Lessons From London

I spoke at a groundbreaking nutrition conference at the Royal Society of Medicine in London. The conference was called “Food: The Forgotten Medicine”. Dr Andrew Weil and I were the representatives from the US.

Here are a few of the many highlights:

  1. One group reported increased vegetables sales at a local supermarket after a life-sized cardboard cutout of an encouraging doctor was placed near the produce section!
  2. A cancer specialist described the strong links between diet and certain cancers, including the association of meat and colon cancer, as well as alcohol and breast cancer.
  3. A brain researcher summarized the substantial evidence supporting the protective effect of the particular Omega’3s concentrated in fish and fish oil (EPA and DHA) on Alzheimer’s disease.
  4. Dr. Weil described how the health value of “whole grain bread” is misleading. When whole grains are milled to make flour, their surface area increases and their sugar content is more easily absorbed. He recommended “intact” whole grains, like boiled barley, farro, and bulgur.
  5. One speaker advised a method to optimize the diversity of friendly microbes in our gut by eating seeds and naturally fiber-rich foods.
  6. I discussed how the dietary recommendations to reduce saturated fat in the diet are meaningless unless paired with recommendations on what to replace it with (ie. replacing saturated fat with sugary foods is not helpful but swapping for intact whole grains, olive oil, or Omega-3’s is a good move).
  7. I also discussed the sad state of nutrition education in medical training in the US. Nineteen hours total in medical school (much of which is biochemistry) and often ZERO in the 3-7 years that doctors spend in hospital training after medical school (we developed a joint consensus statement at this conference with our UK colleagues-more on that later).
  8. A farmer highlighted the importance of maintaining the nutrient quality of the soil. He also described the growing interest in organic farming in England-more than 50% of all baby food sold in the UK is organic.
  9. A doctor from the National Health Service in England discussed an important diet for people with inflammatory bowel disease called FODMAPS. This is an acronym for a group of sugars that easily ferment and produce gas and bloating-especially for those with inflammatory disease. He reported that many gastroenterologists do not believe that diet has much of an impact with inflammatory bowel disease, leading to what he described as the overuse of powerful steroids and other immune altering drugs.
  10. A nutrition scientist and health coach pair discussed their lifestyle-based program for diabetics that made fully 1/3  no longer meet criteria for the disease (although she described how both traditional thinking and electronic medical record issues made it difficult to remove the diabetes diagnosis from the active problem list).
  11. Lastly, but most important of all, a patient described her journey with diet and autoimmune disease. The audience was riveted as she recalled doctors who denied the role of diet in her condition, and others who helped her to make dramatic improvements with simple dietary changes. Most of all, she emphasized how patients want and need to feel that they have some personal control over their disease-and how health professionals can either encourage or extinguish that sense of empowerment.

It was a warm and wonderful meeting fit for a prince. In fact, Prince Charles, who has a long interest in nutrition, did attend!


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