Guest post by Fraser Smith, MATD, ND
It seems that every week brings another cascade of headlines about nutrition. One newsfeed claims “researchers have found that eggs will hurt your heart,” another proclaims “fish oil is useless,” and a newspaper states that “four cups of coffee a day will help your heart.”
At the same time, the bookshelves, and the “readers also liked” spread at Amazon is crowded with plans that vie for the title of the perfect diet for health. Mediterranean diets have very good evidence, although the role of fish and red wine are not uniformly agreed upon. The Nordic diet has sailed down from Scandinavia to hearten those who like root vegetables and hearty stews. The health benefits of a plant based diet are nigh indisputable but many people balk at the thought of becoming 100% vegan. What about those baby back ribs after all?
Into this ferment of science, pseudoscience, hype, rumor and traditional truths, comes an average North American. Wanting to stay healthy, feel better, outrun a heritable risk factor, or recover from illness, they earnestly want to choose the right diet. It should be fun and enjoyable to eat. Their family and friends should be able to share it with them. It should be affordable. They should be able to prepare it. And perhaps, the dogmatic nature of how some health authors present their advice, while enticing for those seeking clear direction, is a total turnoff for others who want a balanced approach.
This is where a naturopathic doctor can be an incredible guide. NDs know the biochemistry and physiology of the human body. They study various diet plans and program comparatively, that is, they look at the strengths and weaknesses of each. NDs have the education to evaluate evidence and how deep that evidence runs, yet, in the best spirit of evidence based medicine, can include in that evidence studies, analysis of groups of clinical trials, clinical experience, expert opinion and reasoning based on biology. Best of all, an ND is trained to look at each patient as an individual. They have a particular history starting from conception. They had a certain microbiome (the bacteria living in the body, especially the gut) in their family home and that has had many influences. Their genes, while mostly shared with other human beings, do have distinct nuances. The impact of their diet and environment on those genes is divergent from others. And each patient has their own story, their own narrative, and of course medical history.
An ND can work with a patient to create a plan that is right for them, at the present time. They can also look at clinical and laboratory evidence to see if the intended benefits have showed up.
In many countries and cultures, people do not obsess over diet to the extent that North Americans and other developed nations do. They eat a traditional diet, high in plants, with naturally fermented foods (think yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, etc.) and usually eat together. But these are different times. We have successive generations of people who have grown up eating a synthetic diet. The toxin burden in our world is higher than ever. And, we wish to, as the great scientist Linus Pauling would put it, “Live long and feel better.”
About the Author
Fraser Smith, MATD, ND is the chief academic officer for the ND program serving as Assistant Dean of Naturopathic Medicine at the National University of Health Sciences’ (NUHS) College of Professionals Studies. He is a Professor and author of the textbook, Introduction to Principles and Practices of Naturopathic Medicine. Dr. Smith is also the author of three additional books for the public, Keep Your Brain Young; The pH Balance Health & Diet Guide for GERD, IBS and IBD; and The Complete Brain Exercise Book. He is an editorial board member of the Natural Medicine Journal, and teaches Botanical Medicine, Pharmacology and Naturopathic History, Philosophy and Principles at NUHS. Dr. Smith is licensed to practice as a naturopathic physician in Vermont. He is past president (2008 – 2013) of the Illinois Association of Naturopathic Physicians.