Who is Madhvi Chanrai? This is a question that I have frequently asked myself; unfortunately I still haven’t found the answer.
The answer that most are probably expecting would be something along these lines: I graduated from the University of Cambridge in 1986 where I studied Medicine and ‘Food and Human Nutrition’ as one of my undergraduate options, and later went on to become a GP.
I have been obsessed with diets, food and cooking for nigh on 40 years, (being a chubby child makes you never want to become overweight again!), and I have been reading recipe books and books on nutrition in my spare time since the age of 11, so it seemed like a natural progression to put some of this knowledge into a blog.
And what’s the point of this blog? The aim is to try and make some sense out of the long-running nutrition wars that are currently being waged. For example, several decades ago butter wasn’t bad for you; and then from the 70s onwards it was the devil incarnate; and now maybe it’s not so bad after all. A generation have grown up thinking red meat, butter and eggs are associated with bad health; but is that correct?
So here are easy-to-read summaries of some of the latest research on nutrition to help you make informed decisions, take control of your own health, and hopefully prevent diseases by making dietary and lifestyle changes.
In case you don’t feel like reading any further, the healthiest way of eating is to fast intermittently and to follow the Stone Age diet (i.e. what Cave man had to do out of necessity for many millennia). Agriculture has been around for only 10,000 years – a tiny blip in the history of mankind. The upshot of living and eating as our predecessors did for the 98% of time that man has been in existence is that we are now genetically adapted to do as they did. Evolution is a long and slow process; sadly, our constitutions have not yet evolved to consume vast quantities of wheat, sugar, alcohol and dairy products – all newcomers in our dietary history.
Communities that eat as pre-historic man did do not suffer from cardiovascular disease, dementia, Western cancers or autoimmune diseases. You might now be thinking that these peoples probably do not live long enough to get the chronic diseases that we in the West do – well, some of these cultures have been studied intensively and they don’t all die young. For example in the famous Kitava Study, 6% of the population were between the ages of 60 – 95. The next logical thought is most likely, “what then do these people die of?” – childbirth, infections, accidents, homicide and ‘old age’ are the commonest causes of death – some of them live to the age of 100, and most importantly they live independently and disease free until the very end.
The other reasons for starting this blog are that I got drawn into looking up the latest research on ‘diets and disease’ after a close friend of mine who had a near-death-illness started asking me for dietary advice. Researching current dietary studies made me acutely aware that much has changed since I was a medical student 30 odd years ago.
In 2006, the reading of a book called ‘The Diet Delusion’ made me conscious of how doctors follow recommended guidelines without ever questioning whether the guidelines are correct. A patient gave this seminal book to me when I attempted to put her on a statin to lower her cholesterol. (The book is authored by a science journalist, not some fly-by-night reporter).
‘The Diet Delusion’ clearly sets out why the current dietary guidelines are incorrect. It made me wonder whether billions of people are being put at an increased risk of Western diseases by the dietary advice given by well-meaning doctors and nutritionists. A spine chilling thought.
(In our defence, it isn’t feasible for most doctors to investigate the background behind guidelines because of the time it would take – keeping up-to-date and working full time is enough on most people’s plate).
And the book which cemented the importance of diet in my mind – ‘Food and Western Disease’ by Staffan Lindeberg, (a professor of Medicine at the University of Lund). My bible, and a must read for anyone interested in diet and health.
There is a wealth of evidence to show that nutrition has profound effects on our health; interestingly there is now proof that particular foods affect gene expression in us, our children and our grandchildren (via epigenetic mechanisms). So what we eat when we are young has effects not only on ourselves, but also on the generations to follow – understanding the mechanisms behind the effects of food on gene regulation are the remit and challenge of ‘Nutrigenomics’. I find it fascinating that food has such far-reaching effects.
In my quest for the nutritional answer to life, I have discovered that there are literally millions of diet related studies being conducted in all corners of the earth. From this minefield of gazillions of studies that are out there, how should one know whom to believe – especially when they frequently have completely conflicting results. So I have put my medical and scientific background to use, sifted through the latest research, and distilled the profusion of information into easy-to-read summaries in the ‘Health and Nutrition’ section, with more in-depth reviews in the ‘Science’ section.
Read on for the latest evidence on how to live a long, healthy and happy life.