- What book about nutrition do you frequently recommend to friends? (And a why.)
I recommend The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and How Not to Die by Michael Greger, MD & Gene Stone. Both of these books reveal the powerful impact that our lifestyle choices, especially what we choose to eat, have on our health. Both books rely on primary literature (scientific studies) to examine the relationship between diet and disease, summarizing a massive body of scientific evidence consisting of hundreds of studies to arrive at inevitable conclusions. Moreover, both of these books do a great job not only at explaining the science, but also at translating this science into easy to follow guidelines that anyone can apply to live a healthier life.
2. How much does diet really affect mood and psychological well-being?
There are a number of studies showing that diet has a very important effect on mood and psychological health. Some foods have been shown to have a particularly important role in promoting psychological well-being. Credible sources of nutrition information such as nutritionfacts.org. should be referred to for examples of these and how they work. The beneficial effects of certain foods and herbs on psychological health can be explained by a variety of mechanisms such as their effect on neurotransmitters, intestinal microbiota (also known as gut flora), hormonal cascades, etc. It should be noted that all foods have an effect on the microbial environment of the human gut, which in turn has a profound influence on psychological health and a number of organ systems.
- Is the vegan diet equally good for everyone? (Why or why not?)
Prior to answering this question, I’d like to differentiate between a vegan diet and a whole food plant-based diet. It is entirely possible to have a very unhealthy diet that can still technically be called vegan. For instance, someone eating nothing but potato chips, French fries, and cookies can still claim to be eating a vegan diet. The whole food plant-based diet on the other hand, emphasizes whole and unprocessed plant foods. So the question should actually be is a whole food plant-based diet equally good for everyone? The answer to this question is clearly no, due solely to the fact that there is no such thing as a diet that is equally good for everyone. Indeed, when it comes to matters of the human body, I doubt there is any substance that has an equal effect on everyone, since effects will vary depending on the individual’s specific attributes such as their unique genetic makeup, physiology, health conditions, etc. Nevertheless, if the question were to be rephrased as: Is the whole food plant-based diet beneficial for most people? To this I would say that there is a tremendous body of scientific literature that clearly indicates that this type of diet is beneficial for human health in general. Likewise, there’s a tremendous body of scientific evidence that clearly indicates that the consumption of processed food and animal products is detrimental to human health in general.
- What are the top dangers of veganism, and how would you recommend avoiding them? (More generally, things that keep people from leading a healthy, balanced, and sustainable diet.)
There are a few pitfalls that those eating a vegan diet should avoid to protect their health. The first of these potential errors is not supplementing with vitamin B12. Although there’s no reliable food source of vitamin B12, vegans are at a much higher risk of deficiency compared to omnivores, since some animal products are contaminated with bacteria that produce this vitamin. Therefore, supplementation is particularly important for vegans. For more details regarding vitamin B-12 dosage and formulations, feel free to visit my website DrMDavidson.com. for an article on this topic. Another major health hazard is the consumption of refined oils. Vegetable oil is a particularly dangerous mixture of oils to consume in even small quantities. Processed and/or packaged foods may have large quantities of these refined oils. Although oils from other plant sources comprised of healthier fats such as olive oil, flax oil, or avocado oil are considerably less dangerous, I would recommend limiting even these oils to no more than a couple of teaspoonfuls per day (e.g. in a salad). Finally, trying to follow a vegan diet becomes very difficult when there’s much more animal products and junk food in the fridge and kitchen cupboards than there are healthy foods. Replacing processed foods and animal products with whole plant foods in your kitchen should be the first step in trying to adopt a vegan lifestyle.
- 3 big meals or 7 small meals? (A lot of people are confused about the question of snacking.)
The question of snacking depends on individual eating behaviors which differ from person to person. Some people find that if they don’t have a snack in between meals, they may have a tendency to overeat during the main meals. On the other hand, others may not have this problem and may find that just eating three times a day is more convenient than having to find time to snack throughout the day. Individuals with certain health conditions, such as those involving impaired sugar metabolism, may also benefit from healthy snacks in between meals. Whatever the case may be, I recommend not ignoring the need to eat or snack to the point where one feels extremely hungry and trying not to overeat to the point where one feels excessively full.
- What purchase of $50 or less has improved your ability to lead a healthy diet the most? (E.g. soymilk maker, fitness tracker, etc.)
There are a number of inexpensive spices that one can add to a meal to greatly enhance its nutritional quality. For instance, just a pinch of ground cloves, or Indian gooseberries (also known as Amla) greatly enhances the nutritional content of any meal. The spices also enhance the medicinal qualities of the meal serving as prophylactic medicine against many ailments. Amla makes it easy for me to turn even a simple meal into a nutritional powerhouse.
- What are the two foods you’d recommend to stop eating or drastically cut out? (And a quick why for these foods! If you mention sugar, don’t dwell on it as it’s covered a lot.)
I’d recommend cutting out processed meat entirely from the diet since it’s a group 1 carcinogen, which puts it in the same category as mercury and radioactive plutonium. I would also cut out fried foods since these foods often contain trans fats that can be dangerous even in small amounts.
- What is worst advice you hear people give in the nutrition community routinely? (If helpful, it’s something that is often in the news and media, not necessarily something you hear often.)
