Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Step 5 ... Ask a Professional

After I finished posting about my diet experiment, I thought it might be wise (and I am wise) to ask a professional their opinion.  Luckily, my brother married a professional dietician.  I asked my sister-in-law, Sarah, what she thought of my experiment so far.  She definitely had her opinions, so I proposed she write a guest blog.  And she did!  I am sharing her thoughts here.  Thanks Sarah!  

Watching Dolores and Family Discover that What You Eat Matters…

Looking “outside the box” for solutions

I find that people look outside of the conventional medical system when they are in somewhat of a health crisis.   They feel that their health is not under control even though they are diligently going to the doctor and compliantly following instructions of the healthcare team.   They also have some sort of intuition that other sound alternatives are out there and start researching and asking more questions in order to improve their health and quality of life.

Dolores and Jeff have been working very hard to manage Ben’s T1 condition.   As is usually the case, they initially focused on insulin management and carbohydrate counting and were told that Ben could eat whatever he wanted.  Unfortunately, this is often the case in the conventional medical system (I am making a generalized statement here, but I’ve worked in the medical system, know the model and the low importance that is placed on nutrition therapy by the majority of practitioners). 

Even though there was little emphasis on nutrition therapy, one MD planted the seed in Dolores head that diet did matter for T1 management and she intuitively knew that it was the third leg of the stool. 

Thoughts on Dolores Diet Experiment

First email communication: I was thinking about emailing Dolores to ask her if she was interested in looking at diet to help manage Ben’s T1 when I received an email from her asking, “How many carbohydrates does a 10 year old need per day?”  I wasn’t sure what they had been taught and what, if anything, they were doing with diet.  So, I asked her “What percentage of calories from carbohydrates is Ben eating per day?” What had they been taught?  She didn’t know.  This is when I knew they were starting from scratch.  But I also thought… great, they understand that diet plays a role in managing this condition and they are interested in making changes. 

Second email communication:  The second email I received from Dolores was asking my opinion about the Whole30 diet.  She and Jeff were already 3 weeks into it and the kids diets were also changing because of the types of foods that were now in the house and being served at meal times.  She was feeling great.  

The Whole30 is a Paleo-based diet with emphasis on high protein and fat and low carbohydrate.   On the plus side they emphasize good quality proteins (organic, pastured raised poultry/eggs and grass-fed beef, wild caught-sustainable fish) and fats (organic coconut and extra virgin olive oils, avocados, nuts), lots of vegetables and fruits and the elimination of alcohol, sugar and processed foods.   

I don’t advocate any one “diet” as I don’t believe that there is a one-diet-fits-all protocol.  I think a Paleo-based diet, like the Whole30, has its merits (as above), but I have some concerns about it for the long term.   A high saturated fat intake from animal and processed meats can negatively affect metabolism and has been associated with chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease.   Saturated fat is OK, but in minimal quantities and from selected sources.   A high animal protein intake can promote an acidic body environment, which contributes to disease.   

The Whole 30 eliminates grains, legumes and dairy.  A short-term elimination of these foods is not a bad idea as some medical conditions can improve by eliminating certain foods or food groups.  However, if your body tolerates these foods, then why eliminate them?  There is a place for whole food-intact grains, legumes and some quality dairy in your diet if you tolerate them. 

Additionally, if you are eliminating entire food groups you need to think about the nutrients that you are eliminating and how you will replace them. For example, if you are not eating any dairy products then you need to make sure you are getting adequate calcium in some other way. 

Regardless, I thought this was a great start since they had moved to more of a whole, real food diet, had eliminated sugar and other refined carbohydrates, artificial ingredients and processed foods.  This was a BIG step forward in improving the whole family’s diet and health.   This also told me that she was really motivated and willing to make major dietary changes for the entire family.  I believe a major component to maintaining long-term dietary habits comes when the whole family is involved… and Dolores was accomplishing this piece.

Blog posts: Results and Aha Moments:  I think that Dolores “Aha” moments are right on target for anyone that makes such dramatic diet changes.    Although the USDA’s MyPlate guidelines are a huge improvement over the Food Guide Pyramid I don’t necessarily look to the government for diet advice since I know how much influence the food industry has on these things.  However, moving from the Standard American Diet to the MyPlate guidelines is certainly moving in the right direction, and I think that Dolores picked out the main point – half of your plate should be covered with fruits and vegetables at each meal.

The main reason anyone continues to do anything is because they get positive feedback.    Dolores and Jeff felt better and Ben’s evening blood sugars had improved.    They had made dramatic changes to their diet and found that the type of food you eat definitely does affect how you feel and how your body functions.  And, it seemed that the whole family was still enjoying meal times. 

Food is important information for your body.   Genes essentially control every function of your body and the kind of food that you eat tells your genes what to do.  Food communicates information to your genes to determine things like: carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism, insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammation.   Every day you are either promoting health or disease by the foods you choose.  Learning what foods or nutrients to emphasize, reduce or remove based on your individual physiology is key to maintaining health and managing chronic health conditions… like T1.

I’m looking forward to Dolores’ continued experiments with diet!  I’m excited that she’s discovered the power of food and I believe that she will continue to see positive results as a result of her hard work… in still more ways than she ever expected.

Sarah B. Clark, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian and integrative and functional medicine nutritionist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her focus is on using food and nutrition to address the root causes of disease to promote real health and vitality. She is passionate about sharing this perspective with others through her site, the Natural Healing Nutritionist.  

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