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Dr. Andrew Weil on eating well for maximum health

Dr. Andrew Weil

(CNN) -- Dr. Andrew Weil is director of the Program in Integrative Medicine and a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Arizona. He is also the founder of the National Integrative Medicine Council and creator of a monthly newsletter called Self-Healing. Dr. Weil is the author of eight books, including "Eating Well for Optimum Health," now available in paperback.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Dr. Andrew Weil, and welcome.

Dr. Andrew Weil: Hi, this is Dr. Andrew Weil. I am looking forward to talking with you.


Chat Moderator: With so many kinds of diet and nutrition advice out there, why did you write "Eating Well for Optimum Health"?

Dr. Andrew Weil: Just because there is so much confusion about diet and nutrition. I wanted to give a basic summary about what we know about nutrition and give people guidelines for designing diets for promoting health and that give pleasure.

Chat Moderator: Do you believe more physicians are assessing and addressing their patient's nutritional needs, or is this aspect of health still largely ignored by the medical establishment?

Dr. Andrew Weil: It is ignored because nutrition is not being taught in medical schools. Until doctors in training get a good grounding in nutritional medicine, I think it will only be a minority of physicians who are able to give patients the kind of dietary advice they need.

Question from chat room: How important is diet for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia? My granddaughter is 8 years old.

Dr. Andrew Weil: With the leukemia of childhood, probably the most important is getting proper conventional medical treatment, and especially during therapy, it is important to let children eat whatever they want. Once the disease is in remission, then it is worth thinking about ways of improving the diet especially avoiding fast food and highly processed food.

Question from chat room: What diet would the doctor recommend to maintain healthy liver function?

Dr. Andrew Weil: A diet that is relatively low in protein and fat, rich in fruits and vegetables, and that avoids alcohol consumption because alcohol is an important liver toxin. The herb Milk thistle is a specific liver protective remedy.

Question from chat room: What do you think of the "20/30 Fat And Fibre Diet Plan" by Dr. Gabe Mirkin?

Dr. Andrew Weil: I'm sorry I am not familiar with that plan.

Question from chat room: What time of day should one eat, and how many times a day should one eat for optimal health?

Dr. Andrew Weil: I think that is really an individual matter. Some people do fine eating three square meals a day; others do best grazing all day long. I think you have to pay attention to your own body and see what works for you.

Question from chat room: I'm interested in carbs. I know that cutting them completely is harmful, as well as practically impossible. What are some alternatives that still bring the nutrition of carbs, but are easy to burn?

Dr. Andrew Weil: Good question. You want to learn about the Glycemic Index (GI), which rates carbohydrate food in terms of its impact on blood sugar. It is better to eat lower glycemic carbohydrate, such as temperate fruits and whole grain products, rather than highly refined carbohydrates like white bread and white sugar. A good book on the subject is "The Glucose Revolution." You will also find much information in my book "Eating Well For Optimum Health."

Question from chat room: How should we view the food pyramid, and since the largest food group is the carbs?

Dr. Andrew Weil: A good question. Personally, I think Americans eat too many carbohydrate foods and too many of the wrong kinds of carbohydrates. All the white bread, donuts, pastries, sweetened drinks, and French fries are major causes of obesity. I still feel that carbohydrates should makeup a significant portion of the diet, but it is important to eat the better kinds of carbohydrate foods like fruits and beans, rather than worse kinds.

Question from chat room: My son with cystic fibrosis has no appetite. Is there a safe supplement that increases appetite?

Dr. Andrew Weil: Does your son exercise? Regular exercise is often one of the best ways to stimulate appetite.

Question from chat room: Many of my friends are on the Weight Watchers diet, which is a counting point system per day. How safe is this type of diet?

Dr. Andrew Weil: I think it is a safe system. It works well for many people and is one of the better diet plans out there.

Question from chat room: What foods should you avoid if you suffer from anxiety?

Dr. Andrew Weil: Probably the most important is caffeine, especially coffee, but also too much tea, cola and even chocolate for some people. Caffeine definitely increases anxiety.

