When most people hear “nutrition science”, “nutritionist”, or “dietitian”, they typically assume these terms refer solely to dieting and weight loss. But the subject of nutrition science covers a broad range of topics and more narrowly defined specializations. It’s true that all nutritionists and dietitians know a great deal about weight loss, but there are tons of other aspects to good nutrition than just “dieting”. Some specializations in nutrition science include public or community health, sports nutrition, metabolic biochemistry, clinical nutrition, nutrition counseling for eating disorders, and food science. One thing many people don’t think about is the prescriptive power of proper nutrition to alleviate common health issues.

In western medicine there is a tendency to mitigate health problems through the use of pharmaceuticals and medications. Many people run to the drug store for an over-the-counter remedy without realizing that there are often dietary solutions to many common problems. This behavior can sometimes result in people merely treating symptoms rather than finding a long term solution in a proper diet. Furthermore, medicating problems that can be alleviated with a diet change usually costs far more money than simply changing eating habits. With that in mind, we decided to write about 4 problems that can be treated with food.

Constipation: Admittedly, we’re off to a slow start, but constipation is a real problem millions of Americans deal with daily. Low dietary fiber intake, inadequate hydration, and inactivity are all common causes of constipation. But before you run off to buy ex-lax, try eating some prunes. Prunes are high in fiber which is important for digestive health, but unlike some other high fiber foods, prunes are also a good source of sorbitol. Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol which helps to draw water into the large intestine and soften the stool. But remember, you can’t draw water into the bowel if you are dehydrated, so drink up.

Sleeplessness: Being sleepy is serious business. Not getting enough sleep can age skin, increase forgetfulness, affect the sex drive, and even cause weight gain! Luckily, there are nutritious ways to solve problems of sleeplessness. The surprising superstar of sleep is cherry juice because tart cherries boast being one of the highest melatonin containing foods. This matters because melatonin is a brain chemical that promotes sleepiness. Otherwise, eating some carbohydrates (like a baked potato) before bed can help because they release serotonin, another chemical that promotes relaxation.

Bad Breath: The leading cause of bad breath, or halitosis, is poor dental hygiene. Brushing and flossing cleans food particles from teeth which, when left unchecked, feeds odor-causing bacteria in the mouth. However, if people have great dental hygiene and still have bad breath the problem may be something eaten. Additionally, the smell of some foods, like garlic, may even seep through the skin. Two things that can help are apples and milk. Saliva and vitamin C produced by consuming apples keep the breath fresh and milk has been shown to reduce the odor of many bad smelling foods.

Soreness: Some of the most common over-the-counter purchases are painkillers. Ibuprofen and aspirin are common treatments for aches and pains, and act as anti-inflammatory agents in the body. What most people don’t know is that there are plenty of foods that act as anti-inflammatory agents as well. Ginger, for example, contains a bunch of beneficial antioxidants called gingerols which have been shown to reduce pain in people with arthritis. Other surprising foods that help alleviate pain are hot peppers. Why would something that stings your tongue, mouth, and lips reduce pain? It’s capsaicin. The chemical that makes hot peppers hot is a phytochemical that has been shown to reduce stomach pain and nausea. Another benefit of capsaicin is that it’s been shown to reduce hunger as well.

These are just a few of the many foods that have proven medical benefits. Nutrition scientists have shown a proper diet can cure a stomachache, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, prevent gum disease, prevent cancer, and even improve memory. So the next time you think about going to the pharmacy, consider stopping by the market first.