Why good food should be just what doctor ordered

Heart-shaped boxes of Valentine’s Day chocolates are already starting to populate gourmet and grocery stores, but research shows what will really make your loved ones smile is a few more servings of fresh produce.

Eating seven to eight palm-sized servings of fruit and vegetables per day helped study subjects feel calmer, happier and more energetic. Published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, the report from nutrition researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand identified yet another good reason to eat your vegetables: You can improve your mood, while boosting your health.

Maybe more doctors should be meeting their patients at a farmers market.

Food and health

“Take two apples and call me in the morning.” That’s the kind of advice Alice Rolls believes more physicians should be sharing with patients to help encourage better health through good nutrition.

Rolls, executive director of Georgia Organics, leads the organization’s annual conference of farmers, chefs, and food lovers. This year’s conference theme — “Farm Rx: A Prescription for Better Health” — brings in a relatively new player to the good food field: the health practitioner.

“We’ve had public health advocates and nutrition professionals, but what we haven’t had before is involvement from the medical community,” says Rolls, who has observed an evolution of interest in sustainable and organically grown foods from a small number of niche farmers decades ago to widespread availability in national grocery store chains today. “It’s a positive infiltration,” she adds. “That conversation is just starting to happen at medical institutions.”

For the first time, Kaiser Permanente and Piedmont Health Care are conference sponsors. Kerri Hartsfield of Kaiser Permanente of Georgia says, “Georgia Organics’ mission is aligned with our total health initiative focused on healthy eating and active living.”

Chefs and doctors unite

Alongside educational sessions for farmers on everything from negotiating a lease to the latest data on pesticides, the conference (to be held Feb. 22 and 23 at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park) will feature a “Food as Medicine” series including talks on adding farmers markets to medical centers and medical students learning to cook.

Dr. Timothy Harlan will present the details of a unique program partnering Tulane University’s School of Medicine with culinary school Johnson & Wales University in New Orleans.

“It’s great that chefs and doctors are joining the good food movement, but we can’t forget that the root of everything is supporting the farm,” Rolls says. “For instance, we want to get 15,000 new people into our farmers markets this year.”

That’s the kind of “Farm Rx” that’s good for our personal health and Georgia farmers’ economic health as well.

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Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” Email her at carolynoneil@aol.com.