NOTE: As a volunteer at MANNA (Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance) for 2 1/2 years, I had a bird’s eye view of how the chefs and volunteers work together to prepare nutritious meals for critically ill people. Recently, MANNA’s Cyndi Dinger, who plans all the menus and is one of the authors of the study, asked me to contact health websites with an article on their recent study and a link to the study itself. (http://www.sagepublications.com) If you know of any group or organization that could benefit from this information, please send them the link. You also have my permission to include my article below, using www.menupause.info as the source. You may also contact Cyndi directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
MANNA Motto: Delivering Nourishment-Improving Health
FARMaceuticals: The Power of Real Meals to Heal
by Ellen Sue Spicer-Jacobson
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is a well-worn motto that can be explained by a second wise saying: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Both of these maxims emphasize the importance of warding off illness and disease before they develop, with apples as the metaphor for real foods.
While most of us would probably agree that preventing a disease is easier than curing one, what about the thousands of people who are already critically or chronically ill with cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, HIV/Aids, etc.? They are beyond the prevention stage and have moved to the management stage of their illnesses. Perhaps a third expression from Hippocrates, an ancient Greek doctor who is considered the father of modern medicine, is most suitable here: “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.”
By food, Hippocrates did not mean the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) of highly processed foods that have been stripped of their inherent nutrition, then “enriched” with artificial vitamins and minerals and presented to the public as All Natural. No, I think Hippocrates meant fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and animal products with no added hormones to make them fatter faster. I call these whole foods FARMaceuticals, because ideally they go from the farm to the table, with no techno-tampering of what Mother Nature has to offer.
Here’s where MANNA (Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance), a non-profit organization in Philadelphia, PA steps in. Clients with chronic and life-threatening illnesses who are also at nutritional risk receive 21 meals weekly, delivered to their homes and ready to heat and enjoy, meals that can help them heal. How do we know that? Because a recent study generated by MANNA and conducted by OMG Center for Collaborative Learning and the follow-up report, “Examining Health Care Costs Among MANNA Clients and a Comparison Group,” authored by Jill Gurvey, et al. (http://www.sagepublications.com) demonstrated that MNT (medical nutrition therapy), as stressed by The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly The American Dietetic Association) and other studies, including the one by MANNA, “have linked MNT to improved health and cost outcomes (p. 311) in the form of such factors as food security*, improved weight, and less time in and out of hospitals.” (*In a recent on line article by Allison Bond in Reuters, the author explains how many Americans who are chronically ill are unable to afford food and medicine. www.reuters.com/…/us-chronic–americans-idUSBREA0T16X201, January 30th, 2014).
According to the MANNA study, there seems to be a dearth of literature that examines the results or outcomes, positive or negative, related to home-delivered meals coupled with education and counseling for chronically ill people. What MANNA and other similar organizations are doing is bridging “the gap between food access, medical nutrition therapy, and improved health outcomes for chronically ill populations” (p. 312).
Imagine the implications of this common sense knowledge that real food can heal? Now there can be a shift from emphasizing only prevention with whole foods to actually healing illnesses through farm-raised food that has not been tampered by food companies that transform fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans, seeds and nuts, and grass fed animals into canned, boxed and otherwise processed items with empty calories that last for months or years on shelves in stores and household pantries.
What the MANNA study has shown is a need to shift away from an emphasis only on prevention. Because so many people are already chronically ill, there is an equally greater need to emphasize healing with food and more information about the link between diet and disease. Doctors can now “prescribe” fresh food instead to add to the pills, shots, and costly medical procedures. Of course, the drug companies will be livid! But farmers will be thrilled that their fresh produce can go from farm to table without tampering with Mother Nature. And hospitals, already overcrowded, can shift to educating their patients on the importance of real food for healing. This will cut down on hospital costs, as the MANNA study shows, and the total cost of hospital care in the US can be reduced. Hospitals, nursing homes, and health providers can invest their time and money in food and nutritional information instead of illness.
Because the findings of the study are right in line with prior research that demonstrates disease management and nutrition are closely linked, food delivery services such as MANNA’s seven-day, three meals a day home delivery, plus their other nutritional services (counseling, education) “provide continued support to those individuals to help nourish the client back to health” (ibid. p. 315). This translates into healthy body weight, the ability to recuperate from treatment side effects, immune function improvement, and an improvement of their overall quality of life. These factors correlate positively with a decrease in the overall, ongoing costs of health care for chronically ill clients/patients.
With a focus on FARMaceuticals, real meals can again take center stage to be enjoyed, knowing that the intact nutrients will help rebuild the immune system, contribute to regaining weight when it is dangerously low, and reduce the number of visits to the hospital, as the MANNA study revealed. Like the emperor’s new clothes, too many doctors still do not realize that highly processed food is “naked” food, that is, stripped of its goodness. Prescribing real food for real illnesses is not brain surgery. This is Mother Nature at her best!
The results of the MANNA study are too compelling not to pursue the premise of meals that heal, pointing to the need for more studies and larger samples of clients receiving proper nourishment to hasten the healing process. Incorporating medical nutrition therapy in seriously ill patients’ care is a common sense, practical solution. After all, the first four letters in the word healthy are h-e-a-l. Nourishing seriously ill people with real food is an idea whose time has come!
MANNA volunteers, preparing and packing food for chronically ill clients.
P.S. Photos from MANNA’s website: www.mannapa.org and from Googling for pictures of volunteers