Food as Medicine

How do we make our food become our medicine? Well lucky for us, we can easily access whole “real” food in Australia, which is what I consider medicine! Although there is certainly a lot of food currently available in Australia (and the world for that matter), that isn’t exactly what I would call ‘Medicine” as well!

So what constitutes food being medicine, or not?

Let’s take a bit of a closer look at this. Foods that are Medicine are usually defined by the following qualities;

  • It comes from the earth
  • Is in its whole, natural form
  • Unrefined and unprocessed
  • Spray free
  • Organic
  • Non-GMO (genetically modified)
  • Has good nutrient availability due to good nutrient content within the soils that it is grown in which results from healthy farming practices like composting & re-mineralising
  • It is free from harm, injury or neglect (especially animals and their by-products)
  • Has access to the natural elements like sunshine, water, air etc. to help it grow
  • Is prepared in a way that allows for maximum nutrient delivery
  •  When it is eaten seasonally

Foods that are NOT necessarily considered Medicine may include;

  • Processed, refined and packet foods (which accounts for up to 80% of the foods on your supermarket shelf!)
  • GMO foods – they are highly sprayed with herbicides and pesticides and there isn’t enough long term research to suggest that all forms of GMO foods are safe for human consumption
  • Processed/refined simple sugars added to food
  • High content of added sodium to foods
  • Foods that are picked unripe and are then gassed or over sprayed to speed up the ripening process
  • Animals and their by-products that have been fed antibiotics, hormones, soy or have poor living standards, exposing them to high levels of stress or neglect.

What is in my food anyway?

Good question, if your fruit and veggies are NOT labelled “Organic” or “Spray free” or “NON-GMO” or “GMO-free”, then the chances are you are eating a host of different herbicides and pesticides that have been sprayed onto your food to control bugs and weeds and help ripen the food. There is also the issue that bugs and weeds develop a stronger resistance each year to these chemicals, resulting in stronger and more frequent doses being used. And in the process, soil nutrition is severely depleted!

Why are herbicides and pesticides a problem?

They are known as toxic substances in large amounts, but in small doses are deemed ‘safe’ and are allowed to be sprayed onto our food. The problem is how much of these toxic substances are sprayed onto each individual crop over time and how much of it are you as an individual consuming, in total? If you are anything like me and you love your fruit and veggies then it can really start to add up! I’m often recommending people to have at least 5 serves of veggies per day and 2 serves of fruit, that’s 35 serves of veggies every week and 1,820 serves per year …that’s a lot in my books and if all of those veggies have been sprayed a few times with herbicides and pesticides before you’ve eaten them, then you could imagine the load of toxins that your body needs to be filtering out each day and year!

The problem with this is that some herbicides and pesticides, when consumed in large doses over long periods of time, have been linked to contribute to nutrient deficiencies, system toxicity and chronic disease as well as hormone disruption and brain toxicity.

So what are the most highly sprayed fruit and veggies in Australia? There is a list and it’s called “The Dirty Dozen” and it includes the following fruit and veggies in the order of “most sprayed”;

The Dirty Dozen

  1.      Apples
  2.      Pears
  3.      Capsicum
  4.      Grapes
  5.      Lettuce
  6.      Nectarines
  7.      Peaches
  8.     Tomatoes
  9.     Apricots
  10.     Carrots
  11.     Plums
  12.     Green Beans

Luckily for us there is also a list of foods known as “The Clean Fifteen”, which means they have the least amount of herbicides and pesticides sprayed on them and these might be the ones to consider buying non-organic if you have to choose.

The Clean Fifteen

  1.    Avocados
  2.   Sweet corn
  3.    Pineapple
  4.    Cabbage
  5.    Frozen peas
  6.     Onions
  7.    Asparagus
  8.     Mango
  9.     Papaya (paw paw)
  10.     Kiwi fruit
  11.     Egg plant
  12.     Grapefruit
  13.     Rock Melon
  14.     Cauliflower
  15.     Sweet potato

So what can we do to make food our medicine?

There is a lot of easy ways to help make your food choices become your medicine and following the basic rules of thumbs you will be well on your way;

  • Use the “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Clean Fifteen” lists where you can.
  • Read labels, make sure you check the ‘sodium’ and ‘sugar’ content of all of your food! Adults can average about 5-9 teaspoon of sugar per day, whereas the standard Australian diet averages about 40 teaspoons per day! That’s way too much! So even if you think you aren’t eating that much sugar, please start reading the labels to make sure-you might be surprised!  The average amount of sodium for a healthy adult should not exceed 2,300mg per day or 1x teaspoon and we’re taking about a whole salt, not a refined table salt, which is what is available in most supermarkets and is added to processed and packet foods.
  • Shop locally at farmers markets. You are likely to find seasonal, fresh produce and have a wider access to low spray, spray free and organic fruit and veggies that haven’t been gassed or travelled thousands of carbon miles to get to you.
  • Chose ‘certified organic’ where possible. This ensures that the produce has not been sprayed with herbicides, pesticides, is NOT GMO, has not been fed antibiotics, hormones and does not have artificial additives or preservatives. But it can still have high levels of sugar and sodium so again; get into the habit of reading labels! If you can’t afford all of your shopping to be organic then use a list of “order of importance” try to get the dirty dozen organic or at least spray free where possible and remember: toxins, herbicides, pesticides and hormones are stored in the fat of animals and animal by-products like milk, yogurt, cheese etc. so these need to be sourced ethically and in accordance to the guidelines above to ensure the medicinal properties of the food can be received.
  • Choose grass fed, free-range & organic when it comes to animal and animal by-products.
  • Rinse or even better soak all non- organic, sprayed and GMO foods (the dirty dozen especially) in a solution of ¼ apple cider vinegar to ¾ of filtered water for 15mins to help remove as much of the herbicides and pesticides before eating them.

Happy eating and remember to use your new filter of awareness when you are making your food choices to allow your food to be your medicine and help to maintain optimal health and wellbeing for you and the planet.

Bon appetit!

Grace Hawkins

Integrated Naturopath + Nutritionist

BHSc (Comp.Med) Adv. Dip (Nat)


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