QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT NUTRITION
Typical questions brought to the clinic may include the following: Is salt good for me or bad for me? What should I do about my cholesterol? Why do I have indigestion so often? Is it true what they tell us about avoiding fat? Isn’t it healthier to be vegetarian? Is it OK to take antacids every day? Is water really a nutrient?
How do I get buff, or gain more muscle mass? Which diet books are trustworthy and which ones are off base? If I don’t know how to cook, can I still eat healthy? How can I find out my food allergies? What’s the difference between a food allergy and a food sensitivity? Aren’t dietary supplements just going to give me expensive urine? Which artificial sweeteners do you recommend?
Can’t I just get all the nourishment I need from food? Why do I have these strong cravings for sweets / starches / diet soda / salty snacks / bread? How can I overcome my sweet tooth? If I only take three supplements, what should they be? How can I tell if I’m absorbing my food or not? Does a multi-colored bag of candy count as a balanced meal because I’m eating my rainbow like they told me?
Dr. McKay answers all these questions and many more in the course of a normal week in the clinic. And if you insist on seeing all the answers, keep reading. But really, for good nutrition, your best bet is to keep track of what you eat, when you eat, how you feel, and whom you trust for good nutrition advice. As for those typical questions… Are you sure you want to know the answers? Some of these might be contrary to what you thought was “healthy eating.”
Q: Is salt good for me or bad for me?
A: It depends. Most people are low on micro-minerals, so unrefined natural salts can be beneficial. A very few people have sodium-sensitive hypertension and need to avoid salt. Other people with low blood pressure actually need extra salt to hold onto their water.
Q: What should I do about my cholesterol?
A: You should get it tested, keep a food journal, and go have a discussion with a trustworthy, licensed, nutritionally-oriented physician such as Dr. McKay. Cholesterol-lowering drugs are over-advertised, over-prescribed, and have substantial side effects. Smart habits generally improve cholesterol and a host of other health issues as well. Statin drugs invariably deplete the body’s stores of Co-Enzyme-Q-10 and in fact, in Europe it is illegal to dispense statin drugs without also giving Co-Q-10 supplements. Every cell in the body requires both Co-Q-10 and cholesterol in order to function properly.
Q: Why do I have indigestion so often?
A: There are many different types of indigestion. Please keep a journal of what you eat, how you feel, what you took to feel better, and go have a discussion with a good naturopathic physician. Low stomach acid is often the culprit, even though it seems counter-intuitive. But serious problems can also show up as indigestion, so please talk with your naturopathic physician.
Q: Is it true what they tell us about avoiding fat?
A: It has been US government policy to advocate for a low-fat, high-carbohydrate way of life for the past 40 years, since the 1970’s. This is a very large-scale experiment, and it’s safe to say the results are here. For 40 years, 300 million Americans have indeed reduced their average fat consumption. In those same 40 years, we have seen an increase in obesity, an increase in diabetes, an increase in heart disease mortality, and a decrease in overall life expectancy. For the first time in our history, the younger generation actually has a shorter life expectancy than the older generation, due to obesity and diabetes. All of this tells us clearly that low-fat, high-carb is not the path to better health. (Thank you, Gary Taubes, for presenting this data so clearly in Good Calories, Bad Calories, and also in Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It.)
Q: Is it healthier to be vegetarian?
A: Dr. McKay is very sympathetic to the ethical attraction of vegetarianism, having been a practicing vegetarian herself for about 12 years, and also having studied ethics extensively while pursuing her degree in Philosophy. She is enamored of the complete discussion of vegetarianism in Lierre Keith’s magnificent book, The Vegetarian Myth — there are so many hidden ethical and biological issues embedded in our food chain! She welcomes vegetarians in her practice.
Q: Is it OK to take antacids?
A: If you really need antacids every day, then you’ve got serious trouble in your digestive tract and you really should get a consultation with a good naturopathic physician. The popular proton pump inhibitors and antacids were never meant to be taken long-term. They prevent the absorption of minerals, they prevent the sterilization of micro-organisms in the stomach, and they prevent the digestion and absorption of proteins. The inside of the stomach is extremely acid because we need it to be that way; however, acid is meant to stay inside the stomach, not go leaking elsewhere.
Q: Is water really a nutrient?
A: Without a doubt, yes, water is the single most essential nutrient in our diet. Our bodies are about 70% water and we need to consume about two to three quarts pure water every single day just to maintain good health. We need even more than that in hot weather, during weight loss, or when exercising hard. Markers for dehydration include chapped lips, dry eyes, dry hands, bladder infections, foggy thinking, joint aches, and about 100 other discomforts that are very easily cured by simply drinking enough pure water every day.
Q: How do I get buff, or gain more muscle mass?
A: Proper hormone balance is essential, along with good nutrition and exercise. Excessive stress is the enemy of strong muscles and in fact stress can cause muscle break-down, as well as fat deposits. Adequate protein provides the building blocks for strong muscles, and resistance training (pushing against gravity or against weights) is indispensable. People over 40 need to be extra careful when starting an exercise program, because injuries take such a toll and can keep you out of the gym for weeks or months. A well-qualified personal trainer would be a good investment. Take it easy, but do get moving.
Q: Which diet books are trustworthy and which ones are off base?
A: Good question! Please bring in your favorite book and chat with Dr. McKay; she is always interested in learning more. Her current favorites include Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It by Gary Taubes, and The Diet Cure by Julia Ross. There are many other fine books as well.
