Nourishing Knowledge: Dr Ben Schuff Of BIÂN Chicago On The Thrive Practice On The Power of Food as Medicine

Nourishing Knowledge: Dr Ben Schuff Of BIÂN Chicago On The Thrive Practice On The Power of Food as Medicine

Dietary Pattern: The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet focuses on low-sodium, high-potassium foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Inan era dominated by pharmaceutical solutions, there is a rising consciousness about the incredible healing and preventive powers of food. As the age-old saying goes, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” But how does this translate in today’s world? Can we really use nutrition as a potent tool against sickness and disease? How does one curate a diet that supports health, longevity, and wellness? In this series, we are talking to nutritionists, dietitians, medical professionals, holistic health experts, and anyone with authoritative knowledge on the subject. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Ben Schuff.

Dr. Ben Schuff is a licensed naturopathic doctor (ND), Dietitian Nutritionist (LDN) and Licensed Acupuncturist (LAc). He works within an integrative health care team at BIÂN in Chicago. Dr. Schuff’s philosophy is that health is a resource used to live a meaningful life and finding balance is relative to each unique individual’s context.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Igrew up in Pittsburgh, PA. I did not have an explicit example of adults growing up that were in health care, but I’ve always felt an inherent pull to do something creative to help people. I find that being in medicine, and particularly being a naturopathic doctor, requires a wonderful mix of practical and voluminous knowledge with the art of caring for a nuanced, unique individual. I think my childhood self would be quite excited with my career path.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

I was involved in a variety of healthcare contexts early in my undergraduate education including working in hospitals, underserved community clinics, emergency departments and being an EMT first responder. Part of my exploration in healthcare was shadowing a myriad of providers including naturopathic doctors. When I contrasted what I witnessed between more conventional doctors and naturopathic doctors — I knew the personalized and humanistic approach that naturopathy offered was more resonant with me and the journey began from there.

It has been said that our mistakes can sometimes be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t have a particular funny mistake that comes to mind starting out but there is always a learning curve when you are a new provider, even after being in years of school and clinical rotation. It takes patience and seeing patients to start to develop how you’ll practice and who you’ll best be suited for. That is not really something you can determine until you are actually dealing with real humans in the community you serve. As far as mistakes in this time, there are ways of communicating or scheduling then that I wouldn’t do now just based on efficiency or effectiveness for outcomes for folks.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  • Communication

I think being able to communicate well and articulate your philosophies to others is a huge factor in being successful professionally and as a leader. Utilizing language and putting concepts in a most relevant and digestible context is something I do daily with clients and colleagues.

  • Empathy

Considering others needs, perspectives and feelings is a prerequisite, in my opinion, to being effective in this field and as a leader overall.

  • Adaptability

Life is about adapting at every moment when you really consider it. To be a leader, you have to be willing to adapt into a space that might not be comfortable or well-trodden, but necessary to move forward. I find myself changing and adapting in my practice dynamically over time as new information, new ideas emerging from connecting concepts or simply new working environments I’ve been in is necessary to adapt.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

Working for BIÂN in Chicago is an amazing project as it demonstrates the ability to bring multiple modalities and philosophies under one roof with the client at the center to their maximum benefit. The idea of BIÂN not just potentially helping others but actively helps many people on a daily basis!

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview about cultivating wellness through proper nutrition and diet. To begin, can you tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority on the topic of nutrition?

Conventional medicine is miraculous especially in regard to acute and traumatic care. However, it is severely lacking in prioritizing or understanding the factors necessary to prevent and reverse chronic diseases, especially the role of diet and lifestyle. This is where nutrition and the training that naturopathic doctors (NDs) undergo differs. NDs are exceptionally well prepared to fill this skill and knowledge gap, therefore we are important authorities as medical professionals. NDs complete four required semesters of nutrition training in addition to studies in naturopathic philosophy, which builds a foundation to use food as medicine for mind, body, and spirit. During nutrition courses, NDs receive training in the history, biochemistry, benefits and challenges of prescribing clinically specific diets, such as an anti-inflammatory, low-glycemic, gluten-free, dairy-free, Mediterranean, or vegetarian diet, for example. Additionally, we are trained to utilize diagnostic tests to identify food allergies/sensitivities, common labs and to assess functional digestive problems. Combining this training with the extended time face to face we typically get with patients, NDs can routinely make a difference in empowering their patients to make dietary changes and see how it influences shifts in the real world. We know that poor dietary choices are one part of the problem of our current healthcare crisis. Food is a medicine; therefore, food is part of the solution.

