Will the Real Expert Please Stand Up?

A little over a year ago, my husband and I converted to a whole foods plant based diet in the wake of reading books by Drs. Campbell, Esselstyn, Greger, and Ornish. Their research suggested that the healthiest eating pattern consisted of roughly 80% carbohydrates, 10% proteins, and 10% fat, all from whole plant foods. (You know you’re eating whole plant foods when you don’t have to read a label to know what’s in it!) We affirmed our decision after watching the documentary film Knives Over Forks and reporting significant reductions in our LDL cholesterol.

questionsWhen I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis a couple of months ago, I read several books by self-professed autoimmune experts who advocate for a modified Paleo Diet. It’s a high protein (meat, poultry, fish), high fat, low carbohydrate diet that eliminates night vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants), legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds. In other words, it’s pretty much the polar opposite of the whole foods plant based diet.

It’s a testament to the marvel of our digestive system that we can accommodate such widely different food choices. Of course, our digestive system can also handle a junk food diet, but that’s hardly an endorsement for that style of eating! With both parents living well into their nineties, I’m interested in finding the best diet to promote long-term health and cognition. So… to whom should I bend my eyes and ears?

Of late, I’ve been subscribing to a daily dose of videos from Dr. Michael Greger’s NutritionFacts.org website. Dr. Greger is a practicing physician and the best-selling author of How Not To Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease. In a recorded primer on the site, he describes the process through which he prepares his materials:

  • An “army of volunteers” downloads and categorizes the latest peer reviewed scientific journals (roughly 2,000 per week).
  • A staff of ~20 researchers reviews the literature to arrive at topics that satisfy three criteria: (i) novelty (i.e., groundbreaking news); (ii) practicality (i.e., actionable for viewers); and, (iii) engagement (i.e., “hooks” that will make the material interesting).
  • Having sifted through the journals, staff determines if the selected works are actually true. They look to the source of funding to see if patronage influenced the findings. They check to see if the author cited best evidence and interpreted the data correctly. And, of course, they go to the original source material to ensure that all citations align with the author’s claims.
  • They set each of the vetted peer reviewed journals in context to see if the findings resonate with similar studies given variations in research design, methodology, and data sets. The team looks for a weight of evidence before carrying a message to the general public.

Each 5-7 minute video delivers material in sufficient depth to back-up the general thesis of the piece without overwhelming the viewer with details. You get to read direct quotes from the studies and track down the source materials for additional information. His daily briefs generally contain links to related videos on the subject matter.

approved expertI’m impressed by the fact that Dr. Greger provides the information free to the public without taking a dime in compensation for his time and effort. He does not accept corporate sponsorships or advertising revenue to fund the site. Revenues from his books and DVDs plus free will donations defray the costs of running this not-for-profit enterprise.

I’m still on the journey of figuring out what I’ll be eating for the rest of my life (and in what proportions). I’ll continue to read books, watch videos, and listen to podcasts. But I’ll also pay close attention to what my body seems to be telling me.