What’s the Problem, Dr. Korman
by Dr. Laura Korman, DC
Q: Is there a healthy diet?
A: With all the latest fad diets featured on the front page of health magazines, screaming for your attention in the checkout lines, or those so-called “scientific studies,” touting another exotic superfood that promises to heal all your ailments, it can be confusing and frustrating to determine where to turn for healthier dietary choices.
My first response to this question is there is no one perfect diet for everyone. We are all unique, so what would be one person’s “health” food could be another's “toxic” food. In addition, people generally have different ideas about what even constitutes a healthy diet. For instance, 10 people who tell me they eat a nutritious diet might offer 10 different explanations of what “nutrition” means to them.
Many people still subscribe to the notion that a low fat, low salt diet is what everyone should consume in order to lose weight or avoid heart disease. Whereas others might think a vegan diet is the solution for optimal health and longevity.
There are many factors I consider when recommending the best diet for one of my patients such as age bracket, gender, activity level, genetics, environment, food sensitivities, toxicities, other sources of inflammation, and ability to metabolize carbohydrates. For example, a 23-year-old athletic male needs to eat completely different than a post-menopausal sedentary woman with insulin resistance (pre-diabetes).
I have seen many women switch to a gluten-free diet which often helps lessen bloating and inflammatory joint pain, but can also increase weight and fat in the midsection. This is due to the fact that gluten-free foods are often high in carbohydrates which can increase blood sugar levels and elevate the risk for insulin resistance and diabetes.
Does this make a gluten-free diet detrimental across the board? Not at all, but if a woman has excess weight in her midsection and shows insulin resistance in her blood work, then she might need to avoid all grains—which include gluten—to improve her ability to metabolize carbohydrates and lose some body fat.
Interesting to note, approximately 40 percent of Americans have insulin resistance or pre-diabetes, and most are undiagnosed until Type-2 diabetes has already developed. Most diabetes is preventable and even reversible with the correct diet and lifestyle changes. I frequently find that women who chose to eat a vegan diet gain weight for similar reasons.
Often times, a diet absent of animal proteins is higher in starchy or processed carbohydrates like rice, potatoes, beans, bread, and other baked goods or crackers which contributes to insulin resistance and stored midsection fat in susceptible individuals. This same group can also be susceptible to increased inflammation due to a higher consumption of nuts, seeds and vegetable oils like soybean, corn and canola.
These foods are rich in omega-6 oils and low in omega-3 oils which are found primarily in fish. While both omega-6 and -3 fats are essential for optimal health, they need to be in an optimal ratio. This can be measured in a blood test and ideally must be no greater than a four-to-one ratio of omega-6 and -3 fats.
Another diet many people are confused about is the ketogenic diet. Most seem to think of it as a high-protein, Atkins type diet which it is not. Too much protein will be metabolized like excess sugar and cause the body to store fat. The type of animal protein consumed is important to consider here as well. 97 percent of meat consumed in America comes from confined, grain-fed feeding lots where the animals consume an unnatural diet of genetically modified grains, rather than pastured on grasslands. This meat is inflammatory to humans.
Pasture-raised animals that are fed without pesticides and herbicides, on the other hand, are anti- inflammatory to the human body. The Ketogenic diet is extremely low in carbohydrates which limits people them to leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables, moderate protein and in healthy fats. The type of fat is important because people often mistakenly consume an excess of omega06 oils found in most salad dressings, condiments and nuts and seeds, leading to an elevated omega-6 to -3 ratio and, therefore, unwanted inflammation.
This diet is designed to mimic our feast and famine ancestors which can be effective for people with insulin resistance or unhealthy weight issues. As you can see, there are numerous factors to consider when choosing the food you consume or diet you follow. So consider your age, genetics, activity levels, and inflammatory and insulin sensitivities when trying to decide which foods will benefit you the most.
The blood markers I mentioned in this article are not typically run in annual check-up panels, so primary care doctors might not understand the value in requesting them, and many insurance companies might not see the need to cover them. If you are concerned about your inflammatory levels and want to have these tests run, you can reach out to me or another doctor specializing in functional medicine, who will be trained in how to order and interpret these markers to help determine the optimal diet for you.
Dr. Korman's answers are based on her 32 years of clinical observation. She is one of only 300 doctors in the country with her post Doctorate in Nutrition from the DACBN. For more information and to contact Dr. Korman’s office, please call 941-629-6700 or visit DrLauraKorman.com.