balance.

Keep in mind, that tribes had the philosophy that a person is to eat to live, not live to eat. This is directly in conflict with our popular culture that encourages us to eat too much, too often and for a variety of reasons. In the day of the Indian, a woman had only one reason to eat; survival. Her family, her children, her parents depended on her health and well-being. Ironically, that has NOT changed in our modern culture. Our health as women is vital to the workings of our family unit. More importantly, at the core of native philosophy lies the concept of being a creation of the Creator. As souls given bodies by Great Spirit or God, one was believed given the ultimate gift; life. It was thought to be a sacred trust and that caring for the mind, body, and soul, were daily activities one had no choice but in which to engage. A Native American woman would never have conceived of the idea of eating to excess at the expense of her family or her health. She would have done nothing to interfere with Creator’s purpose for her life. She kept a constant focus on the idea of balance. Ironically, many Native American people have abandoned what our ancestors’ taught us concerning food, and as a result, we have some of the highest incidence of obesity and obesity-related illnesses in the world.


There is much talk today about the need to eat foods grown organically without pesticides. This is true.

(Look for our list of the 12 items we should buy organic as often as possible- “Dirty Dozen”)There was a time in history when pesticides were not used and food was grown naturally and eaten in its purest form. The early indigenous diet was a great one. It contained everything necessary for not only survival, but for balanced living.

Each tribe ate natural foods found in their region and ate a variety of foods that offered a variety of textures, flavors and importance to the tribe. Tribes were limited in their food choices if we compare those choices to the choices we have at our disposal today, but our many choices are not necessarily better choices.


We live in a fast paced, instant world. Food has become a status symbol. All one has to do to prove this is to go and sit in any high school cafeteria in America and ask a young person how food affects popularity. Advertisers have made billions on the assumption that this trend will continue. Food has become fashion, politics, romance and self-esteem. We can buck this trend and this negative thinking by learning to look at food as “good medicine”.

Food as “Good Medicine”

When we follow the Medicine Wheel concept of balance and positive energy, a plan of action becomes quite clear. We can better understand the need for food as energy and as a means to facilitate our purpose in life. A shift in thinking needs to occur; a shift that focuses on our worth not our desires; a shift that focuses on our value not our whims. Each day our food consumption is only about good medicine. Something that is pure, genuine and true. It can refer to physical objects, people, places animals or events. Finding good medicine and creating good medicine are important tenets in Native philosophy and I believe it is a simple way to begin to put food consumption into perspective.

According to the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, the estimated percentage of cancer due to selected factors put diet at the top of the list with a whopping 35%-60% followed closely by tobacco use with environmental factors (air and water pollution) ranking only at 5%.


Nutrients That Help Prevent Cancer

Many nutrients found in plant foods have been linked to reducing cancer risk. For example, diets rich in the phytochemical lycopene may reduce the risk of prostate cancer, fiber-rich diets have been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer, and choosing a diet low in fat helps to prevent breast and other types of cancer.

Start today by adding these 3 easy steps into your daily diet regimen. By doing so, you will be on your way to a leaner, healthier you.

  1. Think of food as energy: when we think of our bodies as well-built machines, we know we need to put better types of fuel into our bodies to get the maximum benefit. We need to think of our daily diet as a means to the best form of energy to achieve the goals we have for our life. We tend to think only of the moment and our immediate whims or cravings. The choice of an apple over a snickers bar will provide better, cleaner and longer sustaining source of energy.


  1. Learn to appreciate simple foods: this is one of the easiest ways to begin to get your weight under control. When you choose simple foods over packaged, processed foods you will undoubtedly reduce your caloric intake and increase your health quotient.


  1. Eat moderately and often: Our current food culture still favors sitting down to “3 squares” a day but doing so actually makes getting health more challenging. Our bodies and minds function more efficiently when we eat moderate amounts of calories throughout the day rather than to sit down and ingest larger quantities of calories that actually make our bodies work harder not better.

By simply adding these easy steps to your diet regimen, you can begin to see real long lasting improvement in your weight and health. With this plan in mind you will be using food to heal, not hurt. Food really can be good medicine.



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