We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

Often times we don’t need more information in order to change. Food is at a crossroads of so many places in our lives including our emotions and our automatic responses. I think that when you aren’t consistently living an examined life, i.e. being on autopilot, you tend to shroud the knowledge you have (like it’s better to eat less sugar) or plans you had for a more unconscious primal reaction to circumstances or thoughts. Life can be difficult but I find that if you can find ways to pay more attention, you can start to choose the variables you can reasonably dictate, like food.

From your professional perspective, do you believe that nutrition plays a pivotal role in supporting the body’s natural healing processes and overall well-being, particularly in cases of chronic diseases? We’re interested in hearing your insights on the connection between a holistic approach to diet and its benefits for individuals facing health challenges.

  • Food is a huge factor in health. Eating presents multiple opportunities a day to either improve function or impede it, just like taking a medicine or not in a conventional sense. Health is simply a balance between ongoing processes in the body functioning properly or not. Dysfunction is usually in response to damage or discord. The foods we eat can change the balance of a body’s microbiome, blood sugar balance and immune system tendency toward discord or balance. As an example, if our version of medicine is eating ultra-processed foods or refined sugars on a consistent basis, it may create a terrain within our physiology that begins to disrupt the normal functioning and ability to recover and repair itself.
  • In contrast, when our medicine is eating whole foods that our body more easily recognizes, we can utilize the nutrients to help our body run in balance. Our body runs on nutrients, ultimately. The nutrients are in the food. Processing of food alters or eliminates the availability of essential nutrients. All the essential processes in our complex web of function require the ingestion, digestion and assimilation of nutrients. When we don’t eat foods that support those essential functions consistently enough, things start to work less efficiently, different genes are expressed from our DNA and our microbiomes become imbalanced which can manifest as the beginnings or continuation of chronic health problems.
  • In the literature and clinical practice, you’ll find that how someone eats consistently is strongly associated with most chronic diseases we see commonly including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, pain and autoimmunity. The diet is a huge piece in maintaining the balance. Most chronic diseases we face are strongly correlated with diet and lifestyle and it really comes down to how these inputs effect changes in genetic expression, microbiome relationships and how well essential processes of the body function or not.

Based on your research or experience could you share with us five examples of foods or dietary patterns that have demonstrated remarkable potential in preventing, reducing, or managing specific health conditions? If you can, it would be insightful if you could provide real-life examples of their curative properties.

1 . Mediterranean Diet for Heart Health:

  • Dietary Pattern: The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, primarily from olive oil.
  • Health Condition: It is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. The high consumption of unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, and antioxidant-rich foods is believed to protect against cardiovascular issues.

2 . DASH Diet for Hypertension:

  • Dietary Pattern: The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet focuses on low-sodium, high-potassium foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Health Condition: It is effective in reducing high blood pressure. The increased intake of potassium and fiber in these foods helps regulate blood pressure.

3 . Plant-Based Diet for Diabetes Management:

  • Dietary Pattern: A plant-based diet emphasizes whole plant foods and reduces or eliminates animal products.
  • Health Condition: Plant-based diets have shown promise in managing type 2 diabetes. The fiber and low saturated fat content can improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control.

4 . High-Fiber Foods for Digestive Health:

  • Foods: High-fiber foods like legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Health Condition: A high-fiber diet is associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer and helps prevent constipation. It supports overall digestive health.

5 . Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Arthritis:

  • Foods: Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (i.e. fatty fish), antioxidants (i.e. berries), and anti-inflammatory spices (i.e. turmeric).
  • Health Condition: These foods can help manage arthritis symptoms by reducing inflammation. Omega-3s and antioxidants have anti-inflammatory properties, while turmeric contains curcumin, known for its anti-inflammatory effects.

While these are well known examples of specific diets and chronic health complaints, these are set up to be studied and followed in a particular way for each condition. For any individual person, you’ll notice that each share a lot of commonality so for the general person you want to emulate the approach as best you can — namely whole foods and lots of diversity of choice to keep all the systems efficient and functional.

