Q&A: Whole-food, Plant-centric Nutrition & Deceptive Food Policy, Marketing – Part 2Tweet
Below is a Part 2 of our Q& A with the Seattle-based nutritionist, Andy Bellatti, MS, RD. Catach up on Part 1 here.
Q: I believe that poor (and faulty) nutrition education is one major reason for the poor diet habits of this country. How do you think we can better educate ourselves and our future generations about the importance of a nutritious diet?
A: Nutrition education is certainly a pillar in our quest to improve health, but I think it is sometimes given more attention than it deserves. I definitely see a benefit in the one-on-one work I do with clients, as well as in giving talks to larger groups. However, education needs to be supported by sound policy. I could speak and write about the cardiovascular dangers of man-made trans fats until I’m blue in the face, but I’d much prefer they be banned from the food supply, as they are in some European nations.
I would also like to see better policies regarding national school lunch, agricultural subsidies, and marketing of unhealthy foods to children. Nutrition education doesn’t exist in a vacuum, nor can it address health disparities, food insecurity, or lack of access to healthful foods.
Q: Do you think that there are any foods out there that every American should eliminate from their diet forever? Any foods you feel every person should incorporate into their daily diets?
A: Artificial trans fats should not be in our food supply. I also think everyone can benefit from avoiding soda (regular or diet). I prefer an inclusive approach; I like to talk about foods that should be consumed frequently (often daily). When you focus on that, you have less room for foods that aren’t as healthy.
I also want to stay away from the perpetual stereotype that nutrition is about telling people what NOT to do. It’s far from it. I am passionate about healthy eating. I find people respond much better when I talk about how healthful and flavorful foods can be instead of how detrimental some foods can be. When you consider the many fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, whole/pseudo grains, spices, and herbs at your disposal, there are literally hundreds of foods you can choose from on a daily basis.
Q: What does your average everyday diet consist of?
A: I don’t like to put myself on some sort of dietary pedestal, and I don’t think what I eat for breakfast is that interesting. I’ll summarize it by saying I follow my own advice and, the vast majority of the time, I eat whole, plant-based foods.
And no, I don’t have any problems when I go out to restaurants. In fact, I recently went to a steakhouse here in Seattle with some friends. I did not have to resort to the bread basket and two sides; this steakhouse had a separate vegetarian menu with a nice variety of appetizers and entrees (and they were given a lot of thought, it wasn’t just a grilled Portobello mushroom and an iceberg salad).
Q: What do believe to be the main health benefits of cutting out meat from one’s diet? What are the disadvantages or possible health concerns?
A: The biggest benefit that I’ve seen is that once meat is cut out of the diet, people make more room for beans, legumes, whole/pseudo grains, and vegetables. When I work with clients who are looking to transition away from meat-heavy diets, I recommend dishes where the absence of meat goes unnoticed; for example, replacing the ground beef in chili with lentils. This usually leads to a comment I like to hear: “You know, I didn’t even notice the lack of meat!”.
Although meat substitutes can be important during the transition period, I am not a big fan of “have soy chicken!” or “try this fake beef!”. These substitutes aren’t very nutritious, and it encourages the hegemonic idea that “a meal isn’t a meal without meat.”
What I encourage people to do is include whole-foods and integrate them in ways that are tasty. Soy chicken nuggets should be seen as a treat, not a frequent dinner option.
There are no disadvantages to eliminating meat from one’s diet. The issue of B12 not being in plant-based foods is easy to fix with a supplement.
Q: What do believe to be the main health benefits of cutting out dairy products from one’s diet? What are the disadvantages or possible health concerns?
A: The dairy issue is complicated. For starters, let me say that dairy is not essential. Every human being can survive – and thrive! – without ever eating a single dairy product. That said, eating organic yogurt that comes from a grass-fed cow twice a month is not something that alarms me.
However, this country has a sick obsession with dairy, thanks in large part to the relentless lobbying that makes a food that is meant for baby calves seem to be ‘perfect for humans’. Offer somebody fresh milk from a cat’s teat and they’ll ask you if you’re crazy. Suggest a glass of cow’s milk with cookies however, and suddenly it’s completely normal, and wholesome to boot.
There are no disadvantages to eliminating dairy. Calcium is available in many plant-based foods (many dark leafy greens, almonds, tofu, etc.). And, as backup, it is added to many non- dairy types of milk.
The vitamin D issue is a moot point. Vitamin D is tacked on to milk during processing (as with milk alternatives), so I don’t get why dairy milk gets all the vitamin D press. Besides, current vitamin D recommendations are too low; for years, I have said that most people in the U.S. (basically anyone living north of Atlanta) need to supplement at least 2,000 International Units of vitamin D a day, since the sun’s UVB rays (which play a role in vitamin D production) don’t reach them for approximately six months.
Q: Can you share some examples of clients that have found great success (be it better health, weight loss, or greater happiness) in implementing a more nutritious diet into their lifestyle?
A: Yes, my work with clients is all about changing their relationship with food. Part of that sometimes includes weight loss, but the greatest compliment a client can give me is “You know, since we started working, the way I shop for food has completely changed!”. Anyone can lose 5 or 10 pounds following a restrictive and silly diet. I care more about long-term changes—ones that stick and promote health.
I especially love it when my clients “fan out” and start affecting change in their local communities. Someone with whom I’ve worked for several years actually got a homemade black bean burger added to the menu of her favorite restaurant after talking to the head chef. And, guess what? Patrons responded well to it!