The 1st annual “Food for your Whole Life Symposium” shows we know a lot, but aren’t making good use of it


For the public and health professionals, NYC


David L. Katz, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.P.M., F.A.C.P.


Michael Roizen, M.D. and conceptualizer ofRealAge


Eat your nuts and berries!



The first of hopefully an annual event was held this past June 6 & 7– the“Food for your Whole Life Health Symposium” – spearheaded by Dr. Oz. It was a two-day free event held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City to explore how food and lifestyle choices affect overall health. And, to better arm dietitians to help patients make better food choices.

I happened to miss the first day that was open to the general public and drew 1,000 people, but attended the second day exclusively for health professionals, largely dietitians and some diabetes educators, and media. 

I find it interesting with all the constant information coming at us these days on health and healthy eating that people just aren’t indulging in it. So I asked the same questions of everyone I met while meandering between lectures and standing on the long line into the ladies room: “Why, with all the information out there on healthy eating, are people fatter than ever?” “Why are half the people with type 2 diabetes not managing their diabetes very well?” “What has to change so that people change their behavior?”

I heard the same reply from everyone—there is too much information out there and it has become too confusing. Some of it is contradictory, and none of it is laid out for people to act on easily.

In a private interview I conducted (yes, I’m still getting used to this Huffington Post blogger status) with a key speaker at the symposium, Dr. David Katz – a Yale University researcher and authority on nutrition, weight management, and the prevention of chronic disease and a leader in integrative medicine and patient-centered care – he confirmed these observations. He also pointed to the media’s collusion. With an endless need for “new” news and a ravenous appetite to titillate us, the media barrages us with an endless supply of findings that has left the general public reeling with confusion. The result:  heightened stress and not knowing what to do. The other result: people do nothing. 

Katz has been working along with several others on a nutritional ranking system called “NuVal™” that’s being piloted by Kroger, a chain grocery. Kroger is piloting it in 23 stores in Lexington, KY. It’s anticipated they will roll NuVal out to their additional 2500 stores in 31 states.

NuVal ranks foods from 1 to 100 as a guiding system on nutrition to help consumers make healthier choices among a category of food. For instance, you’ll know the healthiest crackers among all the available crackers in the supermarket.

Right now NuVal is in 600 stores with another 400 stores rolling it out later this year.  Katz believes if people begin to choose the most nutritious foods in most categories, these small shifts can make a significant health difference. Katz also shared with me that his wife, a PhD, returned to their house one day with five loaves of supermarket bread and said basically – You pick the healthiest one!  

Katz also said regarding diabetes that many doctors tell their patients in very vague terms what to do, like “Lose some weight” and “Get some exercise.” These directives fall right off patients’ shoulders as soon as they walk out of their doctor’s door. He also said most doctors think diabetes patients are “non-compliant” because they have no willpower, but Katz made it abundantly clear that it is not a matter of willpower, but the enormous lack of translating all this information into easy-to-understand, actionable steps.

The day I attended the symposium, the speakers elucidated us on the upcoming changing dietary guidelines, likely out in November, and took us through a healthy eating map from childhood through old age. The message, throughout however seemed pretty consistent: eat mostly fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats.

Dr. Michael Roizen, Chief Wellness Officer at the Cleveland Clinic with numerous other impressive titles behind his name, and Oz’s writing partner, closed the event outlining Cleveland Clinics’ progressive “Lifestyle 180 Program” that they first test-piloted on employees of the Clinic with remarkable results and a cost-savings to the Clinic well worth the investment.

For patients, the program encompasses a six week immersion program that is geared to change the four factors 75% responsible for chronic illness: smoking, food choices and portion sizes, physical inactivity and stress.

Very briefly, the program includes overhauling one’s cultural climate, largely your kitchen ridding it of toxic foods, having participants experience “I can do it” aha moments, muscle memory of right eating and exercise and a buddy system. One of the bottom line messages was – while our genes are our inheritance, our lifestyle determines whether they get turned on or not.

For those with diabetes who have gone through the program, Roizen said 60% were able to discontinue one or more of their medications for blood sugar, cholesterol or hypertension (high blood pressure) within six months.

Most of the people I met at the event thought it was of value and, for me, it only points to the urgency with which we are all recognizing we must turn this ship around that is so badly headed in the wrong direction.   

The principal sponsor of the event was the California Walnut Commission. Affiliated sponsors numbered 7, including Healthcorps and the Wild Blueberry Association of North America.  

I did manage to sample the delicious wild blueberries which I was told are available in my favorite grocery, Trader Joe, as well as other chain groceries. I also got to grab a few packets of 1 oz servings of walnuts – that’s about 7 whole walnuts. Unfortunately, I also managed to forget the bag I stowed them in, leaving it under my conference table. 

Obviously, I need to eat more berries and walnuts to improve my aging memory!

