March-April 2017: Dinner Table Science

Do you spend countless hours figuring out how to best tailor your eating patterns, immersing yourself in literature and studies driven by top nutrition and fitness professionals? Are you frustrated by the ever-changing nature of the literature on food, fitness, and nutrition, where one day butter is back, eggs reduce stroke risk, and whole grains improve blood cholesterol, while the next day saturated fat (in butter and eggs) causes heart disease, and gluten (found in many whole grains) is a leading cause of chronic inflammation? 

Research has gleaned some important insights over the years making a huge impact on our eating habits. So what do some of the nation's top nutrition researchers and fitness experts say about studies and evidence that has been compelling enough to trigger change in their own eating practices?  Here are some insights and evidence that they say has made a positive impact on their lives and the lives of others.

[Side Note: Despite attempts to find some gold standard in scientific research, its hard if not impossible to do randomized controlled trials around food and diet.  Much of the current findings are based on observational studies that track dietary patterns in populations over time, often leaving too much room for bias, contradictions and confusion, that translate into dozens of fad diets and myths. But the findings still present some solid evidence that is hard to refute at this point.]

 Hearty quinoa salad with sauteed red pepper, spinach, mushrooms and protein rich seitan, seasoned with thyme and lemon juice.

Hearty quinoa salad with sauteed red pepper, spinach, mushrooms and protein rich seitan, seasoned with thyme and lemon juice.

1. The protein flip: Christopher Gardner, a nutrition researcher, has spent the last 20 years investigating links between food and chronic-disease. He discovered a concept called the "protein flip" which encourages people to move plant foods to the center of their plate and their diet and shift meat to the fringes. He argues that people think plants are missing amino acids, which is not true if one knows about the wide range of plant-based protein options available today. His best advice: embrace variability, not everyone should follow a vegan, Mediterranean or Paleo diet, and thrive on a different balance of macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates).

2. Not all calories are created equal: Lee Jordan is a trainer, health coach specializing in helping clients lose excess weight. He stresses that losing weight isn't about dropping one or two ingredients like sugar or fat (though cutting back on added sugars, is not something he would be against!). Instead, the diet needs to be holistic and based on real, "whole" foods, the kind that does not come out of a box. He underscores the importance of the quality of calories. And he doesn't tell his clients how to change or what to eat; instead he lets them create their own ideas and solutions on how to change and improve their current lifestyle. In short, he empowers them to make the changes.

3. Magic of H20: Trina Gray, an award winning health club owner, argues that healthy hydration, from water not from juices, alcohol and food, can enhance not only mental performance but physical performance as well. In fact, studies have shown that dehydration can reduce motivation and effort, cardiovascular function, and metabolic reactions.

4. Food as medicine and food for a healthy planet: James Loomis & David Katz, both doctors, stress the importance of healthy eating for a sustainable lifestyle and better health.  Loomis has seen that patients who engaged in lifestyle dietary changes saw huge positive results - "I have seen type 2 diabetes reversed" through dietary changes alone. Katz launched the True Health Initiative in 2014, a coalition of health experts committed to teaching lifestyle as medicine; the idea that a healthful diet based on minimally processed, mostly plant-based foods, and healthy fats, can help prevent chronic disease. He takes this a step further by arguing that "if we care enough about the confluence of both our planet and our health, then everyone needs to eat an overwhelmingly plant-based diet".

 Nuts - a great vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids, good fats, fiber, protein and essential micronutrients

Nuts - a great vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids, good fats, fiber, protein and essential micronutrients

5. Keep it simple, surely: Marion Nestle, a renounced Nutritionist, has avoided the numerous fads, bandwagons, and nutritional tugs of war that regularly crop up in the media. She argues that personal eating patterns should be simple and to the point. She emphasizes an overall balance, eating what she likes in moderation and getting pleasure from what she eats. She adds: "while everyone is arguing about saturated fat vs sugar, I just eat real, whole foods and don't worry about any of that".

6. One size does not fit all: Frank Hu, like many other experts, stresses the importance of practicing what he preaches, and the mantra that one size does not fit all. Based on his own findings, his diet now combines the best elements of two dietary traditions from Asia and Europe. Hu still eats a lot of soy products and legumes, typical of Asian dietary patterns, but has swapped in brown rice for white. Olive oil, nuts and seeds from the Mediterranean diet have become his primary sources of dietary fats. One of the biggest influences on his current diet is based on extensive research that has shown how different dietary fats affect coronary heart disease. He found that the type of fat was more important than total fat and that replacing total fat with carbohydrates has no benefits for overall health.

REFERENCES

  1. Campbell, T.C., & Campbell, T.M. 2004. The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long–Term Health. Dallas: BenBella Books.
  2. CDC. 2015. Health, United States, 2015. National Center for Health Statistics. Accessed Dec. 2016. www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/diet.htm
  3. Dauchet, L. 2006. Fruit and vegetable consumption and risk of coronary heart disease: A meta–analysis of cohort studies. Journal of Nutrition, 136 (10), 2588–93.
  4. Katz, D. 2013. What REALLY kills us. Huffington Post. Accessed Dec. 8, 2016. www.huffingtonpost.com/david–katz–md/chronic–disease_b_4250092.html.
  5. Maki, K.C., et al. 2014. Limitations of observational evidence: Implications for evidence–based dietary recommendations. Advances in Nutrition, 5 (3), 293–94.
  6. Murray, B. 2007. Hydration and physical performance. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 26 (5 Suppl.), 542S–48S.
  7. Sibbald, B., & Roland, M. 1998. Understanding controlled trials: Why are randomised controlled trials important? British Medical Journal, 316 (7126), 201.