Genetic menu planning

“Over half of all American adults are overweight.”

“More young people dying of cardiac arrest.”

“New diet pill recalled due to serious side effects.”

Headlines such as these appear almost daily. And if you are one of those frustrated people who has tried several diets and various exercise regimens yet still can’t keep those extra pounds off, then it may be time to look to your genes.

“So many people think skinless chicken breast is going to be the answer to their problems. Americans eat a million chickens per hour. And we are in the worst shape we have ever been, in our nation’s history,” says Neal Barnard, M.D., president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and author of the new book Turn Off The Fat Genes (351 pp., $23.95, Harmony Books).

Dr. Barnard, who stopped by the Metro Times the other day on his book promotion tour, wants us to know that we don’t have to accept the fate that our genes deal us, that we can counter how genes affect our taste, fat storage, and aptitude for exercise function, simply by changing which foods eat.

According to Barnard, our genetic code helps determine the foods we like and dislike. That explains why some people will detest broccoli while others love the stuff, or why some people can eat like birds and still have porcine physiques. But we don’t have to be slaves to those predispositions. People can learn to change their eating habits in ways that will make them feel so good they won’t want to go back to their old unhealthy ways.

Actually, Barnard sees our old ways as being best. But he’s talking about really old ways — back before humankind began utilizing fire and stone tools.

“Our earliest diets were almost certainly much more like those of gorillas or chimpanzees, where they’re picking things and sitting around having a party all the time, rather than going out on these Ted Nugent-style hunting missions. Human beings clearly evolved consuming a lot of plant material. Fruits, nuts, things they could pick with their hands. We weren’t eating any meat at all until the Stone Age gave us stone tools to kill animals or remove the hide, and once we had the advent of fire, then you were onto something. But our bodies are pretty much pre-Stone Age bodies.”

Later in that evolutionary timeline came an increasing reliance on the quick fix. Today, whenever a problem emerges, our first recourse is often to look for a pill or some fad to solve dietary problems.

“It’s true,” says Barnard. “There are pills for this and pills for that, but at the same time, I think a lot of people have become quite jaded about that, and frustrated with it.”

People may take some product that promises to provide magic, super weight loss, but they often have side effects, or they don’t work very well.

Because of that, says Barnard, people are ready for a change.

“And so, my approach,” he explains, “is to say well, let’s set aside these kind of short-term diet solutions and look at how the system works. And then pick foods that are going to work for your body. And … forget the concept of dieting.”

That means getting back closer to those pre-Stone Age eating habits. For instance, no meat, no dairy products and no oils.

If you’re ready to “take on your fat genes,” Dr. Barnard has this advice: “ Number one, don’t stick your toe in the swimming pool. Jump in. In other words, don’t fool around, don’t dabble with diet changes. Make big diet changes so you can see what they’ll do. Tip two is focus on just a three-week period, which allows us to make major changes. If you decided to do it for the rest of your life, you might feel more daunted by it. The truth is, at the end of three weeks, you’ll want to keep going, but you don’t focus on that in the beginning”

The book’s more than 100 pages of recipes, all incredibly simple, are just one more motivation to take the plunge.

For more on the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, visit or call 202-686-2210.

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