I often hear advise regarding foods that are supposedly good sources of protein. The focus on satisfying one’s protein requirements is entirely misguided and flies in the face of the scientific literature, which clearly shows that vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores all get more than enough protein regardless of their diet. This is because, contrary to the popular myth, protein is actually found in all foods including fruits and vegetables. The notion that animal flesh is a better source of protein couldn’t be further from the truth. While animal products have proteins that are more complete, the completeness of proteins has nothing to do with their effects on human health. In fact, the more complete proteins in animal products are far more detrimental to human health than the incomplete proteins found in whole plant foods. This point is so often confused and misunderstood that it cannot be overemphasized! On the other hand, hardly anyone talks about the importance of getting enough fiber daily, despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans are extremely deficient in this vital food component that prevents the top causes of death and disability in the U.S.
- What’s the top “superfood” or supplement that you recommend everyone should incorporate into their diet? (Does not have to be an exotic superfood.)
I recommend that everyone incorporate 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds into their diet on a daily basis. Flax seeds are packed with nutrients, including cancer fighting lignans and alpha-linolenic acid which serves as a precursor to the omega-3 fatty acids which are vital for cardiovascular and nervous system health. Eating them in the ground form increases the absorption of their nutrients into the body.
- Low-fat vs. low-carb diet for weight loss? (Is one inherently better? Does it matter?)
I would never recommend a low-carb diet for anyone, as this type of diet is inherently dangerous to human health. The complex carbohydrates found in whole plant foods are essential to human health and well-being, so limiting these foods can have disastrous consequences to one’s health. Moreover, I would discourage people from using labels such as low-fat or low-carb since a low fat diet can either be very healthy if it focuses on foods such as fruits and vegetables, or very unhealthy if it includes foods such as low fat meat products or low fat cream cheese or other processed foods. Likewise, a low–carb diet can also be very healthy if it eliminates sources of refined carbs such as sugary drinks and sweets, or very unhealthy if it eliminates whole fruit or whole grains or lentils instead. Therefore labels such as low-fat are inherently misleading and create confusion. Eating unprocessed plant foods will very likely lead to health benefits regardless of what you call this type of diet, while eating processed foods and animal products is likely to result in negative health consequences.
- What is detoxification and how do you feel about the need for it? (Including intermittent fasting.)
Detoxification is the process of eliminating toxic pollutants from the body. These pollutants accumulate in the body from a variety of primarily environmental sources, such as the air we breathe, the water we drink, what we put on our skin, and most importantly, the food we eat. Indeed, for the vast majority of people, the greatest source of exposure to environmental toxins is from the food they eat every day. Many of these harmful pollutants such as industrial chemicals, heavy metals, pathogenic organisms, bacterial endotoxins, and many others are found at the highest concentrations in animal products such as meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. To maintain optimal functioning, the human body needs to keep levels of these toxic pollutants as low as possible. Perhaps the best way to do this is to eliminate all processed food and animal products from the diet. Another way is to not eat entirely for a time. Scientific literature indicates that fasting has a number of health benefits similar to that of a whole food plant based diet. For healthy individuals, fasting intermittently can have beneficial effects for a number of organ systems, including the immune system. Individuals with any medical conditions should consult a nutrition professional prior to fasting, especially for extended periods of time.
- Breakfast or no breakfast?
There are number of scientific studies demonstrating the importance of eating breakfast. Having said that, it would be far healthier to eat nothing at all compared to eating something like bacon and eggs or the typical American breakfast. On the other hand, eating something like whole grain oatmeal with cinnamon and berries would be a very healthy way to start off the day.
- In the past few years, what new attitude or belief has most shaped your understanding of healthy nutrition and lifestyle?
What we eat everyday will have a far greater impact on our health then what we may eat on special occasions. It is not necessary to be religiously adherent to a particular diet. If we eat something unhealthy on a special occasion or due to lack of better options, there’s no need to beat ourselves up about it. We should simply try to eat better the next day.
- What do you do when you’re craving junk food? (Hint: it can be when you’re traveling, at a party, etc., if you normally don’t crave it.)
Usually, it is when we’re most hungry that we crave junk food the most. Once we eat something and are not as hungry, the junk food usually doesn’t seem nearly as attractive anymore. Since we can only eat so much, if we fill up on healthy foods, we will not crave the unhealthy fatty or junk foods simply because we will no longer be hungry. Instead of focusing on avoiding specific foods, I recommend focusing on eating healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, and whole grains. If we eat enough of these healthy foods, they will effectively replace the detrimental foods that we may otherwise crave since we will no longer have room for much else. Moreover, we can satisfy the craving for a specific junk food by eating a healthy food with similar characteristics as the food we’re craving. For instance, if the craving is for a desert or sweet, we can instead eat a sweet fruit such as a date or banana. If the craving is for something fatty and creamy like butter, we can instead eat something like an avocado or a nut butter. If the craving is for a crunchy and cheesy junk food like cheesy chips, we can instead eat raw cauliflower sprinkled with nutritional yeast.
If no healthy foods are available at the moment, we can distract ourselves from the craving by focusing on a different activity. The most effective type of diversion will depend on the individual, but may include things like reading, taking a jog, listening to an audiobook, breathing exercises, listening to music, speaking on the phone, working on a project, etc. I’d recommend doing something that you find enjoyable or fascinating since the more engrossing this activity is, the more effective this technique will be at distracting you from the craving. Removing triggers such as junk food in your own home should be done as well since it’s much more difficult to eat what you don’t have readily available.
Consultations with Dr. Davidson can be requested at DrMDavidson.com