Q: If I don’t know how to cook, can I still eat healthy?
A: It depends! It may be possible to balance the general proportions of protein, carbohydrate, and fat while depending on commercially prepared foods. However, problems arise if you have the need to reduce food pollution (additives, pesticides, hormones, hidden ingredients). In this case, cooking for yourself is pretty much the only answer. So please consult with a licensed naturopathic physician who is also a good cook, to figure out what is workable (and necessary) in your own specific case.
Q: How can I find out my food allergies?
A: There are several good lab kits available for food allergies, and for people with substantial problems, lab testing is a viable starting point. However, in general, Dr. McKay’s experience is that keeping a detailed journal of foods, drinks, and symptoms can yield personalized, useful information that is simply not available at any laboratory. The problem with lab testing is the moderately high rate of both “false negatives” (they tell you that things are fine but in reality you know you are not doing well), as well as “false positives” (they tell you that your blood reacts to foods that you know are really OK for you to eat). Skin prick food allergy testing is especially notorious for producing false negatives.
Q: What’s the difference between a food allergy and a food sensitivity?
A: An allergy means the body has developed antibodies (seek-and-destroy molecules) against a particular protein; these antibodies show up on lab testing if we manage to ask the lab for the exact right antibody test, and if you’ve had recent exposure to this protein. A sensitivity is more general, where the body has some kind of adverse reaction to any substance (not just proteins), possibly due to an enzyme deficiency (inability to fully digest that particular food), possibly due to a tissue sensitivity (a local reaction not necessarily involving antibodies), or simple toxicity (eating contaminated or spoiled food is a pretty bad idea).
Q: Aren’t dietary supplements just going to give me expensive urine?
A: It’s OK to have extra-yellow urine; the bladder deserves to be well-nourished, too. If we fill up the body with essential nutrients to the point that tissues are saturated, that’s a good thing. Since the Dust Bowl Era of the 1930’s, the federal government has issued warnings that American topsoil has been depleted of minerals, and therefore our food supply is generally too low in many different minerals. Micro-minerals are absolutely essential to good health, and if our food is deficient, then we need to find some other source. Vitamins and enzymes, too, tend to run low in commercially raised foods because industrialized agriculture forces extra-rapid plant growth with only three nutrients (N-P-K, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium).
Q: Which artificial sweeteners do you recommend?
A: None. They are all more or less toxic. Aspartame in particular (Nutra-Sweet) is not only highly prevalent, but is also reported to be the #1 source of consumer complaints to the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration. Aspartame causes brain inflammation, which causes some people to feel “addicted” to it.
Q: Can’t I just get all the nourishment I need from food?
A: Ideally, yes! However this would mean eating at least half your food raw (to preserve enzymes); eating nothing but organically grown foods from biologically enriched soils; including substantial amounts of naturally-fermented foods; and it would mean including organ meats, which most Americans do not like. Even with such ideal food sources, if your body has special needs (injuries, illnesses, toxicities, imbalances), then specific nutritional medicine may be warranted.
Q: Why do I have these strong cravings for sweets / starches / diet soda / salty snacks / bread?
A: Cravings are not a character flaw — they come from somewhere. The brain receives signals from every single tissue in the body. Running low on energy in one place or another has repercussions throughout the entire system. Plus we live in a society where commercial interests have learned how to exploit natural human urges, pushing us into dangerous imbalances. As hunter-gatherers, it was in our biological best interest to favor calorically-dense foods (fruits, meat fats, nuts, starches) as well as mineral sources (natural salts), and so these preferences entered our genetic heritage. However, our brains have not really changed since hunter-gatherer days, so our natural desire for sweets, oils, starches and salts is still active — even though nowadays we are actually over-exposed to all of these substances. Dr. McKay offers herbs, targeted amino acids, emotional counseling, and humor to help people restore healthy balance.
Q: How can I overcome my sweet tooth?
A: Dr. McKay is extremely sympathetic to this overwhelming urge, having been a notorious sugar-seeker for most of her life. However, there are ways to gently extinguish this burning desire and regain control of one’s health. Becoming more self-aware by keeping a journal is one step in the right direction. Retraining the taste buds is often essential to regaining control — think of training a puppy, gently, with loving determination; it can be done! The advantages of climbing off the blood sugar roller coaster are myriad, including better energy, less illness, less cancer risk, normalized weight, better sleep, comfortable digestion, and fewer mood swings.
Q: If I only take three supplements, what should they be?
A: It depends! Each person has specific issues which deserve careful assessment and unique recommendations. That said, most people do benefit from a great multi-vitamin / multi-mineral (Dr. McKay loves “The Big One”, made in Oregon), due to prevalent insufficiencies in our food supply; a generous source of omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil, krill oil, or cod liver oil) to nourish the nervous system and the immune system; and a great pro-biotic to restore friendly bacteria in the digestive tract, where 70% of our immune system resides.
Q: How can I tell if I’m absorbing my food or not?
A: If you have digestive problems of any kind, then you are probably not absorbing nutrients very well. Even folks with seemingly perfect digestion can turn up with deficiencies that can be seen on basic blood work (CBC, Chem Screen, CMP — complete blood count, chemistries, and comprehensive metabolic panel,) if only the doctor knows what to look for.
Q: Does a multi-colored bag of candy count as a balanced meal, because I’m eating my rainbow like they told me?
A: No. Sadly, this was a real question posed by a real patient.