Lifestyle Medicine has the potential to lower healthcare costs and improve health. What is lifestyle medicine? It is the belief that lifestyle interventions like stress reduction, changing eating habits with dietary changes, and exercise can eliminate or at least greatly reduce chronic illnesses which have been proved to be diet-related. I urge you to read the China Study. Man did it blow my mind. All the things I thought I knew to be true were turned on its head. Let me give a tiny background on a pioneer in whole foods plant-based nutrition. (And yes, I did just complete the certification course from Cornell University...and I am charged up!)
From 1980 to 1982 Dr. T. Colin Campbell was a member of National Academy of Sciences committee on Diet, Nutrition and Cancer. This report was “the ﬁrst (reasonably) official report recommending for cancer prevention increased consumption of vegetables, fruits, and whole cereal grains and decreased consumption of total dietary fat to 30% of total calories.”
Here are the three main recommendations coming out of this report:
1. Reduce fat in our diet from 38%-40% to 30%
2. Increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in our diet. (This increase was recommended to come form whole foods not supplements of individual nutrients. This is powerful because I always thought if for example an orange is good, vitamin C is even better...Wrong.)
3. There is no conclusive evidence that an increase in dietary fiber lowers the risk of colon cancer. (Say what? Why am I gobbling down fiber supplements again???)
Here's the big question? Why have conflicting recommendations not only become become public policy but have then driven an entire (processed) food industry forward?
Components of foods, fats, single nutrients, certain vitamins have all had their day in the sun. Case in point, The Harvard Nurses’ Health Study was based on the hypothesis that reducing fat intake would lower the risk of breast cancer. This study paved the way for the food and supplement industry to make claims that single ingredients could either help or harm us. The result of this report was a massive marketing overhaul campaigning for the public (that would be you and me) to consume low fat products. For years low fat was the king. And if we look at the grocery aisle it still is. But the larger point was missed. Lowering fat intake happens naturally when we consume fresh fruits and vegetables and foods that are whole, not single ingredients in process, packaged, highly processed foods. But how much money can certain food companies in the industry make by promoting a diversified and organic farming operation? And did you know that out of the 2.2 million farms only 240,000 of them are diversified, meaning they grow more than one crop? And that most of the single crops grown are not only subsidized but are not for direct human consumption? They are crops like cotton, corn, and soy. Corn especially finds its way into our diets replacing sugar for corn syrup, replacing food like processed meats with corn fillers. And don't get me started that these crops are for the most part, GMO. Yuck! I may add that wheat is also one of those GMO crops that has caused great havoc. Ever wondered why so many of us have a gluten intolerance.
Let me let you in on a little secret I learned from a baker in the best bakery in Rome. I was in Rome a couple of years ago in the middle of Spring. The weather was gorgeous. And I did what all Romans do when it's great weather, I planned a party with cheeses, meats, breads and fabulous wines all from little artisanal boutiques right around the corner from my apartment. At that time I was completely gluten free having had so many issues with my stomach and having been in pain on and off for years. Anyway, I went to the baker because who am I to deny my guests fabulous breads from Tuscany even though I won't partake. I started a broken Italian conversation with the person at the counter who wanted me to try a piece of their newly baked bread. After a series of hand gestures to my stomach and head indicating how sick I got. I wrote down the word celiac. He ran back to the baker who came out an insisted now that I absolutely must try his bread as his bread has NEVER made anyone sick. Oh God, I thought, I am going to have to eat this. I really thought that I was bringing poison to my mouth. And with all the effort of the reminders that my mama raised me right! And that if offered you do NOT say no! You can only imagine what I have had to endure foodwise under the tutelage of my mother and grandmother's good graces. (The song, Mama's Broken Heart by Miranda Lambert https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yg05svXp98...but that's a whole other story)
So here goes. I placed the morsel in my mouth and of course because it tasted so good I just had to chew a bit and let the flavors swirl...upchucking be damned...it was GOOD! The baker then proceeded to tell me that his grains were from a farm in Tuscany that had not changed family hands in over 500 some odd years and that the grain in the U.S. was in his term unfit for human consumption as it contained 2-4 more proteins through genetic alterations. (More protein must be better right? Wrong.) He told me this is why we Americans are fat and getting fatter. We eat from a box not from the earth. Needless to say, I bought loaves and when after my siesta I got to preparing for the party at around 8:30 (yep, still eating late and still eating al fresco) I took a couple more nibbles. I never got sick. Let me repeat...after years of being sick after eating even the slightest trace of wheat, I was no longer feeling sick. This was a life changer!
So here I am a couple of years later and I am declaring bullshit on our current food system. Bullshit on our food industry. And a double bullshit on our food policy which trickles down into our school lunches, into our hospital food programs (can you believe the crap most hospitals serve patients who so desperately need whole foods ( and not just the store), and into our WIC (Women, Infant, and Children) food program.
It is time to advocate for an emphasis on whole foods and to uncover the financial relations between public policy recommendations and the industry funding it. We have been taught since kindergarten that milk “does a body good.” We have colored the food pyramid ad nauseam. We have sung songs about fishes in the sea and cows in the pasture all under the guise of idealizing the local farmer while really “brainwashing” a population into thinking that the food choices it makes is its’ own and is one of health and vitality.
So ingrained is this propaganda that to unravel it takes a “bottom up versus a top down” approach, as Dr. Campbell recommends. New “old” concepts of health and nutrition must bubble up from voices like ours instead of trickle down from the voices of executives and policy makers who may have financial alliances to particular industries. This is where the confusion of what to eat stems from.
This confusion, I believe, is organically manufactured by the promotion of, as Dr. Campbell states, “…media, popular diet books, peer reviewed and other research.” This public policy promotion is fed by the way industry is able to infiltrate funding, grantmaking, peer review. That which encourages increased consumption of certain products and has a higher rate of marketability gets the attention and that which gets the attention eventually becomes public policy.
The National Academies Press. Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer Report. 1982.
Willett, W.C., Stampher, M.J., Colditz, G.A., Rosner, B.A., Hennekens, C.H. & Speizer, F.E. (1987) Dietary Fat and the Risk of Breast Cancer. New England Journal of Medicine.
T. Colin Campbell, M.D., Thomas M. Campbell, M.D., The China Study (2004)