Eat real food, here’s how you do it

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 9.54.16 PMIn search of real food

From time to time I see a book worth mentioning and my latest little thrill is Michael Pollan’s, “Food Rules.” Pollan, author of Omnivore’s Dilemma, seems poised to be another Michael Moore, aiming his sword at our food giants’ factory floors and over populated animal pens. 

The American food system, according to Pollan, sets us up for obesity and ill health as 90% of what’s in our supermarkets and is easily accessible, affordable and available isn’t real food but food-like substances. Chemicals mess with our metabolism and overly sweet and salty foods leave us craving more of the same. I happen to agree with him wholeheartedly. 

Pollan says doctors encouraged him to write the book because they don’t have time to give patients the food lecture and what they’d like is a pamphlet they can hand patients with some rules for eating wisely. In Pollan’s article on the Huffington Post, “Food Rules”: A Completely Different Way to Fix the Health Care Crisis,” a cardiologist remarks, “You can’t imagine what I see on the insides of people these days wrecked by eating food products instead of food.” 

After spending years trying to answer the supposedly incredibly complicated question of how we should eat in order to be maximally healthy, Pollan discovered the answer was shockingly simple: eat real food, not too much of it, and more plants than meat. Or, put another way, get off the modern western diet, with its abundance of processed food, refined grains and sugars, and its sore lack of vegetables, whole grains and fruit. Again, he gets my thumbs up. This is, by the way, how I’ve been eating the last several years and maintaining both my weight and my A1Cs in the 5’s.

“Food Rules” weaves humor and real life practicality into simple, straightforward rules for making healthy food choices. You can read it in an hour and be a lifetime wiser.

Would you change what you eat if you considered food medicine?


Want to get healthier? Eat better? Feel fitter? Have your “numbers” more in line with where they should be? Try this: look at what you eat as medicine, each morsel providing the nutrients that either increase your health or decrease it, because actually it does.

I’m not advocating that you can’t eat a plate of French fries or a bowl of ice cream, but I am suggesting that if you approached what you eat differently, that everything you eat is either making you healthier or having the opposite effect, would you make healthier food choices?  While vitamin and mineral supplements are useful, particularly for certain conditions, they are not quick fixes or substitutes for a healthy diet. In fact they’ve been shown to be less healthful than eating the real food that contains them because supplements contain only one trace element extracted from a whole host of nutrients that work together in the foods where they naturally exist.

Also, I have to say the notion of “fortifying” foods is somewhat misleading. It leads us to believe those foods become super healthy, but you can’t spray a nutrient on basically white bread (with a little caramel coloring or tablespoon of whole wheat flour and call it whole wheat bread) and then tell people it’s uber healthy. I firmly believe, in case you haven’t gotten it yet, that what we eat, along with physical activity and our genetics forms the building blocks of our health.

I got to wondering whether it would inspire us to eat healthier if we considered food medicine the other day when I got my annual report from my endo: A1C, cholesterol, triglycerides, microalbumin, blood pressure.

I sat across the desk from my doc shrouded in worry, I always find these things worrisome, and then found out that I’m fit as a fiddle. My A1c is in the 5’s, my HDL (good cholesterol) is as high as my LDL (bad cholesterol), my microalbumin which is supposed to be under 30 is 0.3 and on and on, one great result after another. My doctor, in fact, needing to fax my A1c report to the group I do the A1c Champion presentations for wrote on his report patient in “excellent control.”

Seeing “excellent control” I had a flash of insight why I’m in excellent control–my numbers are by and large the direct result of what I put in my body, and what I don’t, and that I walk an hour a day. I translated “excellent control” not merely into blood sugar as he meant it, but something bigger: my overarching diet and exercise routine.

Everyone with diabetes keeps hearing the mantra, “diet and exercise” and I really got it in that moment, yep, it makes all the difference. But diet doesn’t mean low calories, or the debate between low carbs and low fats: it means healthful, nutrition-rich foods, which are basically vegetables, grains, fruits, beans, and a bit of the rest, largely unrefined foods and where fats are concerned the healthy ones.

I’m not discounting the role genetics plays, you may be more prone to one thing or another based on your genes. I’m on synthroid for my underperforming thyroid, my thyroid failed me at exactly the same age it happened to my mother.

And, while my HDL is 105 and my LDL is 106, some would say my LDL should be lower, like 70 often quoted as the target for diabetics. I in fact think it should be lower as a result of my diet, but I know it’s 106 because of genetics, both my parents have high cholesterol. But genes are often triggered by our poor diets.

I’m also not saying in considering your diet as medicine that there’s no room for fried calamari, bread sticks or a piece of incredibly delicious New York cheesecake, but consider that a day you skip your meds and know that the bulk of what you put in your body on a daily basis forms the health of your bones, your blood, your tissue, the foundation that you rest upon, and if you put in whole and wholesome foods, you know the ones that grow out of the ground and on trees, your house is going to stand on a stellar foundation.  Whereas when we stuff ourselves with less healthy foods, lots of sugar and fat, refined carbs and animal protein, rather than plant protein, we cause inflammation of our body’s tissues, the stimulus for disease and premature aging.

