Take 2 Cucumbers and Call Me in the Morning: Why Some Doctors Are Prescribing Veggies

Last Update: February 17, 2023

The great father of medicine, Hippocrates, famously said the following: “Let food be thy medicine.” We haven’t always heeded his advice. The pharmaceutical industry has exploded over the last century, and the solution to most of what ails us has come to be found in a pill. But most doctors still say that many diagnoses—especially chronic illnesses—require lifestyle changes rather than just medication.

Which is why this is such a cool story.

Doctors around the country are writing prescriptions for kale, apples, and cucumbers instead of pills. That’s right—some healthcare providers are working with programs like the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program (FVRx) from Wholesome Wave to get fresh produce in the hands of their patients suffering from chronic health ailments, like diabetes.

And guess what: it’s working. According to the nonprofit Wholesome wave, which runs FVRx in 10 states, more than 8,000 people have received fresh produce from the program so far. Of those people, 69 percent said they now eat more fruits and vegetables, 45 percent said their body mass index decreased, and a whopping 91 percent felt happier with their health or weight. This type of programs benefits local economies as well: Wholesome Wave reports that patients spent more than $670,000 in FVRx prescriptions at local retailers and farmers through the prescription program in 2015.

Doctors around the country are writing prescriptions for kale, apples, and cucumbers instead of pills.

“FVRx allows the families not only to get nutrition education but to put it into action,” said Jennifer Cook, nutritionist at Thundermist Health Center in Rhode Island. “They can take what we talk about in the clinic, out to the market, purchase healthy foods and then take them home and engage the family in a healthy cooking and dining experience.”

Some food banks have also started promoting the “food as medicine” idea. Thirty food banks have partnered with healthcare facilities nationwide to truck in tons of produce each week so that patients need only walk outside of the clinic to pick up their veggie prescription. These programs are transforming how food banks—which have not always been able to hand out the healthiest products—think of the work they do. Dr. Hilary Seligman, senior medical adviser for Feeding America, is also testing a program that tailors packages of food for clients suffering from diabetes and high blood sugar.

“Food banks are trying to do better by providing fewer starches and carbs and more lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and whole grains,” Seligman told the Associated Press. “The nutritious foods that are expensive for our clients are also expensive for food banks. We’re figuring out how we can do this and do it better.”

This article is related to:

Food, Health, Live Better, News, Nutrition

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Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats,, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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