Eating Well for Optimum Health, Andrew Weil

This book presents a great deal of information and has an interesting focus on eating to satisfy the senses, providing pleasure and comfort.  The author believes that changes in eating habits will not occur unless the psychological, social and cultural aspects of food are acknowledged.  However, I found that the impact of the book was diffused because the plethora of detail was confusing and the multitude of suggestions lacked the clarity of, for example, Michael Pollan‘s suggestion to just “eat real food.”

The author does discuss in great detail the problems he feels are associated with recent popular diets.  He believes the high fat, low carb diet can lead to temporary weight loss, but that the brain requires the glucose obtained from carbs as fuel.  He agrees with other writers that consuming refined carbohydrates in excess can cause serious health problems, associated with a syndrome he labels “carbohydrate sensitivity”.  He also is in favour of low GI carbs.  With regard to the low fat diet, he notes that some people do get good results, but that the Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio is the most important issue relating to fat intake.  The risk of suffering from protein deficiency in North America is negligible, but excess protein consumption leads to the toxic byproduct ammonia, and related health problems.  Diets based on unpalatable food restrictions are not likely to be successful in the long term.

He describes himself as eating a lacto-pesco-vegetarian diet.  Generally meat products have many disadvantages, and protein from vegetable sources has many advantages.  However, he thinks the evidence is clear that eating fish leads to better health.   He likes cheese, but thinks that there are health hazards related to milk products, and tries to minimize his consumption.  However, he thinks a totally vegetarian diet is impractical.

Since I have settled on a similar diet (mostly vegan, with fish and some cheese), I was interested in his take on my suggestion of an Omega-3 focus that includes concentrated distilled fish oil supplements, ground flax seeds with almond milk, and salmon.  He does not recommend fish oil since he does try to limit his fat consumption to about 30% fat.  He says it would be a shame to waste your fat calories on capsules.  He is concerned that the fish oils oxidize quickly, and may be contaminated with toxins.  He is totally in favour of freshly ground flax seed, and suggests grinding half a cup at a time and sprinkling it on cereal or salads.  even two tablespoons will add a good measure of Omega-3 to your diet.  He suggests two to three servings of fatty fish per week.  He is in favour of most nuts, including almonds, so I expect he is in favour of almond milk as well.  However, while he speaks strongly in favour of Omega-3 intake, his message is weakened by the fact that he outlines “observations” that draw attention to the possibility that the kinds of fat in the diet may be more important than total fat.

There are several interesting bits of information in the book.  With regard to Omega-3 deficiency, he says that LNA (Omega-6) accumulates in the fats of some animals, especially pigs (presumably domesticated pigs that are fed diets high in LNA).  However, humans are physiologically similar to pigs, and it would be reasonable to assume that LNA also can accumulate in the body fat of humans.  This factor would explain the lag time for the health benefits of an Omega-3 diet to show up, and perhaps justify additional intake of Omega-3s until the total balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 in the body is restored.

Since antioxidants are an important adjunct to Omega-3 intake, he recommends some specific antioxidant vitamins and minerals.  He takes supplements with mixed carotenoids (25,000 IU), vitamin C (200 mg), vitamin E (400 to 800 iu) [wikipedia article suggests maximum 400 iu, including tocotrienol forms of vitamin E] and selenium (200 mcg).  He also agrees that “it might not be a bad idea for everyone to take 400 IU” of vitamin D (although some researchers suggest 1000 to 2000 IU).  He recommends green tea as a powerful antioxidant.  Finally, he agrees with mothers everywhere that eating more fruit and vegetables is a good thing.


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