Sanet Post, Karen Lutz,
Re: Gussow on Nutrition/Food Systems
December 10, 1996
Chuck, David, etc...
From the perspective of a nutrition educator and diabetes specialist, I have found the recent discussions re: "Is organic food more nutritious" an interesting topic and would agree with Dr. Gussow, that perhaps this is not really the most effective question to be asking.
Almost all of the patients/people that we see in our diabetes/nutrition education center (Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor ME) come in with the expectation that we as the nutrition experts will clear up any confusion about what is the BEST thing to eat; we can tell them what to eat, what to avoid, and in doing so their health problems (i.e. diabetes and it's complications) will be minimized. But, very often, despite an adequate knowledge base, they feel powerless to change their eating habits and do not subsequently act on the recommendations we give and the knowledge that they gain. The factors that interfere with their ability to make the desired changes can be obvious or obscure. This is truly the challenge we, as a community, need to face squarely. What is it that prevents the ability to make these life sustaining changes?
The majority of patients that we see in our practice are folks with Type II diabetes which affects about 6% of the US population. The complications of this disease are many, and often serious. This is a major public health concern. In this population, 80% are considered obese, an alarming statistic. Nutrition is a core issue for these folks, and poor nutrition, (as in excess) certainly is a causal factor. An observation that I have made over the years working with people who are now in the throes of "needing to change their eating habits" is that they have forgotten how to eat. They have lost the bond that ties them to their food. Maybe the lack of connection is due to the intensity of the food industry advertising and the introduction of about 16,000 new 'food products' per year, maybe it is a lack of basic understanding of nutrition, maybe it is a general lack of connected-ness with natural systems, but one thing is for certain, their current eating patterns are not sustainable for them, and in many instances it is these eating patterns that have lead them to the disease state that they are now trying to cope with.
We can debate whether or not the food industry is at fault in it's attempts to "make-up for" the over-all processing and reshaping of whole, natural foods but what it comes down to for us as health professionals is how do we help people understand why they choose to eat certain foods and move them towards an awareness and an appreciation of the relationship between food and health, be it global, local or personal.
It is sad, but true that many of the nutritionists practicing today do not impart this vision of food and nutrition (i.e. eating) as an entire system that involves more than just the individual and the grocery store. BUT, there is general consensus among us, that encouraging minimally processed, whole foods will positively impact nutritional status. Teaching more about whole foods -from the growing of them to their metabolism- seems to help with patient's understanding and help them to make the decisions that will be consistent with improving health (global, local and personal) We are in the trenches and do need a united campaign with the agricultural community.
Karen Lutz RD CDE
Diabetes and Nutrition Center
Eastern Maine Medical Center
Bangor ME 04401