Question from chat room: Please address menopause and whether to go "natural" or HRT. I am trying to eat soy.

Dr. Andrew Weil: That's a complicated question because there are so many variables. Really, each individual woman has to make that decision based on her family history, personal health history and particular symptoms. If one does decide to use hormone replacement, I recommend using the newer forms of estrogen and progesterone that are identical to those produced in the body.

In countries where women eat soy regularly, menopausal symptoms are much less troubling than in our country. So I think soy is a good addition to the diet, especially as moderate amounts of whole soy foods.

Question from chat room: What do you recommend as lifestyle alternatives for Ritalin and antidepressants for children?

Dr. Andrew Weil: There are some children for whom Ritalin is a miracle drug, so I am not altogether opposed to its use. However, I think it is vastly over prescribed. And I think some dietary changes, especially restrictions of sugar and food additives, can benefit some hyperactive children. As for antidepressants, again, I think they are vastly over prescribed. Alternatives would not just be dietary changes, but attention to lifestyle as a whole.

Question from chat room: What can we do as human beings do to change the perception of food and health?

Dr. Andrew Weil: Well, start by realizing that how you eat is an important determinant of how you feel and how healthy you are. But also realize that food is a major source of pleasure and focus of social interaction. Learn the basics of human nutrition and experiment with your own diet to see what works for you. By doing these things, you will set a good example for other people.

Question from chat room: What kind of diet would you recommend that increases and maintains energy? And would menopause have a significant effect on loss of energy and weight gain?

Dr. Andrew Weil: Again, I think this is an individual matter. Some people feel more energetic if they eat less protein and more complex carbohydrates. Pay attention to intake of caffeine, which can disturb energy cycles. Make sure you get regular exercise and that the timing of your exercise suits you.

Menopause can certainly bring changes in energy and middle age, in general, is often associated with a greater tendency to gain weight. At this time in life, it is especially important to get regular physical activity.

Question from chat room: Do you believe that in the future there is going to be an increasing amount of middle-aged adults diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, due to their diets now?

Dr. Andrew Weil: Yes, I am afraid so and not only middle-aged adults, but young adults, too. One of the most alarming trends in our country is the appearance of Type 2 diabetes in children, even in grade school children. This is the result of an interaction between genetics and environment. In this case, the rate intake of highly refined carbohydrates and lack of exercise.

Question from chat room: What do you think about eating blue-green algae?

Dr. Andrew Weil: I don't think it is necessary for good health. Blue-green algae are mostly a source of protein and most of us already get plenty of protein. I also have concerns about possible toxins in blue-green algae.

Question from chat room: What "complementary" remedies might you suggest for severe sleep disturbances?

Dr. Andrew Weil: The most important step is to try to discover the causes of sleep disturbance, which can range from drinking too much coffee, to having an over active mind, to having muscular skeletal pains.

The safest natural remedy for sleep is the herb Valerian, available in all health food stores. It is non-addictive, nontoxic and works well for many people. Even so, I would not recommend taking it every night and, again, would urge you to try to find the reasons you are not sleeping well.

Question from chat room: Is fasting a good thing?

Dr. Andrew Weil: I think short-term fasting can be a useful way to head off a cold or flu. It can also be and interesting psychological or spiritual discipline. I do not recommend fasting as a method of weight control. Long term fasting that is greater than three days should be done only under medical supervision.

Question from chat room: Are there any dietary changes I can make to help improve my severe asthma? I hate taking prednisone.

Dr. Andrew Weil: Yes, the most important step would be to eliminate all milk and milk products from the diet. Give this a one to two month trial. Other foods that may contribute to asthma are corn, sugar and wheat. Make sure you always drink plenty of water.

Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us today?

Dr. Andrew Weil: I'm glad to see so much interest in nutrition and health. This is one aspect of lifestyle that we can control, and it is worth finding out how to take advantage of it. I enjoyed talking with you.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today.

Dr. Andrew Weil: Thank you.

Dr. Andrew Weil joined the chat via telephone from New York, and CNN provided a typist for him. The above is an edited transcript of the chat on Monday, March 19, 2001 at 12:00 p.m. EST.

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