Year for the Planet Week 23: Zero Waste Rx – Food as Medicine

Before you can fix the world, you have to fix yourself. Year for a Planet is a personal challenge to be a better human for the planet for a whole year. This year, 2017, is where I deal with my food choices.

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In the course of this project, I have realized one type of waste I’ve unconsciously reduced: waste from medicine.

I used to be an aspirin/paracetamol/painkiller-popper, especially during my years in high-strung New York City. Each stressful day came with migraines, pain, and a runny nose, and I would ignore them or hope the symptoms would go away by taking a painkiller every few hours, as though it would negate the effects of poor eating and the large cups of sugary coffee I took every day. I laugh when I remember what I used to refer it to: “maintenance”. Gross.

Nowadays, there are times when I realized that I haven’t taken any meds at all. And with this also went the plastic waste that goes with them, be it in these large plastic bottles or the “blister packs” where each tablet is packed in its own little plastic and aluminum pod so that you can pop out the medicine like a blister. But now, when I feel sick I realized the food I took made me feel better, and so I stopped needing these non-prescription medicines that I secretly felt had stopped being effective on me long ago.

To be clear, I do not advocate homeopathy (which has been debunked by science), or not seeing a doctor when you think something is really wrong with you. What I realized is that I turned to unnecessary medicine for the tiniest of ailments brought about by my unhealthy lifestyle and living in stressful bustling cities. The modern medicine and supplement industry, at least when it comes to vitamins and painkillers, feels like a game of Pick Your Placebo.

Now, the only pill I take regularly a Vitamin D supplement because I don’t go under the sun. But there are so many unnecessary things out there that are sold to us for the sake of making money. For example, turmeric is wonderful for your health, but isolating just curcumin, which is supposed to be the active ingredient responsible for turmeric’s benefits, has been debunked by science. The whole food is still better than one tiny part, so forget curcumin supplements and stick to the actual plant.

Here are the things I take to make these urban “ailments” go away:

1. Lemon and honey
When I have a cold or a sore throat, these work wonders in a tea. Also, when I feel drowsy, there’s something about these yellow foods that make me feel as though I’m drinking in a cup of sunshine.

2. Turmeric
When I feel bloated on under the weather, turmeric in smoothies or in dishes reduces whatever inflammation I brought on myself the day before.

3. Maca
Maca powder is a recent addition to my kitchen. I put half a teaspoon into my smoothie and I feel more energetic with no need for an afternoon coffee. Also, since including it in my diet, I’ve stopped waking up in the middle of the night and feel more rested.

4. Bananas
Bananas are great if I have low energy or constipation. Bananas are the fruit equivalent of salt in my fruit bowl—it’s so common and useful that you just always have some.

5. Peanut butter
When I have hunger pangs at night, peanut butter is great for making me feel full, so no more late night snacks of cookies and sweets. Hurray, I’m free!

6. Lavender
You can get edible lavender or lavender tea, but I use lavender essential oil to help with pain, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. I always have a small bottle with me even when traveling. It’s one of those familiar scents that make me feel grounded especially when traveling to unfamiliar places.

For the past 23 weeks, I have sought to understand what makes my new sustainable eating habits work for me, and one thing I realized is that I have a better understanding of the benefits of the food that I take. Before, when having a bad day, I would have something sugary as a “reward” or an aspirin to ward off the day’s headache, but now I reach for my peanut butter energy bites that I prepare once a week and go work out. The more life kicks you down, the more you have to eat and live healthy to ward off any negative spirals. Sometimes, nature and its products are the best medicine.

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