Food As Medicine: A Feast of Science & Wisdom

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to spend a few days at The Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health for the Food As Medicine Conference, hosted by the Center for Mind Body Medicine.  Five days in the beautiful Berkshires, learning about integrative and functional nutrition, with daily yoga and hiking?  YES, PLEASE.

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Let me tell you, I am still riding a nutrition information high from this conference.  It was touted as a “Feast of Science and Wisdom” and the CMBM faculty absolutely delivered on that promise.  The speakers included some of the biggest names in integrative and functional medicine, like Dr. David Katz, Dr. Mark Hyman and Kathie Madonna Swift, MS, RD, LDN, FAND.  

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The presentations covered macro and micronutrients, digestion, food addiction, elimination diets, detoxification, and more.  Needless to say, there was a ton of information to digest (pun intended!), so I’m glad we have the presentations as PDFs and a giant book of resources to refer back to.  It’d be impossible to recap all of the nutritional knowledge I gained this weekend, but I do want to pass along a few of my favorite tidbits and takeaways.  

  • There is no one ideal way to eat.  Paleo, vegan, Mediterranean diet…it (mostly) doesn’t matter.  Nutritional needs and dietary preferences are all so individual, but the “best” diets all have a few common characteristics: whole, real foods…mostly plants.  As Dr. Cindy Geyer (medical director at Canyon Ranch) put it, “it’s not about whether you eat meat or not, it’s what you’re eating along with it.” Preach, Cindy!
  • Foods from the brassica family (also referred to as cruciferous veggies), like kale, collard greens, broccoli and Brussels sprouts contain higher levels of goitrogens that can impact iodine levels in our bodies.  Thoroughly cooking these vegetables will reduce goitrogen levels, but if you include a high amount of brassicas in your diet, you may want to consider an iodine supplement.  And if you have thyroid issues, you may want to consider limiting intake of these foods in your diet. {Presenter John Bagnulo even went as far as to saw we should likely never be eating kale or collard greens raw because of the impact on our thyroid function! Crazy, right?}
  • A great quote from the weekend: “When we lose perspective of being part of the food system, we lose our ability to eat as such.”-John Bagnulo.  I think a lot of us Americans have really lost a sense of where we fit into the food system and what our food actually looks like or where it comes from.  Getting back in touch with our food on a basic level can only improve our respect for the enviroment and our health.  {P.S. John and Dr. Mark Pettus host a SUPER interesting Podcast called “The Health Edge”, for all you fellow nutrition geeks! Check it out!}
  • Buckwheat is technically not wheat at all, it’s a grass and actually closely related to the rhubarb!
  • Adding fat (I see you, bulletproof coffee drinkers!) to your coffee causes a time-released effect for the caffeine, reducing the jittery feeling that some people get after drinking it.  
  • Prior to the 17th century, virtually all carrots were purple or white, NOT orange.  The orange veggie that we see in supermarkets today was crossbred from yellow and white varieties to honor the Dutch Prince of Orange.

One of the best things about this conference was the focus on mindfulness and other aspects of health, including sleep and stress.  Jim Gordon, found of the Center for Mind Body Medicine, even led us in several Mind-Body experiences throughout the weekend.  My favorite was the “mindful eating” experience, where we were given a few grapes and a piece of chocolate.  You choose one item and really take the time to enjoy the full experience of eating: touching, looking, smelling, tasting and observing the entire time.  If you’ve never done this before, TRY IT.  mindfuleating

I chose the grape (and obviously ate the chocolate later…) and found it really interesting to eat something so purposefully, especially something that we’re used to popping mindlessly into our mouths!  Kripalu also offers a “Silent Breakfast” daily, where you’re encouraged to enjoy your meal in peaceful silence which allows for a truly mindful meal.  How many of us do that on a daily basis?  I know I’m often running out the door with a smoothie in hand, or shoveling oatmeal in my mouth at my desk.  Slowing down not only brings a greater appreciation for our food, but it also helps you feel more satisfied and will lead to eating less overall.  

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In addition to listening to lectures and eating delicious vegetarian fare mindfully, I took a yoga class everyday I was at Kripalu.  EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. It was amazing!  There were several levels of classes to take (gentle, intermediate or vigorous) and each instructor was different.  I also went hiking and explored the grounds of Kripalu, which was breathtaking to say the least.

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The Food As Medicine experience was good for my brain, my body and my soul.  I highly recommend attending this conference and any others held by CMBM if you have the opportunity, whether you’re a Registered Dietitian, nutritionist, nurse practitioner, doctor or anyone working in the health field.  Food, along with sleep, stress management and physical activity makes all the difference in feeling well and living well.  I’ll certainly be incorporating some of the things I learned into my own lifestyle as well as my nutrition education practices.  

That’s all for now.  Namaste, friends. 🙂

*Edited to add:  It was SO refreshing to attend a conference completely free of bias or brand associations with no “big food” sponsorship.  As an RD, this is one of my biggest issues with FNCE (the annual nutrition conference held by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).  

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