Why focus on nutrition?
Nutrition is of primary significance because it is the one aspect we have primary control over. We can't control our genetics, and can only partially control our environment, but we have near total control over what we eat.
Seeing a physician who is so well-versed in nutrition is a treat, but for Weil, most of this education came after med school. Weil shared that in his formal medical education he received only 30 minutes of nutrition education, and says not much has changed since then.
As I mentioned previously, not all physicians or dietitians subscribe to all of Weil’s beliefs and recommendations. Sometimes it seems that physician's can be on total opposite ends of the spectrum, and it seems there is always some research (although usually varying greatly in strength) to support whichever view that may be. But one thing is sure, Weil has certainly done his research. Although Weil has a bit of a reputation for his sometimes unconventional ideas, his talks were based on simple nutrition principles to promote health, and I think very beneficial for the public.
Exploring nutrition as a strategy for treatment of ailment hasn't always been mainstream, but it is becoming more so. I am supportive of medical professionals that look to food, our most basic necessity, first for prevention, and even healing. Dr. Weil appears to take a cautious approach to venturing outside the western medicine box, recommending herbs and remedies that may be unheard of in the average North American physician's or dietitian’s office, but that hold some merit, and are a welcome alternative to costly, pharmaceutical treatments.
Day 2 of the Series began with Dr. Weil's second presentation - "Nutrition 101: Macronutrients and the Anti-Inflammatory Diet".
As the title alludes to, a large portion of Weil’s talk was based around his anti-flammatory diet. I previously discussed the
theory and science behind the inflammatory diet . Weil is a strong proponent of the diet, which is essentially a modified version of the traditional Mediterranean diet, and he has even developed an anti-inflammatory food pyramid . The traditional Mediterranean diet (and I stress "traditional", as even this diet has fallen victim to Western influences) has long been linked with lower rates of heart disease, cancer and other chronic and age-related disease.
It is thought that certain foods contribute to inflammation (pro-inflammatory), and can increase our risk for developing these diseases. We also know that other foods decrease that inflammation (anti-inflammatory), and can contribute to better overall health. Diets that are high in sugar, refined starches, saturated and trans fats, low in anti-oxidants, fiber, vegetables and fruit and whole grains may activate the immune system, and induce inflammation. By altering our diet, theoretically, we can reduce the inflammation process and even stop it. Anything that increases inflammation, increases cell division and turnover, and increases the risk for disease process. Weil says most of us go through life in an anti-inflammatory state.
If in fact we are all going through life with this low-grade, potentially hazardous inflammation, one of the biggest contributing factors is our food supply, particularly, industrialized food. Our food supply is flooded with an abundance of omega-6 fats (such as soy bean oil, which is added to many processed and fast foods and is particularly high in omega-6 fats) and low in omega-3 fats.
Weil likes to sum up his food philosophy is one sentence: "stop eating refined, processed and manufactured foods". The more processed foods we eat, Weil says, the higher likelihood that we will see negative health effects. For instance, food industrialization has a tendency to turn carbohydrate foods from slow digesting to fast (turning a whole grain into an easily absorbed form, such as flour). Weil says the spikes in insulin caused by the spikes in blood sugar also increase inflammation. Other causes of inflammation are environmental toxins and stress.
The primary issues with our food system, according to Weil, is based on the reality that unhealthy food is the cheapest. Federal governments in Canada and the U.S. subsidize crops, which artificially drives down the cost of processed food. Although the government encourages the public to eat better with Food Plates and Food Guides, Weil argues that these food subsidies make unhealthy food easier and cheaper to come by, and points out that there are no subsidies for fruits and vegetables. Whether or not there is a wealth of evidence to support the anti-inflammatory diet, the basis of the diet is one that focuses on whole, unprocessed foods, and is heavy in plant-based foods and fish. We know these are all good dietary principles to follow.
Like many health professionals, Weil is also a big proponent of limiting sugar of all types and sources, but particularly fructose.
Weil believes that high fructose corn syrup causes metabolic disturbances and deranges liver function. When it comes to manufactured sugars, like high fructose corn syrup, Weil believes it affects liver function and says all types of sugar, (including table sugar, which is 1/2 fructose) should be limited. Last time I checked, the jury was still out on the fructose debate, but one thing is for sure, limiting sugar intake is always a good health move.
Finally, one of my favourite components of the talk was the "Q & A" portion. Members of the audience, which was made up of public and health care professionals, were able to ask Dr. Weil his take on a number of issues. Some highlights:
Vaccines - Weil believes the benefits far outweigh the risks, and says that in the absence of vaccines, we would really see the benefit.
Genetically Modified foods - Weil suggests there may be unforeseen consequences, and says there isn't enough research. Consumers should exercise caution, he says, and believes GMO's should be labelled to allow consumers to make educated choices.
Blood Type diet - no benefit.
pH or Acid/Alkaline diet - encourages mostly good dietary principles, but there is no evidence to support this diet as a means to improve health.
RAW diet - the premise that RAW diet is based on (that the enzymes in foods are destroyed in cooking, thereby making digestion more difficult) is faulty. The acid in the human stomach would sooner destroy those enzymes than would cooking. Also, some pigments in vegetables are actually increased with cooking (such as lycopene in cooked tomatoes). Some vegetables also have small amounts of toxins in them that are destroyed by the cooking process. Bottom line - eat a variety of cooked and raw veggies.
Organic food - Weil says that agrochemicals can't be good for us, so the only question is "how bad are they for us?". Weil recommends to the Environmental Working Groups' "Clean 15" and the "Dirty Dozen" , which highlights the 15 crops that have been shown to have the least chemical and pesticide residue, and the 12 that have been shown to have the most.