Diet and Health
When I began my practice, with the exception of malnutrition and a handful of specific diseases, conventional medicine did not consider diet important in the development of chronic disease. Now, some thirty years later, there is overwhelming scientific evidence that diet (and nutrition) are not only important, they are the basis for assisting in the prevention of virtually all forms of chronic disease and achieving optimal health.
And yet I find that there is often confusion and uncertainty in how patients view the critical role that diet plays in our health and what the simple core principles of a truly healthy diet are. Advertisements and seemingly contradictory information from countless sources (including an alphabet soup of diet books) have convinced many patients (understandably) that there really are no clear consensus guidelines. This couldn’t be farther from the truth!
To cite one example: the most comprehensive report in history on diet and cancer was published in 1997. It took four years to complete and reviewed 4,500 studies from thousands of scientists and resulted in a landmark consensus document written by the preeminent cancer researchers from around the world. What was their number one recommendation? Choose a diet that is predominantly plant based, rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans; minimize animal protein and saturated fat (animal and dairy); eliminate trans fat (which is found in virtually all processed foods); minimize refined carbohydrates (dessert and snack foods that are made from white flour and sugar); and eat more whole grains.
What do the American institute for Cancer Research, The World Cancer Research Foundation, The National Cancer Institute, the World Health Organization, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the American Cancer Society have in common? Precisely the same general guidelines!
It also turns out that these general principles not only dramatically reduce risk for all the major chronic diseases: heart attacks, diabetes, auto immune disease and age related changes in our brains, they also provide the template for a better chance at permanent weight loss, more energy and a heightened sense of well being. The consensus science in these areas is just as strong, but rather than bog you down with documentation, read some of the books at the end of the newsletter.
The good news is that any changes you make in this direction will be beneficial. As with exercise and stress reduction (the other two key components in optimizing health) every little bit counts. For my patients that have strongly implemented these lifestyle changes they have seen beneficial effects on hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cholesterol and cardiac risk, osteoarthritis, allergies, digestive disorders, osteoporosis and the list goes on. There is strong scientific support for all of these beneficial effects. So don’t be misled! There are numerous scientific studies that fad diets and the multi-billion-dollar diet industry have over a 95% recidivism rate within two years of reaching maximal weight loss! Isn’t it nice to know that the same choices that make you healthy can help to permanently reduce weight? At any point in my practice I have patients that have made these lifestyle changes and have had very significant weight loss.
The health of your digestive system is of paramount importance
These dietary and lifestyle changes work best when the digestive system is fully functional, and metabolic and hormonal factors that affect weight gain and other forms of physical stressors (pain, headaches, fatigue, mood disorders etc.) are not compromising your ability to implement these changes in your life. We often tend to food cravings, overeating and comfort foods when we don’t feel well.
Food sensitivity, gluten and lactose intolerance and poor digestion and assimilation of nutrients can compromise the beneficial effects of even the healthiest diet. Therefore, it is often necessary to evaluate and treat impaired digestion while dietary change is being implemented. Try to buy organic foods as much as possible.
Individualizing Your Diet
We are all biologically unique. Besides specific digestive requirements related to food sensitivity and gluten or lactose intolerance, other factors such as elevated glucose, inflammatory markers or elevated cholesterol also need to be considered in an individualized approach to implementing these guidelines. A targeted approach to supplementation may also be indicated. I will assist you in making the necessary changes comfortably. Lifestyle changes of this sort do not generally become permanent unless you enjoy your meals and feel the benefit of making these changes in your life. For most patients this is usually the case. Often the most difficult step is the first one.
As I see you in the clinic for a specific complaint, I welcome your comments and questions on diet and (as with the other components of preventive health care) I hope to be a source of encouragement and practical advice.
Although it is true that the net effect of disregarding a healthy diet has profound effects on disease risk across the board, I would much rather have you think of how much these changes can improve the quality of your life. Wellbeing and preventive health care go hand in hand. I hope you will keep this newsletter as a reminder.
Here are two books that may be helpful: Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman M.D. This is a very readable and informative book with practical dietary suggestions. The China Study by Thomas Campbell Ph.D. explains the findings of the largest study to date on the effects of diet on health. You may want to start with an interesting video entitled Forks Over Knives. I have yet to find a patient who has not found this movie both interesting and informative.
Lastly, for those of you who would like to see these dietary guidelines in a printable form, please click here to get a printable version of Dr. Weil’s food pyramid. This is a good place to start if you are in good health with optimal blood chemistry and good digestion and want to start with the easiest to follow version of a health promoting diet. An optimized version of this pyramid would largely omit dairy and animal protein with the exception of healthy fish such as wild-caught salmon. If you have elevated glucose, and/or need to lose weight, reduce the starches (second tier of the pyramid) significantly. There are many good alternatives for these modifications that we can help you with.
Relative size of portions are represented by their position on the pyramid. A plant based diet represents the base of the pyramid. Please print out and keep in the kitchen as a shopping reminder and to help with food planning.
To Your Health and Wellbeing,
Dennis R Tucker, Ph.D., L. Ac.