Healthy Eating: Why Don’t Insurers Encourage This?

Healthy Eating: Why Don’t Insurers Encourage This?

“If it comes from a plant, eat it; if it is made in a plant, don’t.” Michael Pollan

The number one goal of Farmacy at The Chef’s Garden is for the farmer to become part of the healthcare team—because we have deep knowledge and appreciation for the power that food has when it comes to health. 

We know that healthy soil grows healthy plants and, when we eat foods in their whole form as close to nature as possible (with no to minimal processing), there are immense health benefits. 

What if I told you that there was a way to improve your health that had only positive side effects and…

  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Lowers blood sugar (decreases risk of diabetes)
  • Improves mood
  • Reverses and/or prevents heart disease
  • Increases longevity
  • Lowers risk of cancer and potentially slows the progression of cancer
  • Reduces inflammation and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
  • Reduces the need for medication(s) and/or surgery
  • Positively impacts the environment
  • Drastically reduces healthcare costs

Would you do it? Guess what, there is a way! Using food as medicine by focusing on a whole food plant-based (or we prefer the term vegetable-forward) approach to eating is the most effective way to accomplish all of these things with side effects including more energy, better sleep, longer health-span, and more time with loved ones.  

Healthcare Costs Are Only Going Up 

In the past fifty years, healthcare costs have gone from $1 in $20 to now $1 in $3 in the federal and average state budget, and yet 85 percent of healthcare dollars spent are on preventable chronic diseases. This is simply not sustainable. 

“The evidence is overwhelming that a whole food plant-based diet provides the best opportunity to not only reduce the growth in spending, but actually decrease total health care costs more than any drug, medical procedure, insurance reform, or provider payment model could hope to.”  (Nutrition Facts)

Mindful Approach to a Systemic Problem 

There is no amount of medication and/or supplements that can make up for a nutrient-poor diet. The nutrients we take in literally make up every cell in our body and are the catalysts for every reaction that occurs in the body. The foods we eat even turn on and off the expression of our genes. Our current healthcare, health insurance, and state and federal policies (and spending) do not yet recognize the importance of fresh whole foods and continue to subsidize foods, medications, procedures, and more that are, generally speaking, nutrient-poor, highly processed, costly, and time-consuming. They may have dangerous side effects and other consequences, and are often ineffective.  

The old adage “a calorie is a calorie” couldn’t be further from the truth when considering optimal health and functioning of the body. Consuming adequate amounts of calories is not sufficient when the foods that we are selecting are highly processed and nutrient deficient, resulting in what has become an epidemic of chronic diseases all tied to a fundamental lack of whole foods as the foundation of health. 

There is so much “nutrition information” out there that can muddy the waters and is likely highly persuaded by industry funding—like the Nutrition Compass from Tufts University that ranks Cheerios as the most healthful grain you can consume. Common sense says there’s a problem here! What about grains in their whole form that naturally are nutrient-dense without the need for fortification? No wonder we are confused about what to eat, and nobody knows which “experts” to listen to. 

Want to know a secret? You are the expert! By moving towards a vegetable-forward lifestyle and away from highly processed foods that trick your brain and body into craving them, you can reset your palate, begin to listen to what your body actually needs, and nourish yourself in a way that not only tastes good, but is diverse, colorful, and exciting while supporting optimal health. 

Learn more about mindful eating.

Where Do We Start?

When asked if a whole food plant-based diet is too extreme, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn says,

“But as far as the words ‘extreme’ or ‘radical,’ I would say that change is significant. But the truth is, the nutrition that is extreme or radical is the one that results in 1.2 million coronary stents being done per year in this country; 500,000 bypass operations where your entire chest is divided in half, veins are taken off your leg, and put in your heart. And they may last several years and at the end of that, you will have to have another procedure. Or, maybe it’s a little bit more extreme or radical when you spend $25 billion on statin drugs. . . . This is the diet that’s radical and extreme.” 

“Eat healthier” and “eat more fruits and vegetables”—wait, what? You've heard this a time or two before? Maybe you’ve said this to patients or clients. Do these simple, well-intended phrases actually work to change eating habits? They haven’t so far, yet this is the dietary advice most commonly provided.  

There’s also a lifestyle change barrier to overcome when insurance will cover medication but won’t cover the most effective lifestyle intervention—increased access to fresh whole foods (especially vegetables). 

As individuals, we need to demand access to fresh whole foods as fundamental to our healthcare. Vegetables should be a health savings account (HSA) allowable expense. There is no better way to spend HSA dollars (while preventing and reversing chronic disease) than on whole nutrient-dense foods. In addition, supportive group coaching programs, community gardens, cooking classes, and more—all of these should be allowable expenses to help support lasting lifestyle change that not only affects the participant but likely their entire family. 

Another potential option is for insurers to begin to cover a “Veggie Rx” written by a healthcare professional just as they would a prescription for a medication. These programs are popping up all over the country and are very successful but most often rely on grants and donations for their funding, which presents problems with long-term sustainability. 

Here is more information on an example of the Veggie Rx program that I helped to develop in Minnesota. 

How Many Vegetables?

The USDA recommends consuming 2.5-3 cups of vegetables a day, but we know that most Americans are not meeting this goal, let alone the more optimal goal of consuming 6-9 cups** of colorful vegetables daily. With this approach, people like Dr. Terry Wahls and Dr. Dale Bredesen are reversing diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease, which are often considered incurable.  

Consider taking the focus off of measuring (which is time-consuming and takes the joy out of the experience) and putting the focus on how many colors and varieties of whole foods can you include in each meal—because, as T. Colin Campbell says, “just eat lots of different plant foods; your body will do the math for you.”

Modeled after Michael Pollan’s famous quote “Eat Food, Mostly Plants, Not Too Much,” I really appreciate this quote from Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch: 

Enjoy Eating Food

Not Too Much

Not Too Little

Mostly What Satisfies You

**Note: Please do not go from eating less than two cups of vegetables daily up to nine cups the next day. (I see you and know you—I am you.). Instead, make this change sustainable by increasing the amount and colors of vegetables you are eating slowly over weeks to months. Changing slowly will give your digestive system time to adjust to the increased fiber (which helps digestion, the microbiome, cholesterol, and the elimination of environmental toxins from the body).

Read more about digestive health.

Farmacy at The Chef’s Garden

Farmacy at The Chef’s Garden is the cutting edge of applying food as medicine, and we hope to work with individuals, self-insured employers, healthcare providers, commercial insurers, and government agencies to improve health and healthcare. We know we have a big hill to climb but feel that we have no greater purpose than to improve the lives of people today as well as future generations. How? By growing the most nutrient-dense, farm-fresh vegetables possible using regenerative agricultural practices that give back to the Earth rather than constantly taking. 

We hope that you will join us in this movement toward a vegetable-forward future! Follow us @farmerjonesfarm and @amysapola and join the Farmacy at The Chef’s Garden Facebook group


“Challenge to the Insurance Industry: A Solution to Significantly Reduce Health Care Costs.” Ken Beckman, ASA, ACAS, MAAA, CFA.

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