A few weeks ago, after meeting and sharing the stage with integrative medicine pioneer (and my personal wellness hero) Dr. Andrew Weil, I shared some of the best gems I learned from him in another article, Ten Awesome Health Tips I Learned From Dr. Andrew Weil. Recently, I was going through some papers on my desk and came across some additional notes I’d made while listening to him discuss the latest in nutrition. Since the first Weil article proved to be so popular, I thought you’d enjoy highlights from these as well.
Again with Dr. Weil’s permission, here is a top 10 list of nutrition tips I compiled listening to this great wellness guru:
1) Pay attention to what’s different about crowd scenes in old movies.
No fat people. Even though most people in the old days probably hadn’t even heard of nutritional supplements, couldn’t care less about fiber content, glycemic index or ORAC, as a group they ate so much better than we do. Why? Virtually no processed foods—they ate whole, real food. It’s that simple. And it can be again, if you get determined about sticking to the perimeter of the supermarket and avoiding anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize.
2) That yummy, spicy Indian food may protect your brain.
Turmeric, the popular Indian spice that gives curry its yellow color and characteristic flavour, is widely recognized as a potent anti-inflammatory and has been used medicinally in India through the ages. India has the lowest rate of Alzheimer’s in the world, and it may be because of all that fabulous turmeric. Curcumin, the active ingredient, has been shown to prevent Alzheimer’s in animal studies.
3) Use food to curb the North American epidemic of inflammation and cancer.
I have a degree in Dietetics in addition to my M.D., and I’ve been writing about the anti-inflammatory diet for a while—including a chapter about the power of food in my book, Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You. Weil noted that most people in North America are in a pro-inflammatory state, due to various factors such as stress, second hand smoke, and to a great degree our diets. High levels of inflammation increase cell proliferation, which increase the risk of developing cancer. You can significantly decrease the inflammation in your body by choosing anti-inflammatory foods such as fish (especially salmon and other fish high in omega-3 fatty acids), healthy fats from olive oil and nuts, fruits and vegetables, red wine, etc.
4) Stop thinking in terms of "complex" carbohydrates—the concept is obsolete.
I confess I still use this term sometimes as I was raised on it as a dietitian and doctor, but Weil is right. "The only way to look at carbohydrates is in terms of their glycemic index," he stated. The higher the glycemic index of a food, the higher your blood sugar and insulin levels will go after you consume it; eat enough high GI foods and you’ll gradually develop insulin resistance. Eat foods that are truly made from whole grains (i.e. you can actually SEE the grain itself). The germ layer around the grain has fat which slows the emptying of your stomach and lessens the spike in your blood sugar.
5) Fresh squeezed orange juice is probably not a healthy choice after all.
I mentioned this shocker in the first article but it’s worth repeating. When I first heard this from Weil, it was a good thing I was sitting down. The predominant sugar in fruit juices is fructose, and there’s lots of it. According to Weil, "The liver can’t process it and it deranges liver function; it may also cause metabolic disturbances potentially leading to obesity and insulin resistance." The fructose in whole fruit doesn’t have the same effect, because of whole fruit’s fiber content. Again, it seems with whole foods you just can’t go wrong.
6) Cook pasta the right way and in the right amount.
Italians enjoy the dramatic health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet, and one of the reasons is that they serve themselves pasta portions that are one third the size of the portions we typically use here in North America. They also cook it al dente, which is very firm and firmer than most of us cook it. The firmness makes the pasta take longer to digest and decreases its glycemic index. Forget the cream, too, and serve your pasta loaded with healthy ingredients in the sauce.
7) Almond milk isn’t an appropriate milk substitute for kids (or me for that matter).
Almond milk is really popular these days, I’ve seen an explosion of it even in mainstream grocery stores. I’m allergic to dairy so I’ve been drinking soy milk for years, I’m also constantly working to make sure I get enough protein (I’d happily just eat carbs all day if I could). Though I love the taste of almond milk, I eliminated it as a source of milk for my cereal long ago as the protein content is minimal, significantly less than soy milk. Weil echoed this, saying almond and hemp milk are "too low protein and not good for kids." 8) Whole soy foods are an important component of an anti-inflammatory diet. This thrilled me, as I have soy milk every morning for the reasons I described above, and had been secretly worried that this was too much. I was also thrilled to read on the label the other day that my favorite soy milk (Silk) is made from whole organic non-GMO beans. According to Weil, soy foods contain isoflavone antioxidants that are protective against cancer. Whole soy foods are a much better choice than fractionated ones like isolated soy protein powders and foods made from soy isolate.
9) Eat unlimited amounts of cooked Asian mushrooms.
Do you think of these when you think "superfood"? I confess that I didn`t. The mushrooms Weil’s referring to are shiitake, enokidake, maitake, and oyster mushrooms—not Portobello, to my great sadness. Apparently these contain compounds that enhance immune function. Weil advises to never eat them raw, and to limit the amount you eat of common commercial button mushrooms including those delicious Portobellos, sigh.
10) Take certain supplements
Want to know what the great Dr. Weil takes? The same supplements he recommends for others: a high quality multivitamin/multimineral with basic antioxidants (vitamin C, vitamin E, mixed carotenoids, and selenium), co-enzyme Q10, molecularly distilled fish oil, and vitamin D (2000 IU), "as insurance to fill in the potential gaps in your diet."
I love Dr. Weil’s sensible approach to nutrition, listening to him I remembered why I used to love studying it so much. These are simple practical common-sense tips—and really, if you just eat like your great-grandmother (or better yet, your friend’s Italian great-grandmother), you`ll be just fine.