Imagine an interest in changing the way you eat for some particular objective.
Perhaps you want to lose weight; perhaps you want to lower your blood pressure and avoid, or discontinue, medication use. Maybe you are looking to the power of nutrition to enhance your athletic performance, reduce inflammation, or optimize your immunity. Maybe you want to alleviate symptoms of menopause, enhance your cognitive acuity, or stave off type 2 diabetes. Maybe you want some of these, or all of these, or some other set altogether.
Yes, diet truly can do all of this; and yes, I am well positioned to know, having performed reviews both wide and deep of the relevant evidence multiple times over the course of my career, including quite recently. The power of dietary intake over all aspects of health is at times refuted by narrow-minded conventionalists in the House of Medicine who seem to have adopted the perspective that if it were truly important, they would be well trained in it. Physicians are famously ill-trained in nutrition for a host of reasons, leading to a degenerating cycle of illogic: if this were important, we’d know how to do it well; since we don’t know how to do it well, it can’t be that important; since it isn’t that important, we won’t carve out more time for it in medical education; so we…won’t know how to do it well. There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole. Colleagues are doing great work to plug that hole in medical education- but for now, there’s a hole.
So, yes, you are apt at times to encounter resistance to the notion that diet is profoundly important to every aspect of health, but that resistance is vapid and born of ignorance, whereas that importance is supported not only by reams of evidence, but by the meanest of sense. Food, after all, is the fuel on which the human machine runs; when, ever, is the quality of fuel irrelevant to the functioning of a machine? If it were true for Homo sapiens, we would be quite the anomaly. We are not.
But, of course, food is so much more than mere fuel. It is, as well, the construction material for every component a growing body needs to grow, everything a mature body needs to replenish every day. That inventory includes cells in all their subsidiary parts; enzymes; hormones; neurotransmitters; and so much more. These are spent daily in the hundreds of millions, and must be replaced daily for a body to keep on keeping on at something approximating yesterday’s vitality.
Food feeds that daily refurbishment, and can feed it well, or poorly. A balanced array of nutrients makes for balanced construction; an imbalance in provisions invites the body to cobble together its essential daily constructions as best it can. In the context of rebuilding key components of yourself every day, give the concept of “junk” where food ought to be a new, cold, hard stare.
So, yes, food is that important, and more. Imagine, then, that you could identify a dietary pattern suitable for any of the particular health goals you might have. Imagine that you might actually look at that dietary pattern, not as a mere description, but as a composite image of all the kinds of foods and dishes eating that way would entail- so you could decide if it were actually appetizing. Imagine having a suite of options, lined up against your personal health goals, based on the preponderance of published evidence. Imagine having pictures for each, worth the proverbial thousand words, to empower you with vivid choice.
Imagine further that you could know the details of your current dietary intake in as little as 60 easy seconds, again using images to replace the strain of recollecting details with the blink-fast facility of pattern recognition. And then imagine being able to contrast how you eat now with the new goal you’ve chosen, down to the level of both specific foods and nutrients, so you would know just what, and how much needs to change to get from here, to there. And finally, imagine turning that personalized divide between here and there into a comparably personalized “turn list,” a sequence of small adjustments that will get you to your dietary destination just as a sequence of turns gets you from your current location to wherever you need to be.
Underlying such GPS-like power is, of course, a map of the world through which you are navigating. Similarly, to navigate “diet space” as I’ve described it, a map is required.
None of what I’ve asked you to imagine above is imaginary; it is the very set of offerings we’ve built at my company, Diet ID, where we’ve been working for years with world-leading nutrition experts target . We can do all this because we have quite literally “mapped” diet space, with diet type (operationally and strictly defined) our lines of longitude; diet quality (objectively measured using the HEI-2015) our lines of latitude. Every cell in the map is some particular type of eating pattern at a specific tier of objective quality (objective because of correlation with health outcomes, disease risk, mortality, and longevity)- represented by an image, based on a multi-day meal plan developed by our dietitians.
Diet ID represents an entirely new way to measure, and thus manage, diet for health- and yes, that’s exciting. Learn more at DietID.com. But our basic (and patent-winning) innovation is not what motivates me to write this now, in the lead up to Earth Day 2022.
Once you map physical space in all of its particulars you can use the same wares of cartography to get to a business appointment, a doctor’s appointment, or go on vacation. So, too, for a diet map: it can serve more than one objective.
Working with leading experts who have published extensively on the various environmental impacts of food production, we are leveraging the Diet ID diet map to capture variation in the overall environmental footprint of differing dietary patterns.
So, once again, imagine. Let’s say you have specific health goals you want to advance through better eating, and you seek to know the best dietary options. You get a personalized batch of choices, different dietary patterns that would take you to your goals. And now, you also get an overall environmental impact score for each of those options, so you have a new option: choosing the best diet for you that is also best for the planet. Alternatively, if you are motivated to change how you eat for the sake of the planet primarily, you can explore different choices to combine your native food preferences with the greatest reduction in your dietary environmental footprint. The aim in quantifying change in the environmental footprint of diets is to empower everyone to shrink theirs, whether a lot, or a little. Every little bit helps.
We call this project “DIEM,” which stands for: dietary impacts on environmental measures. We are also channeling the famous admonition: Carpe Diem- seize the day. We have more evidence daily of the urgent need to do all we can to stave off environmental calamity. Food figures prominently in that formula, but tends to get far less attention than it warrants.
We aim to have this new functionality deployed and available before the year is out; we are working with a sense of urgency to seize the day. I am privileged to be presenting this project at the Menus of Change conference coming up in June; if you would like to learn more in the interim, write to us at DietID.com.
We each have the opportunity to leverage the power of diet to optimize our own health, and can use that same power to make a meaningful contribution to planetary health, too. Carpe DIEM, indeed.
David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP, FACLM, is the Founding Director (1998) of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, and former President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. He has published roughly 200 scientific articles and textbook chapters, and 15 books to date, including multiple editions of leading textbooks in both preventive medicine, and nutrition. He has made important contributions in the areas of lifestyle interventions for health promotion; nutrient profiling; behavior modification; holistic care; and evidence-based medicine. David earned his BA degree from Dartmouth College (1984); his MD from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (1988); and his MPH from the Yale University School of Public Health (1993). He completed sequential residency training in Internal Medicine, and Preventive Medicine/Public Health. He is a two-time diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine, and a board-certified specialist in Preventive Medicine/Public Health. He has received two Honorary Doctorates.