Science of Food column: Simplifying health: What diet is right for you?

The first step to a healthy diet is to eliminate processed foods, refined sugars and synthetic fats that are clearly linked to chronic disease and adopt the “whole food” diet, rich in plant-based foods of your choice.
Courtesy Getty Images | iStockphoto


What: “Simplifying Health and Cooking” with Dr. Lisa Julian

When: Wednesday, Aug. 31; 1-3:30 p.m.

Cost: $49. Advanced registration required.

For more information or to register visit:

Humans have existed on this planet for thousands of years. In order to survive, humans were forced to engage in numerous trial-and-error experiments to determine if the foods around them were nontoxic or, better yet, satisfying and nutritious. This required humans to have a keen body awareness that allowed them to connect their diet with their overall wellbeing. This evolutionary and intuitive selection process, in combination with human cultural influences, has led to the creation of many different “diets” that humans can survive on without any significant chronic disease.


When considering the timeline of human existence, it is only very recently that humans have felt the need to seek the advice of doctors or “nutritionists” on what to eat in order to be healthy. In part because we think about food in terms of its nutrient parts: X amount of protein, Y amount of sugar, Z amount of vitamin B12, etc. There are “good” nutrients and “bad” nutrients based on the latest nutrition studies or dietary fads at the time. Instead of considering the whole food and the synergy of its parts, we have taken a reductionist view of food that requires a “food expert” to explain how these “invisible and therefore slightly mysterious” nutrients work inside the body, to quote author Michael Pollan.

For example, in the 1990s, a large human study called the Lyon Diet Heart Study provided evidence for the benefits of a typical “Mediterranean diet” over a typical “Western diet.” This data supported the idea of “heart healthy” fats. Dr. Dean Ornish, founder of the nonprofit Preventative Medicine Research Institute in California, and Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of “The China Study” featured in the recent popular film “Forks Over Knives” would likely disagree based on their research. They believe that a low-fat, plant-based, vegetarian diet leads to improved cardiovascular health and overall longevity.

Dr. David Perlmutter, clinical neurologist and author of the recent best-selling book “Grain Brain” has different views. He promotes a high-fat, gluten-free, low sugar diet with plenty of animal protein in the form of lean meats, eggs, nuts and avocados. He nearly bans fruits and high-sugar vegetables, such as carrots and beets. Because he works with brain disorders, his clinical experience has shaped his views on diet in the context of treating diseases of the brain.

The debate among doctors and scientists will continue to go on. My point is there is not one “diet” that suites every body, and we do not need “food experts” to tell us what to eat. The one certainty that all experts will agree on is that the “Western diet,” described as a diet rich in fried foods, red meat, dairy products, wheat products, processed foods high in refined sugar and fats that contain synthetic chemicals (pesticides, preservatives and food texturizers) is the underlying cause for the high prevalence of chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even certain cancers, not to mention tooth decay, acne and a range of digestive disorders. In many traditional cultures, these diseases do not even exist.


With all this different and sometimes conflicting research and information, how do we simplify health and answer the question: What should I eat for optimal health and survival? The first step is to eliminate processed foods, refined sugars and synthetic fats that are clearly linked to chronic disease and adopt the “whole food” diet, rich in plant-based foods of your choice. There should be no need to eat nutrients in the form of synthetic or fortified foods, pills or supplements if we eat a balanced, whole food diet. Sufficient protein can be consumed from high-quality organic meat, fish or vegetable sources, depending on individual preference. Those already suffering from a chronic disease may take more extreme measures with dietary changes or interventions that aim to treat the cause of the disease, though the basic “whole food” guideline will remain.

Humans can obtain essential nutrients from a diverse range of food sources, exemplified by countless epidemiological studies observing groups of people and their diverse dietary habits. Choose organic food, as synthetic chemicals can cause food allergies and can disrupt important chemical signaling processes that allow the brain to communicate with the gut to establish satiation, the feeling of fullness.

Eat diverse whole foods, eat in moderation and eat mindfully, paying attention to those satiation signals that will tell you when to stop eating. We were each born with the primitive instinct that allows us the ability to determine what foods will nourish our bodies so that we can live long and healthy lives. So while the debate on “nutrition” will continue, simplifying health comes down to eating real whole foods, based on your ongoing dietary experiments, and creating a diet that works for your own unique body.

Lisa Julian Ph.D. has a passion for organic chemistry the “molecules of life” and its application to food and health. She’s the owner of Elevated Yoga & Holistic Health in Frisco and teaches Science and Nutrition at CU Denver and CMC. She can be reached at (970)401-2071 or

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