Diet Mania...Diet Confusion...Diet Frustration

Life and Nutrition Are Not Simply Food Choices

Paul A. Goldberg, MPH, DC, DACBN, DCBCN
Director, The Goldberg Clinic, LLC

The Public’s interest in diet matters continues to skyrocket. Many earnest individuals attempting to overcome chronic disease view the right diet as being the key component. Along with the increased interest, the level of hucksterism, dogma, and commercialism has also exploded. All of this has led to ongoing confusion among the population including the chronically ill patients entering our practice.

My interest in health, diet and nutrition began in the 1960’s when I read Dr. Weston Price’s Classic Work Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Later, as a young man, I scoured through popular nutrition and diet books by a multitude of authors ranging from Arnold Ehret to Adele Davis. I explored nutrition related materials involving Macrobiotics, Biological and Aryuvedic Medicine, Dietetics and completed professional studies in public health, nutritional epidemiology, biochemistry, chiropractic, clinical nutrition and gastroenterology. Today there are a plethora of “diet and nutrition experts” parroting each other, changing positions as rapidly as Jack Russells chasing butterflies. All this is accompanied by a plethora of assorted views presented by the media and entrepreneurs using “nutrition” as a topic to sell books, magazines, websites and products focusing on whatever diet topic is hot.

The bewilderment many of our patients have experienced in seeking dietary solutions for complex health problems is understandable. “This author says eat low fat high carbohydrate and this one says high fat low carbohydrate. Should I eat meat? Is coffee good for you? What about the GMO issue? Should I be a Vegan? How about an “anti’candida” diet? A high fat low carb ketone promoting diet? Paleo? Do I need to eat organic? Should I be gluten free? Yeast free? Grain free? Sugar free? Then there are the medical dietitians whose education is funded and influenced by the food industry who say to follow the “My Plate” Plan, another revision of the infamous old four food groups.

We have heard comments like this for years. Individuals seeking answers to their health issues, hoping to ride a magical diet to health, happiness and long life. Capitalizing on the ongoing diet craze, new books and diet plans hit the internet and bookstores weekly with everyone and their mother calling themselves “nutritionists”, diet counselors or food experts of one type or another. 

Having immersed myself for four decades working with patients to reverse chronic diseases as well as teaching clinical nutrition, gastroenterology and rheumatology to students and practitioners, let me take a stab at reducing the confusion.

We can unwind some of this puzzling topic by discussing five basic points:

I. You Are Not What You Eat

Many well meaning people believe if only they came upon the right diet their health problems would disappear. Humans like other animals are complex and their health is determined by a multitude of inter-related influences. What we ingest (our diet) is only one of these influences. This leads us to number two…

II. Diet and Nutrition are Not the Same.

Diet is simply the choice of foods we consume… therefore if you eat anything, anything at all, you are on a diet! Our nutritional status, however, is complex. Nutrition involves the transformation of the food we ingest (along with the air we breathe and water we drink) into energy and body tissues. Nutrition also includes all the factors that influence that transformation including digestion, absorption, assimilation, cellular excretion and elimination of wastes and (yes there is more) all the factors that influence those factors such as genetics, stress, sleep, sunlight, activity, micro-organisms, etc. When we consider all the processes involved with the transformation of food, air and water into energy and human tissues we soon realize that nutrition is infinitely more complex than simply the diet alone and involves a wide range of physiological, biochemical, microbiological and environmental influences. For this reason, in addressing chronic disease, we must explore many factors that influence our nutritional/biochemical status, not only what we choose to put into our mouth. Diet is not the equivalent of nutrition. Most so called “Nutritionists” are at best simply dietitians which means that their understanding of health and disease as influenced is very limited.

III. Altering Diet Alone is Rarely Sufficient to Reverse Chronic Health Issues.

Whereas diet is but one of many factors influencing nutritional status, dietary alterations, though needed in most chronic diseases, is not sufficient alone. Those factors influencing digestion, absorption, assimilation, cellular excretion and elimination and all the many genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors that influence them must also be identified and addressed.

IV. Individual Needs Considered.

We share a multitude of similarities with each other. Much about us, however, is different, particularly in terms of biochemical variances determined by genetics and environment. These variances determine our needs for nutrients, how rapidly we are able to discard wastes and our level of resistance to foreign materials. No two individuals have the same needs. Based on a single sperm and a single egg there are no less than sixty eight trillion possible differences between any two human beings.  

Each individual has widely different needs for amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and fats. Perhaps even more importantly they have significant differences in their abilities to digest, absorb and assimilate these same components. There are also differences of great importance between individuals in their abilities to excrete and eliminate wastes.

In light of this, a patient’s family background and a wide range of environmental and lifestyle factors must be considered in developing any patient program (including the dietary components). At the Goldberg Clinic we are dedicated to understanding the individual as fully as possible including their social background, environmental factors, their biochemistry, lifestyle habits and importantly, the digestive efficiency of each patient .This takes extensive time and detective work which then needs to be utilized in developing an effective, individualized, plan of action.

V. Timing.

When helping a chronically ill person back to good health we must consider the steps required to create new cells (a process we refer to as “ReCreation”). This includes eliminating old cellular constituents and wastes to make room for new, healthier, ones. This is not a one step process but a series of individualized steps timed in accordance with the patient’s history, exam and lab studies reflecting both genetic predispositions and environmental influences. We cannot simply shove new foodstuffs into a chronically ill, run down patient and expect favorable results. We would not expect an old rusted, worn out car to jump to life by simply putting in fresh gasoline. It has to be analyzed, cleaned and parts repaired or replaced i.e. it has to be broken down and then rebuilt. There are also individualized steps needed to bring the chronically ill person back to good health that require thorough investigation to determine the appropriate sequential steps to be taken, carefully timing each step as appropriate to the patient.

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Diet is an important part of nutrition but it is only one part of the nutritional process that determines our state of health. Our health is a culmination of many factors including genetics, environment and lifestyle habits.  Life is a grand cascade of birth and growth involving ongoing anabolism and catabolism.

We descend into illness for a myriad of reasons. Our return to health, likewise, should be understood as a multifaceted process, tailored to individual needs and requirements. To reduce these complex, interwoven, factors into simply choosing one diet or another, with out understanding the intricacies of this thing we call nutrition, will invariably lead to disappointment and frustration. Nutrition and health is more than so many grams of fat, protein and carbohydrate. An interest in diet can help us get started on the path to better nutrition and good health. Diet, however, is only one step on a path that requires an understanding of both the nutrition process itself and the multitude of variables involved in human health.