Too many people are eating weak, not nutrient dense, foods and believing that “fortified” on a product label is the seal of approval. The real reason portion control has become so big is we’re eating the wrong things and rather than pushing the right foods, some self invested organizations are trying to solve the problem by limiting the amount of bad things you eat. In the end, this is not the solution.

If there’s room for you to do better with your “numbers” those target ranges for all your vitals, instead of thinking about another medication to add to your regimen, think about what you eat.

I’m not giving any medical advice, or telling you not to take your medication, I’m just saying in addition try viewing the foods and beverages you put in your body, your engine, as either premium, super, leaded or leaded and to for the ones that will give you the most mileage so you’re running like a fine tuned lamborghini. Leafy greens, broccoli, kale, salmon, walnuts, spinach, blueberries, ginger, tumeric, these are not “fortified” foods, these are whole, real foods, and among the most healthful, and I like to think medicinal foods you can feed yourself.

Ask yourself: Would I make healthier food choices if I viewed everything I put in my mouth—well almost everything—as having a high or low rating of medicinal effect? I would, I do, and I can’t go back, not when I’ve seen the results of an ironically fabulously tasty and satisfying “medicinal” diet.

The continued carb debate

It’s really amazing what a muddle we are in over food these days. It’s on our morning new programs every day, nutritionists telling us, “How to eat, what to eat, what not to eat, what children should eat, how to make pancakes that look and taste like brownies…” Weekly doctors, gurus and alternative healers discourse on Larry King Live about diets, non-diets, trans-fats and why Americans are increasingly obese.

In my last entry I wrote about how my low carb diet has helped control my blood sugars and reduce my insulin requirement. I wondered aloud why everyone doesn’t see the logic in less carbs in = less meds in. But, I must admit, having recently picked up a book that takes this to the extreme — The PH Miracle for Diabetes, The revolutionary diet plan for type 1 and type 2 diabeticsby Robert O. Young — that everything is relative. 

Young says diabetes, largely type 2 but I believe he’s including us type 1s, is caused by our body’s overly acidic PH level (the acidity or alkalinity of our internal fluids). Our over acidity, if I understand him correctly, comes from eating carbs. Carb intake causes the body to flood itself with the ‘fight or flight’ hormones: cortisol, adrenaline and insulin, which cause inflammation. Inflammation, which causes corrosion of our body tissues, prompts a too acidic PH level. Sorry, as you might have guessed, chemistry and physics were not my strong suits. Young says we need to make our PH level less acidic and more alkaline, and the way to do this is through a diet largely of vegetables.

Dr. Andrew Weil, alternative medical guru, says many of today’s diseases and health ailments are caused by inflammation and he advocates ananti-inflammatory diet. Even Gary Taubes author of, Good Calories, Bad Calories, says our over consumption of carbs, trans fats and high fructose corn syrup type additives, trigger a genetic predisposition to haywire our hormonal system and cause unsuspecting citizens to put on weight. Taubes says, it is not our over consumption of calories that is making us fat, but this haywire handling of refined carbs and these other ills in our diet. Seems no one can agree on what makes us fat but these three pundits are speaking a similar language about illness.

So, what to do? Several years ago I vacuumed the refined carbs out of my diet. Admittedly, I felt pretty virtuous doing this. But now Young says I should get rid of: coffee, tea, chocolate, alcohol, grains, dairy and exist almost exclusively on vegetables, fish and what he calls his “green drink” — juiced vegetables with some magic powder in it. Hmmm…I suppose if I was forced to do this, I could, but it really doesn’t sound like a happy life. And, given that he says a positive attitude is an important aspect of his eating plan, I’d fail miserably. Tears shedding all over my clothes and furnishings.

Many times people tell me they’d like better blood sugar control. Yet when I mention reducing their carbs they say, “Hey, I’m human, I want to enjoy what I eat.” Well, for me cutting way back on carbs was not a major hardship and I like the return benefit. I’d already cultivated years of cozying up to veggies and cutting back on butter, muffins, fries and white bread. Then, when I restricted my carbs a little more, like not eating grains too often and eating one piece of whole grain toast with my omelet instead of two, it gave me the kind of control that makes it worth it to me.

But, truly, Dr. Young, I must be weak — I just couldn’t go the distance as you propose. Giving up yogurt, cottage cheese, dark chocolate, wine, manchego and gruyere cheese, the occasional fried dish and friend’s birthday cake would be downright unsocial, not to mention aggravating. So it really is up to each of us where we feel the trade-off is worth the return.

There are plenty of case studies in Young’s book where people proclaim following his diet changed their lives, even to the degree that they don’t need any diabetes medication anymore, including insulin. I imagine that’s type 2s talking. While I understand if I didn’t eat anything that raised my blood sugar, I could probably cut out my bolus insulin entirely, my basal insulin is not optional. We still need insulin for various bodily functions. So if this regimen and its possible benefits appeal to you, check it out. I’m not playing advocate here, just reporting the news.