Do experts generally agree that merely choosing healthy foods isn’t sufficient, but that understanding how to consume them is key to unlocking their full health benefits? (For example, skins on/off, or cooked/raw, or whole grain/refined grain) Could you provide advice on how to approach this and sidestep common errors or misconceptions?

I think it’s important to differentiate what a healthy food is. A food is almost always going to healthier if it’s in its whole form, meaning that it’s minimally processed. So questions of skins on or off; cooked or raw, etc is in truth less important than is it ultra-processed or whole? It would also stand to reason that taking the skins off a vegetable, for example, is technically more “processed” than if you didn’t — that skin has fiber and nutrients in it that are not discarded via processing. If most people just focused on eating whole meals consistently and not relying on prepared or packaged processed food, many problems associated with maximal nutrition would be solved.

With the recent prominence of nutrition’s integration into healthcare, what’s your perspective on the collaborative approach between medical professionals, health coaches, and nutrition experts when it comes to delivering holistic patient care? Can you please explain?

Where I practice, BIÂN in Chicago, we are a shining example of delivering healthcare using a collaborative approach between professionals. We have medical doctors, naturopathic doctors, acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage therapists, mental health providers, and fitness professionals all focused on promoting health within the vivid complexity of one person within a community.

It’s been suggested that using ‘food as medicine’ has the potential to reduce healthcare costs by preventing disease severity. However, there’s concern about the affordability of healthier food options. What solutions do you believe could make nutritious choices accessible to everyone, ensuring that food truly becomes a form of medicine for all?

It is true that fresh and healthy food is not equally available to all people. There are so called “food deserts” that make the prospect of eating whole foods as discussed much more difficult or prohibitively expensive. Unfortunately, as it stands, the food systems are designed and oriented toward producing products for consumers that are inexpensive, convenient, portable, stable on shelves, and competingly tasty which means that these are going to almost always be ultra-processed foods. The scale and processing required to produce these foods is what makes them so cheap in the first place. Until local solutions are instituted that moves away from this logistical and economical problem, it will be difficult to always have a realistic broad expectation that all people will have equitable access, unfortunately. Even with these roadblocks there are always ways to improve and add better nutrition to most anyone’s diet, it just depends on the context.

Everyone’s body is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. How does one navigate the vast array of nutritional advice available today to curate a diet tailored to individual needs, ensuring health and longevity?

Get support from qualified professionals. And beyond that it is important to find tools and an emphasis on your inner sense of awareness using your ability to be mindful. With so many opinions, experts and gurus out there, you can get very confused because ideas will directly contradict each other at many points. The point is that there is no one diet that will work for everyone based on whole foods. The good news is that you’ll notice that the healthiest diets that are based on whole foods usually share many commonalities, just differing points of emphasis. For example, whether you’re following a paleo or vegan diet, neither is going to recommend ultra-processed anything consistently which is why when someone switches to these approaches coming from a diet that wasn’t very “medicinal”, they are going to more likely feel better and respond favorably.

As our understanding of the intricate link between food and health continues to evolve, we’re curious to know which emerging trends or breakthroughs in nutritional science excite you the most. How do you envision these advancements shaping the future of healthcare?

The understanding of the microbiome and the use of AI big data to plot so many aspects of health are the most exciting frontiers. The discoveries and insight that will emerge from big data like these will be unfathomable and because of that, hard to know really what direction it will head us in. The assumption can be made that it will be very positive and exciting by allowing us to personalize recommendations at a level of specificity not currently possible.

How can we better educate the public about the medicinal properties of food, and what role do professionals like you play in this educational journey?

Talk about it more. Most medical professionals simply downplay it or are for various reasons unwilling to engage with the topic with patients even if its magnitude of positive influence may be the single most important input in many cases. In other words, food is an untapped medicine to many people simply because its not considered important or the limitations to improving it seem insurmountable.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Check out !

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

About the Interviewer: Wanda Malhotra is a wellness entrepreneur, lifestyle journalist, and the CEO of Crunchy Mama Box, a mission-driven platform promoting conscious living. CMB empowers individuals with educational resources and vetted products to help them make informed choices. Passionate about social causes like environmental preservation and animal welfare, Wanda writes about clean beauty, wellness, nutrition, social impact and sustainability, simplifying wellness with curated resources. Join Wanda and the Crunchy Mama Box community in embracing a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle at

← Older Post Newer Post →

Leave a comment