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Health Culture. Fad or Future?

09 Feb 2016

lifestyle

As a family physician, I’m quite comfortable answering questions about a patient’s diagnosis, what they may have heard on the news and medication queries. Questions regarding food and its role in their condition, however, used to throw me off guard. I found myself unable to satisfy their curiosity as confidently as I would have liked.

Unfortunately, when I was at university we barely had any lectures on nutrition. I remember having the opinion at medical school that the subject matter was reserved for registered dieticians whose main focus would be ensuring patients had a low fat diet, ‘good‘ carbohydrates and adequate protein stores. There was certainly nothing sexy about making caloric adjustments for the overweight or elderly patients. I doubt most clinical lecturers, to whom we all aspired to be, would have nurtured any curiosity in the field for lack of interest themselves.

Going forward, I think the emphasis on nutrition in medical education will drastically change. There is a growing body of clinical evidence beyondobservational studies that demonstrates the immense impact of diet on disease modulation as well as prevention. With more rigorous clinical trials there are pockets in the ‘conventional’ medic community highlighting the importance of food in everyday practice.

We are gradually adding to the abundance of fascinating studies on therapeutic diets that were archived decades ago. A fresh perspective has led to nutritional ketosis becoming a standard in the treatment of childhood epilepsy in tertiary centres. We’re also seeing new diets being introduced like low FODMAP for irritable bowel sufferers, although with its own caveats.

Journals like those produced by the American College of Nutrition and the Institute for functional medicine are paving the way for a new outlook on diet and disease. It’s an incredibly exciting time for researchers in this field.

Going back to my own story, I’ve had to start from the bottom. Without a strong foundation in nutrition from medical school I found myself learning the basics, doing my own research and looking at current theories in nutritional science. It seems everyone is a nutritional expert on the Internet each with their own rules and theories. No wonder my patients were so confused!

Despite its challenges, the burgeoning popularity of health food culture is something that I would encourage the professional medical community to embrace. The root cause of the top global chronic diseases can be traced back to food and now is our opportunity to ride the public’s wave of interest and encourage a healthy relationship with diet.

Individuals have hugely different backgrounds, genetic variations even down to our gut’s microbiome. What I want patients to understand is the importance of all these factors and empower them to take care of their own diet rather than blindly follow a one-size fits all approach. Everyday food is ‘superfood’. Your simple cabbage is as antioxidant and phytochemical rich as some of the most expensive ingredients on the shelf.

By reading the research journals, attending conferences and keeping an open mind, I try to give an informed, evidence based opinion of health foods .. whilst taking some awesome pictures and creating delicious recipes!

I’ll be reviewing the latest conference I attended next week so look out for that blog post soon.

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