Thursday, April 18, 2013

Nutrition: One size does not fit all

Happy April 2013.

In the past few weeks, I've been neck deep revisiting the current nutrition trends in our country.  Back in 1998, I remember reading the book Protein Power by Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades and then deciding I wanted to lose 20 pounds in two weeks with this high protein/ high fat/ low carb diet.  At first, it was hard to follow, but, in the end, it worked great.  Unfortunately, I gained back those 20 pounds as I reverted back to higher carbohydrate (carb) intake over time, which was how I had been taught to eat growing up.  Being a curious scientist myself, I was wondering if more proof would be generated for the high protein / low carb diet before deciding to tackle it again.  [Note: see below for how I characterize "high" and "low" carb].

For the past 15 years, I've been reading and absorbing the changing nutritional trends in our country.  It's hard to argue that the Qualified (Nutritional) Experts certainly agree to disagree!  Some of the most outspoken are on two sides of the spectrum:  Low fat vs. Low carb.  Making some generalizations for simplicity, this can be reduced to Low fat (mostly plants) vs. Low carb (mostly meats).  Low fat typically has medium/higher levels of carbs (more than 100g per day and as low in fat as possible) whereas Low carb (less than 100g of carbs per day and often less than 50g of carbs per day) has a higher fat and protein intake.

Talk about polar opposites indeed!  There is nothing hotter than this in the nutritional field these days.  In turn, this can really confuse us on how, when and what to eat.  As it is in basic human nature, making these recommendations comes with a responsibility to explain why and to explain the justification. That's where the plot thickens.   

In case you missed it, a great debate took place on March 27, 2013 at the University of Alabama-Birmingham between Plant Based Diet Champion Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of the The China Study, and Dr. Eric Westman, of the Lifestyle Medicine Clinic at Duke University and a proponent of a low carb ketogenic diet.  The debate can be found here.  

Wow!  Both Dr. Campbell and Dr. Westman make excellent points during the debate and you can make your own assessment on the validity of their remarks and who may have justified a stronger position.  With that said, I will touch on one particular remark that Dr. Westman makes during the debate.  As a practicing clinician, he acknowledges that a plant based diet is a good program with respect to whole foods intake, but he also challenges that this type of diet is not appropriate for everyone, as each person is unique.  Sure, we all are human and share the same overall biochemistry.  However, just like any machine that ages with time, our bodies have different needs at different times due to age, composition, function and performance.  

I couldn't agree more!  

In short, just like a good pair of shoes, nutrition is specific to the individual.  

One size does NOT fit all.  

Listen to your body and talk to your doctor or healthcare practitioner before making any changes to your diet

More on nutrition in the future.  Research evidence has been generated that strongly suggests that diet influences 80-90% of our body composition and weight, with exercise contributing the remaining small fraction.  Of course, exercise has other benefits too, and we'll talk about that later.   

Stay well!

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