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Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry, Cornell

The Health Care Doctors Forgot: Why Ordinary Food Will Be the New Medicine of the Future

Posted: 02/03/2014 6:01 pm EST Updated: 02/03/2014 6:59 pm EST

Few if any topics get more press than the effect of food on our health. It's constantly present, even if buried in our subconscious mind. Sex, politics and religion are intensely personal topics, but food and health is in that same rank.
Intense interest, however, does not translate into a consensus on which diet best nourishes us. I've been a professional in nutritional science for more than five decades. But I must confess my disappointment in the inability of my field to help the public to understand and use the underlying science of nutrition.
Medical schools almost completely ignore the topic. Biomedical funding agencies mostly give it a pass, at best dedicating only a small percentage of their funding for nutrition research. The public therefore must fend for itself when trying to understand which nutrition information is correct and which is not.
Yet, if we assess the public's interest in this topic, it is massive, but also it is massively disconnected. Information on this topic is served up by food companies, who cook it for their own tastes. Coalitions of industry join hands and minds to "help" government authorities develop the right kind of food and health policy -- I've been there, seen that. Rather like monopolies controlling the marketplace by controlling the information.
I hesitate to call this mess a conspiracy, because they are doing nothing more than pleasing their shareholders and selling products to customers what they want to buy. I'm a free market guy, and I must say, "It is what it is." But, I strongly object to those who claim they have supporting health evidence when it is nothing more than a stretch! Been there, seen that, too.
We live within a system loaded with an unfathomable number of details that invite abuse. Some might call this an invitation for conspiracy (an evil thing, I think). But I prefer the explanation that we are living within a paradigm that encourages the production of details that invite abuse. We think of nutrition as the summation, more or less, of the independent functions of individual nutrients and related food chemicals. Think nutrient supplements -- out of context bits of whole food. But we now have exceptionally strong evidence that they do not serve our long-term health. Think integrative nutrition or integrative medicine, strategies that promote combinations of even more individual nutrients or medicines that compound the problem. Think recommended daily intakes of individual nutrients and specific quantities of nutrients in foods and on food labels as if they infer better science. Think also of targeted drug therapy that is generally unmindful of side effects virtually guaranteed to happen.
It's all the same. It's unacceptable to assume that we can understand all we need to know about overall health by identifying the properties of individual nutrients acting in isolation. It is not because nutrients don't have these properties. But when provided by whole food, they work in symphony (the topic of my book, Whole), harmoniously when provided by plant-based foods, discordantly when provided by animal based foods or in concocted processed foods (even if made from plant parts).

An impressive body of evidence now shows that a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) diet produces profound effects like reversing and treating heart disease, diabetes and many other ailments and chronic pains. Other evidence suggests similar effects on cancers. These outcomes are much more than I once thought, especially concerning my having come from a family farm and milking cows then doing graduate work to "prove" that the high-protein, high-fat animal-based foods diet was best for our health. I succeeded only in proving myself wrong.
Unfortunately, this WFPB strategy has long been a secret, perhaps the best-kept secret in medical history. Remarkably, it can treat and reverse existing ailments (quickly) as well as to prevent future ailments. No other diet plan comes close, especially those of the low carb ilk.
It is time to reject frivolous arguments to the contrary. If there is merit to alternative hypotheses, it is time to use them to prove wrong those of us in the profession who have studied and used this approach to solve illness. It's time for the naysayers to show that they can do better if they wish to be heard.
The stakes are now too high to allow for self-serving interests paving our way to health. We have imposing problems, many tracing their origins to food choice. Health care costs, environmental degradation and unnecessary ethical behavior head a list of impending crises that must be resolved for the sake of our humanity and our planet. More of this commentary may be found here.

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