Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’ – Hippocrates

Hippocrates is considered the father of modern medicine and the quote above is one of his most famous. In summary, Hippocrates is calling on us to consider the nexus between what we eat, the way we eat and our wellbeing.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines food as “any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink or that plants absorb in order to maintain life and growth” while the Collins Dictionary defines medicine as “any substance or substances used in treating disease or illness”. Medicine seems to refer to something that needs to be taken when things are not going well due to illness or disease. Food, on the other hand, speaks of enhancing life and growth.

Indeed, there are foods that are specifically, utilized for the maintenance of good health and the treating of illnesses. A lot of attention is being focused, these days, on nutritional therapy – the use of diet and nutrition to help people improve and maintain their health and well-being. There are varied medical conditions for which food products are being deployed for their management, from common cold, flu, and up to chronic diseases, etc.

The marketing of food products has now moved from showcasing their delicious and tasty enjoyment to their medicinal properties for the prevention and cure of sicknesses and disease, and even to providing eternal life. Food is now more about medicine than about its flavour, its support for life and growth and its solution to hunger. There is also the school of thought that is daily, adding up a list of disease-causing foods. If it isn’t full of cholesterol and bad for the heart, it is increasing cases of diabetes or causing cancer.

But a bigger concern for entrepreneurs in the food industry should be the marketing angle that switches our food to “medicinal eating”. The industry, especially small businesses, seems to encourage this phenomenon by presenting food products as the best cure for all kinds of ailments; does not contain this or that; is “all natural”, etc.

Marketing of foods have changed over time. Earlier, most claims on food labels were positive – such as high in vitamins or rich in calcium but now, the negative claims have increased – such as ‘no preservatives’ (like really, in packaged foods with long shelf life), etc. And a recent research has shown that this trend isn’t helping the acceptance and sales of such food products. 24% of respondents said they didn’t mind consuming food products with medicinal labels, while a whopping 67% said they weren’t sick and so had no need for such food products. Only 9% said the products were beneficial to them.

The food industry, especially the micro and small businesses, needs to get its marketing strategy right. Do consumers really appreciate food in medicinal form? Nigeria is blessed with hundreds of nutritious and healthy foods, many (if not all) of which have medicinal properties. Shouldn’t we be collaborating with the healthcare industry to identify, collate and develop certain foods for their medicinal possessions using good scientific research? Shouldn’t the target consumers be people with poor health conditions where there are peers such as medication for aches and pains, cough, malaria, constipation, etc? Wouldn’t these considerations help to draw the line between food and medicine so consumers can still enjoy wonderful, nutritious and great tasting food?