shakshukaLast week I attended the 2014 Integrative Healthcare Symposium in NYC. I had a great time needing out on all kinds of lectures, panel discussions, and activities (hello, chair yoga & reiki). On the second day, there was panel discussion between four doctors on what the “right” diet could possibly be, and throughout the symposium, these doctors spoke in more detail about their work and and about food’s place in a whole body approach to wellness. Actually, at basically all the lectures I attended, food was discussed as a viable method for preventing and treating disease, especially when combined with other lifestyle changes. One of the things I found especially eye-opening was that regardless of their differing opinions on the fine print, almost everyone I saw present seemed to agree that the place where our health seemed to veer off course was during the anti-fat craze of the 1990’s.

Two discussions I got a lot out of were Dr. Mark Hyman‘s talk on “diabesity” and how to reverse it, and another was Dr. David Perlmutter‘s lecture titled “The Care and Feeding of Your Brain.” When a friend saw me posting on social media about the latter, he sent this article from the Atlantic, “This is Your Brain on Gluten”, which discusses Perlmutter’s latest book, Grain Brain.

Highlighting research that establishes links between even mildly elevated blood glucose and disease, Perlmutter takes an anti-grain stance and encourages a regimen similar to the Paleo diet: 75 percent fat, 20 percent protein, and 5 percent carbs (50-80 grams carbs per day). He argues that controlling blood sugar may help prevent dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and chronic headaches, among other conditions. I appreciated that he spent some time at the lecture explaining the biological importance of adequate fat—and even cholesterol—intake. Since I learned about fat’s role in cell structure, physiology, hormone production, etc in school, I sometimes take that information for granted, so it was a good reminder to me to find way to make that concept accessible to patients and clients who may have fears about eating oils, nuts, eggs, and avocado.

Though I agree with the idea that we need to make friends with dietary fat, I am not one to demonize all carbs. It seems our country tends to take an all-or-nothing approach to healthy eating, and that certainly doesn’t be seem to be doing us any favors. As a proponent of eating foods from all food groups, I’m more inclined to recommend incorporating a few well-chosen sources throughout the day in balance with plenty of vegetables, a small amount of whole fruit, adequate protein, and fat.

I’m not saying everyone should eat bread and white pasta every day—on the contrary. However, sweet potatoes happen to be delicious, nutritious, and gluten-free. Have an apple with your lunch instead of a bag of chips, or try chickpeas roasted in olive oil. A little quinoa now and then is probably not going to kill you. Though I still favor unsaturated sources of fat such as olive oil, I don’t think saturated fats such s coconut oil, organic butter, or eggs should be off-limits.

Are there any foods (or food groups) you limit in your diet? Have your thoughts on fats or carbs changed over the years? 

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