The bigger picture…

You’ll be familiar with the term ‘you can’t see the wood for the trees?’ When someone is so fixed on their point of view that they fail to take a step back and see that, actually, they are missing the bigger picture. I notice this when chatting diet with a friendly acquaintance who is staunchly vegetarian. Not infrequently, she argues that paleo is a fad and that the healthiest diet to eat is vegetarian. It strikes a nerve with me on three levels* – one; the notion that eating with ancestral principles as a guideline could be considered a fad; two: that I, as a health professional, would willingly promote a fad diet that is detrimental to health; and three: that there is a massive leap between a vegetarian diet and the paleo approach in the first instance. Either she was getting her information from an unreliable source (probable) or she fails to see that, stepping out of the vegetarian bubble, the similarities between vegetarian and paleo are greater than their respective differences.

The same can also be said for the Grant versus the rest of NZ academics nutrition debate (lol). While publicly Grant might be known as the guy that eats sausages or scoffs down pats of butter (though hopefully most of New Zealand has moved on from that), ultimately the main crux of his argument is to eat real food. For some, also, this entails lowering their carbohydrate content (regardless of source) to improve their health. Funny – when you see it written down like that, it’s hardly inflammatory and I would be surprised if anyone who knows anything about health would argue with it. However, when asked to respond to questions about our comments regarding the most recent dietary guidelines draft, the overall ‘real food’ message seemed not to be considered. The guidelines went through a consultation process whereby limited stakeholders were able to feedback on them. Grant managed to gate crash that party and AUT was put on the list of stakeholders. We (with George Henderson and Cliff Harvey, aka Nutrition Extraordinaires) spent a considerable amount of time responding to the guidelines which were, in essence, no different from those that were already in existence. I did wonder how much money had been spent on the draft guidelines which seemed to be word-smithing their predecessors. Whether they take on board our feedback (which can be found here) remains to be seen, however when you read over the response I’m sure you’ll agree that there is nothing in there that a health professional or member of the public interested in eating well could argue with.

Interestingly, the feedback WE received asked us to defend our position on saturated fat. This may not be surprising, but certainly it is another example of not seeing the wood for the trees. Saturated fat isn’t a ‘food’, yet these are food guidelines. Food sources of saturated fat bring with them many beneficial constituents that are important for brain, gut and overall health. Dairy is a great example of this, and is the richest dietary source of saturated fat. We dutifully put forth information as they asked (MOH Sat Fat response 30 5 141) and hopefully this will be considered along with our other, real food guidelines. Personally I think it would be more flummoxing if they ignore it completely, rather than consider what we have to say. It’s about health, after all. I don’t believe that anyone sitting around the table truly could look at our proposed guidelines versus the ones that were asked to be consulted on, and say that ours would promote harm. I truly don’t. However, I think the thing that will stop them from taking on board our suggestions will be the translation of these to the public health message. That’s the key. How do we then take real food guidelines and start promoting them at a population level in a way that people understand? And I’m not saying people are idiots- most people are not; it’s the translation of messages that is the complex issue. If you tell people they can eat fat, then for some that equates to a Carl’s Jnr burger big size combo – because we ALL know that’s a high fat food, right? Seldom is the processed carbohydrate or the refined oils nature of that particular food item highlighted as the main problem.

I know I’ve banged on about this before, but it’s worth repeating, and considering it in context with overall lifestyle, as it’s not just about food. Ancestral principles of diet doesn’t eat the same foods as our ancestors. Much like our lifestyle. We can’t live the way our ancestors did millions of years ago, and most sensible people wouldn’t want to – yet there are guiding principles which most of us could consider as part of our overall health and wellbeing. Yet many people aren’t familiar with what this means. If this is you, then I’d recommend checking out the up and coming Ancestral Health Society of New Zealand symposium taking place on Sunday 29 June in Christchurch at Rydges, Latimer Square.

Aptly entitled ‘Ancient Genes versus a Modern World’, I’m lucky enough to be part of the line-up of health professionals from varying backgrounds giving their professional and personal perspectives on how modern life affects health. Despite our different backgrounds, we all share an underlying belief that – in terms of health anyway – there are things that we could be doing differently.

Speakers and Topics

“Are Health Professionals Too Focused on Health?”
Brad Norris, Director, Synergy Health. Christchurch

“Food for Thought: Nutrition and Brain Health”
Dr Mikki Williden, PhD.  Senior Lecturer and Researcher, AUT. Auckland

“Ancestral Health in General Practice: Art, Science or Quackery?”
Dr Pam Olver and Dr Greg Brown, General Practitioners. Wellington

“The Ancestral Woman in a Modern World: Strong, Sexy and Fertile.”
Kate Callaghan, Nutritionist. Wanaka

“I See Weak People: The Under-Appreciated Role of Muscle in Health and Disease”
Jamie Scott, Health Researcher, Synergy Health. Christchurch

“Sunlight: Friend or Foe? Skin Cancer Controversies”
Dr Anastasia Boulais, Medical Practitioner. Christchurch

“Stress in the Modern World”
Aaron Callaghan, Peak Performance Coach. Wanaka

“Urban Design and Health: The Spaces in Between”
James Murphy, Nutritionist, Synergy Health. Christchurch

“Ancestral Principles in Managing Autoimmune Disease”
Julianne Taylor, Nutritionist. Auckland

EXPERT PANEL: Anti-Fragile in Christchurch: Individual Health Strategies in a Changing City

Go here for more information and to register. If you think it’s time we started thinking differently about the way we eat, move, think and live – then make this your first port of call.

*four, actually – as there is SO much research showing the nutrient quality of a paleo-approach to diet

2 thoughts on “The bigger picture…

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