Americans are popping lots of pills. Nearly seven out of 10 Americans take prescription drugs for our health. However, nutritionists have proven that consuming proper foods prevents many of the diseases that we treat with prescriptions. Consumers simply need to read ingredient labels to avoid excessive sugar, high sodium, artificial coloring and artificial ingredients.

The World Health Organization reports that Type 2 Diabetes can cause heart disease, kidney disease, stroke and infections. Smoking and eating unhealthy foods can cause cancers of the esophagus, colorectal, breast, endometrium and kidney. Making bad food choices can also result in osteoporosis and bone fractures, as well dental issues. A little guidance in healthful eating is a powerful defense against these risks.

Food pharmacies are opening around the country to help provide this important education. They teach people how to purchase and prepare foods that will help prevent health problems and possibly remove the need to take medications. And in some cases, doctors are now prescribing visits to food pharmacies rather than drugs. Patients learn to decrease sugar and salt in their diets, eat colorful foods that are packed with nutrients, reduce meat and dairy consumption, increase legumes (beans, peas and lentils), vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Avoiding processed foods, eating a variety of foods and reducing portions help people lose weight, feel better and cut back or stop taking medications. Of course a little treat here and there is okay, but it’s important to consume healthful foods most of the time.

Geisinger Health System operates the Fresh Food Pharmacy in central Pennsylvania. It began with 180 diabetic patients and is now adding 50 additional patients each month. The program has been very successful, and every patient has reduced his or her blood sugar levels. All of its patients are low-income and receive free groceries, yet Geisinger only spends about $1,000 on each patient annually. The medical costs of treating diabetes alone exceeds $240 billion a year. Geisinger is planning to open 12 more food pharmacies in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Another successful program is Culinary Health Education For Families (CHEF), located in the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. Parents and children participating in CHEF learn which foods to purchase and how to create delicious and healthy meals. Enrollment into the program requires a doctor referral. However, places like the YMCA run satellite programs.

Boston Medical Center opened their Preventative Food Pantry back in 2001. Doctors give their low-income patients prescriptions to go to the Food Pantry and learn which foods support good health and prevent illnesses. Patients are able to take home three to four days’ worth of food on each trip to the Food Pantry.

More doctors are also receiving training in nutrition to focus on preventative action versus prescribing patients medications to get through the day. Tulane University and Harvard University offer programs in their medical schools instructing medical students in healthy cooking to prevent food-related diseases. Tulane’s curriculum is licensed and taught at twenty-eight other medical schools. And some doctors have even set up kitchens in their offices to show patients how to easily prepare nutritious dishes.

Exercise complements nutritious eating to achieve and maintain good health. The Mayo Clinic suggests thirty minutes of physical activity every day. Ramping your workout up to 300 minutes a week increases health benefits and promotes weight loss. Walking and jogging are simple and wonderful for the cardiovascular system. In-home exercise equipment and videos make working out convenient. Exercise clubs provide a variety of exercise equipment and expert advice. When designing your workout plan be sure to make it fun and easy to access so you’ll continue it. Some people swear by kickboxing, yoga, spinning, Zumba, barre classes and other programs. Do whatever it takes to get in motion!

Food pharmacies are successfully providing purchasing advice and cooking instruction to people and enabling them to prevent or cure many diseases caused by bad food choices. They also help low-income patients to eat more nutritiously. This is a welcome alternative to relying on medications and suffering from their side effects. Take that, Big Pharma!