Diane and I are convinced that good nutrition is the main pillar supporting wellness. Our goal is to bring you to a new level of awareness about the true value of food. People need to choose food that will protect and nourish them, and attempt to make optimal use of every calorie consumed. Most of us understand clearly that there are "bad" components in food and we are very good at eliminating them (cholesterol, saturated fats, etc.). But, most of us do not know what food components are good and vital. People often triumphantly declare at yearly check-ups that they have successfully cut back on dietary fat, and that is good. It is a rare patient, however, who then goes on to explain how she/he has added back fiber, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and omega-3 fatty acids to reach a more healthful diet. You might be thinking, "Sure, if one has known coronary artery heart disease then she/he has a powerful motivation to make dramatic dietary improvement. But what if I am healthy?" It is critical to remember that ~50% of Americans do eventually die of vascular disease, and 30% of us succumb to cancer - both of these diseases are largely determined by our dietary choices. In fact, it is estimated that teaming up regular exercise and a healthy diet, plus not smoking, would eliminate 80 percent of oneís heart disease risk and 70 percent of some cancers. It becomes obvious that all of us need to practice "universal dietary precautions". There is so much more to a healthful diet than simply "cholesterol". Every molecule of our bodies derives from what we eat - it makes sense that our food choices might impact our health.
Remember, nutrition and supplement advice was developed historically to eliminate deficiency states in our country (i.e. early diets emphasized animal foods to reduce the risk of malnutrition). Standards were set to avoid disease, not to support optimal wellness. Our food supply has evolved so that today we are surrounded by tempting options, tasty foods high in saturated fat, and quick processed convenience foods containing trans-fatty acids with little or no nutritional benefit. In fact, a striking rise in scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) has recently been reported in Minnesota children. We live in a time where it is vastly more profitable for companies to produce and market these nutrient-poor foods. It is so easy to simply eat "like everyone else" and not pay any attention to the value of the food we consume. A whole foods plant-based diet seems, by comparison, odd and almost - "cult-like". It is crucial that we take an active interest in eating healthfully. Food familiarity, availability, or convenience has nothing to do with good nutrition. Food manufacturers and grocers have little vested interest in steering people toward making healthy dietary choices. Food companies are not health or social service agencies. Instead they compete for financial survival by developing and marketing products that will sell. Our generation is faced with an epidemic of obesity and diabetes, and yet to prosper our food industry must convince people to eat ever more. An unaware consumer (that's all of us) is at great health risk in this environment! The ideal diet may seem radical to some, but it is not. What is radical is the way most of us eat now because the typical American diet is such an extreme departure from one that supports health.
Compounding the problem is the lack of good dietary information, and even misinformation bombarding us all. In the void of good information, diets such as the Atkinís Revolution appear. It is very appealing to think that bacon, eggs, sausage, ham and butter are health foods, but of course they are not. As advertised, people can and do actually lose weight following such diet plans. By avoiding carbohydrates, oneís body needs to "steal" from itself for the fuel it must routinely use. Therefore a person loses weight, at least for a while, by essentially "starving" for carbohydrates. It is absolutely true that a diet loaded with simple, refined carbohydrates (white rice, potato, pasta, and bread) is rich in calories and empty of nutrients. If a person is narrowly focused on only weight and obesity, then the Atkin's diet looks good. But there is so much more to a healthful diet. These high fat, high protein (and therefore low carbohydrate) diets have a number of long-term potential problems. First, few people are able to stay with these food selections for longer than a few months, and then the weight comes back. Despite all of the hoopla surrounding these diets there are no long-term studies showing weight loss success. And there is virtually no place on our planet where people freely eat a very low-carbohydrate diet. Second, high protein intake leads to increased urinary calcium loss, thus in the long run increasing the risk of osteoporosis. Third, the diet is bankrupt of "the good stuff" that a nutritious diet needs - it lacks the vitamins, minerals, and fiber so necessary to health. Even if you take supplements you wonít get the array of fiber, protective phytochemicals, and "good fats" found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Lastly, epidemiological studies today suggest that high fat, animal-based diets are linked to higher rates of certain cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and several other chronic diseases. Low carbohydrate diets like the Atkinís plan have resurfaced every decade for at least a century, and they now are certainly enjoying a re-revolution. It is incredible to see how many books and magazines are available depicting "the latest, greatest" way to lose weight and look good. And each author disagrees and presents conflicting evidence in favor of her/his diet. Who wouldnít be confused!
While the scientific evidence will continue to evolve, it is clear now that a whole foods plant-based diet is most healthful. Most often people bristle when they hear the terms vegetarianism (the eating of no meat, poultry, or fish) and veganism (vegetarians who abstain from dairy products as will). Unfortunately, these words often conjure up ethical and religious notions. However, there is no escaping the evidence that plant-based diets are optimal. This should not be about "isms", but about whatís for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can choose to eat some animal foods, but we do strongly recommend that the foundation of your diet be plant-centered. The further one moves away from the traditional Western-type diet and toward a vegetarian one the healthier the diet becomes. Of course Diane and I donít expect that the average person will respond to this by saying, "Oh sure, Iíll become a vegetarian tomorrow". Incremental improvement in this direction is wonderful! What follows is not "the Diane and Charlie Petersen diet", but simply a recommendation based on the existing nutrition literature.
Simply put, the healthiest diets are loaded with plant foods (vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains) and they minimize animal source food. Marion Nestle PhD, MPH, professor and chair of New York University Department of Nutrition and Food Studies says, "The evidence is so strong and overwhelming and produced over such a long period of time that it is no longer debatable. There is no question that largely vegetarian diets are as healthy as you can get." Well-respected and often quoted professor of epidemiology and nutrition, and chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, Walter Willett, M.D., has said "A diet in fruits and vegetables plays a role in reducing the risk of all the major causes of illness and death." Please link to "Heart Disease" and "Cancer" to find out more how nutrition impacts these two major diseases.