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Andrew Weil’s Eating Well for Optimum Health

by Randall Neustaedter OMD

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Andrew Weil’s
Eating Well for Optimum Health

Alfred A. Knopf, 2000 $14.00

Andrew Weil continues his impressive bid as America’s alternative medicine guru with this third volume of his series. He is determined to change the personal health choices and lifestyle of the population. He may very well succeed.

Here’s the bottom line on Dr. Weil’s nutrition recommendations. Do not eat partially hydrogenated fats. Do consume large quantities of omega-3 fats (salmon and flax seed oil). Eat mostly low glycemic index carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) and only small amounts of foods that contain flour or sugar (high glycemic index foods). Eat only 10-20 percent of calories as protein (not 30 percent as suggested by Sears and Atkins).

Dr. Weil defends the good old health food diet – low in saturated fats, low protein, and plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Welcome back to the sixties. He advises 50-60 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent fats, and 10-20 percent protein. He does not consider the blood type or metabolic type programs that individualize dietary needs. He repeatedly criticizes the Atkins/Sears high protein diets, warning that the nitrogen released by all of that protein can potentially damage the liver and kidneys. The consensus of these diet gurus is that the low-fat/high-carbohydrate diet popularized by Nathan Pritikin has caused America to gain weight. Don’t forget cardiologist Dean Ornish, however, the last holdout in the low-fat diet camp.

The bad news from Dr. Weil – Dieting will not make you lose weight. However, if you continue to overeat you will consistently gain weight. If you do lose weight by dieting you will gain it back when you stop. The body has a set point no matter what you eat, he says, unless you starve. The only way to change this set point is to increase your energy expenditure through exercise. Therefore, the only answers to weight loss are drugs (too dangerous) and exercise. Regarding weight loss and the non-acceptance of being overweight, Dr. Weil, suggests, as long as you are physically fit, that you consider “the possibility of working on that attitude, of practicing self-acceptance, and trying to like your body the way nature designed it.” Weil’s diet book is clearly health-oriented, not weight-oriented.

The best part of the book involves Weil’s extremely clear descriptions of fat, protein, and carbohydrate metabolism. He provides cogent reasons for avoiding those bad carbohydrates (flour and corn syrup) and bad fats (partially hydrogenated, saturated, and polyunsaturated). He provides detailed biochemical information about the harmful effects of bad fats and bad carbohydrates in language that anyone can understand.

The weakest part of his book concerns a lack of any individual program for calorie consumption, the heart of his 60/30/10 program. Does the quantity of your daily exercise routine alter the number of calories you should eat? Weil apparently expects you to rely on other sources to calculate this formula. Unfortunately, the other sources will not agree with his proportions of carbohydrates, fats, and protein.

Further reading:

Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods by (North Atlantic Books, 1993). The Chinese medicine view of nutrition.

Barry Sears, Enter The Zone(1995); The Anti-Aging Zone (1998); and The Soy Zone (2000). These books set out the zone theory that put the high-protein, carbohydrate-addicts diets on the charts.

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