Sunday, October 23, 2016

What the Fork?

You may or may not know that I am a dietitian. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Loma Linda University in California in 1995 (well, actually, I was informed after my supposed graduation that I was short 12 elective units [!!], which took me an additional two years to complete [what with having a baby and all], so I didn't receive my degree until 1997 - but I digress).

After earning my degree I also sat for the registration exam and earned my RD (Registered Dietitian). I spent several years working as an RD in long term care facilities and government run preschool programs, until I had my twins... followed by about 10 years of a melt-down/survival mode/time-warp.

In 2010, just before the birth of my youngest son, I was offered another opportunity to work as a dietitian, this time as a nutrition writer for EBSCO Information Services, a medical/educational resource publisher. Since then I have been reviewing current research (including meta-analyses, systematic reviews, randomized controlled studies, case studies, and more) and compiling the data into educational nutrition resources to be used in practice and study by medical professionals and students. I have enjoyed this work. I love the constant flow of new, relatively unbiased, information across my desk. It has given me the unique opportunity of knowing what I'm talking about (at least when it comes to nutrition).

Food is life. Air, water, FOOD. Without it we die. With it we live... but that, only to the degree of the quality of the food we eat. This makes the study of nutrition fascinating to me. It is also a great motivator for eating well.

The topic of nutrition can be overwhelming. Each bite we eat contains a diverse universe of constituents, with a vast range of both nutritive and destructive properties. Some elements are beneficial, unless eaten in excess or in combination with competing factors; others are latent, unless interacting with collaborating nutrients. Some are naturally occurring, others originate in labs. It really is a labyrinth of factors and cofactors working with and against each other for or against our health. And when I say 'health', I mean our WHOLE being, body and mind.

The complexity behind the issue of diet and nutrition is a significant barrier to people educating themselves about diet and making good dietary choices. This is why substantial funding has gone into educational tools such as the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) and Health and Human Services' jointly published report, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, along with the Food Guide Pyramid, later transitioned to MyPlate.

After 6 years of reviewing thousands of studies and writing hundreds of nutrition papers coving such topics as Vitamin A, Zucchini, Nutrition and Pregnancy, Nutrition and Mental Health, Diet, Epigenetics, and Cancer, Manuka Honey, and so many more, I have taken note of some important findings that repeatedly show themselves, even when they weren't the focus of the studies. For example, the fact that higher dietary consumption of probiotics is associated with a reduced risk of all-cause morbidity and mortality, or that most nutrients are most effective when consumed in combination with other nutrients, as would be found in whole foods (as opposed to individual supplements).

I have been toying with writing a weekly blog post on nutrition-related topics. (Would that interest you?) But, in the meantime, I thought it might be helpful to my three followers to present a few basic guidelines to follow when standing in the middle of the grocery store in that overwhelmed, 'I want to be healthy but have no idea where to start - oh hell, where are the Oreos?' stupor. So, here goes (and I'm certain that I will leave valuable information out - but that's what the edit feature is for...):

  • Inclusion over Exclusion: Focus on what needs to be included in your diet and the stuff that needs to be avoided will most likely get edged out, or at least minimized
  • Eat ALL the Colors (of natural foods): All food has color. That color is the result of nutrients creating chemical reactions. Therefore, it makes sense that different colors are derived from different nutrients. SO, if the goal is to consume a variety of nutrients, the easiest way to ensure that will happen is to consume a variety of colors. Remember: Natural food. No Nerds or gummy worms are to be included in this rule
  • Eat ALL the Categories (again, of natural foods): I know there is a huge Paleo following out there. I'm not going to delve into that here but it is important to understand that each category of macronutrients (i.e., fat, protein, carbohydrate) plays a different and vital role in the metabolism of the human body. For best results, we require fuel from each category. Inevitably, things get unbalanced and begin to breakdown when any one of those categories is eliminated, minimized, or over-consumed in the diet. At this point, don't get caught up in percentages. In stead, focus on quality and choosing unaltered (by manufacturers) foods. *A note about Fat: Choose unsaturated and natural (primarily from vegetables/nuts/fish/lean meats). Please avoid chemically altered fats, typically found in processed food (key words: hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, trans-fats)
  • If Including Supplements, I recommend these: 1. Omega-3 fatty acids (eg., fish oil/krill oil): Most westernized diets don't come close to including enough of these but omega-3s have been shown to be protective against dementia, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, numerous cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, and all-cause mortality. 2. Probiotics: I'm still researching which ones are most reliably effective (let me know your favorites!), but I cannot tell you how many studies report that disease conditions are improved and/or prevented by the intake of probiotics. Probiotics are vital to the healthy functioning of the gut, which is the command center for, well, everything - including the brain, btw. 3. B-complex vitamins: B-complex vitamins are big players in cognitive health and mental well-being. Studies consistently report differences in B-vitamin status (either consumption or biomarkers within the body) in individuals with all ranges of psychological issues (eg., bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD, senility, addiction). Whether these differences are due to poor dietary intake or malfunctions of metabolism isn't fully understood. 
  • Coffee and Dark Chocolate ARE GOOD FOR YOU: Ok, maybe this didn't need to be included in my short list of guidelines, but, it's true. Coffee (not frappuccino, not mocha, not caramel macchiato) has proven to be beneficial. Similarly, dark chocolate (not Snickers, not milkshake, not rockyroad) has many beneficial properties. Both are powerful antioxidants and mood-boosters, so enjoy!
So, there it is, my friends. My short list of dietary guidelines. Maybe, if you are interested (... and if I can get my act together), I will try to write some weekly nutrition notes for y'all to read. I'd love your input on this, so share freely!



  1. It is great that you are talking about food and even better that you are making good food choices easy to follow....

  2. I love this, Cherie. This is SO needed! There's so much crazy information out there, and just turning 45 I'm realizing how important diet is for long term health.

  3. I just re-read this. More please, as if you do not already have enough to do.

    Someday delve into fermented foods like kimchee and kombucha, kefir, sourkraut (sp?) and such.