A New Year: Oldways Finding Common Ground

It’s a new year and a time for new beginnings. On the dietary advice front, 2015 was indeed a year of battles. Paleo followers and their meat-filled menus regularly squared off against  vegans and vegetarians. Self-proclaimed nutrition experts declared that we had been led astray with the wrong nutritional advice. News headlines tried to capture the public’s interest with the sensational rather than  scientific truth. And yes, it was a year where dietary dogma has never been as extreme. Food choices are now being looked at with judgement and morality by some people  much in the same way as they used to approach religion.

It was in this climate that the non-profit food and nutrition education organization, Oldways,  proposed  an extraordinary, cutting-edge conference, Finding Common Ground.

Oldways invited the world’s top nutrition scientists to come together this past November to find areas of consensus. To be honest, when I looked over the roster of attendees, I thought of the  song, “The Quest”, or “The Impossible Dream”. Finding common ground in this group of  what was deemed by some to be “the All-Star team” of nutrition scientists seemed to be a remote possibility indeed.

Neal Barnard, MD, president of  the very vocal Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine,  T. Colin Campbell, PhD, the author of The China Study, and  Dean Ornish, MD, of the  Preventive Medicine Research Institute, were among those presenting  data supporting vegetarian and vegan diets.  At the other end of the spectrum, S. Boyd Eaton, MD,  of  Emory University and the founder of the Paleo diet movement, defended the caveman diet that continues to gather followers. The popular version  includes inordinate amounts of  meat such as bacon with nutrition-packed selections such as whole grains and legumes absent.

But knowing the folks at Oldways, I knew if anyone could pull it off, they could. Boston-based Oldways is the same  organization who brought the Mediterranean diet to the forefront as well as played an integral role in the formation of  the Whole Grains Council, a group that spurred both research and practical guidance on these foods.  They also played a major role in shifting nutrition recommendations from  low-fat into  our current thinking about healthy fats.

The referees of the conference, or co-chairs of the conference Dr. Walter Willett, Nutrition Chair of the Harvard School of Public Health and Dr. David Katz, Founding Director of the Yale Prevention Research Center. Add into the discussion, a mix of other scientists including the likes of glycemic index researchers (including one of  its creators, David Jenkins, MD, DSc, PhD), the top researchers of the Mediterranean diet and a group of extensively published  Harvard notables.

Even though there appeared to be movement from extreme points of view during the various discussions,   at the closed door consensus meeting following the sessions, the first signs of obtaining an agreement were not good. Apparently after 45 minutes, the scientists could not even agree on the definition of what a vegetable is.  But then rather than focussing on their differences, common sense prevailed.  No matter their philosophies, a return to food basics and away from highly processed foods along with the need for physical activity were  common sentiments. They then found they did have a foundation for a consensus:  all agree on importance of sustainability, food security and food literacy.  This allowed them to come up with an 11-point consensus statement.

Here’s the gist of the first statement:

•    More Plants, Nuts, Legumes, Seafood. The Scientists of Oldways Common Ground lend strong, collective support to the food-based recommendations of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC)” – the group which develops healthy eating guidelines every five years.  They’re now talking about foods and dietary patterns instead of nutrients.
“The guidelines suggest  “a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meats; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.”
They also agreed that one diet does not fit all, allowing for individual dietary preferences and cultural traditions  and that it’s not necessary to eliminate food groups for a healthy diet.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll provide some tasty tidbits of nutrition presented by these scientists – ones that will provide much food for thought as you contemplate your eating routines for 2016.

Up next: More on the 11-point  Oldways Common Ground Consensus Statement on Healthy Eating

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Categories: Food Trends, Whole Foods

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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6 Comments on “A New Year: Oldways Finding Common Ground”

  1. January 5, 2016 at 8:25 am #

    Thank you for sharing the results of this conference – who would have ever thought it was possible! Can’t wait to read more. I’m thrilled to see the emphasis on food and dietary patterns vs a nutrient focus.

    • January 5, 2016 at 6:21 pm #

      I am still in awe of the conference! And I agree with you about how wonderful it is to see an emphasis on food and dietary patterns rather than individual nutrients. It was amazing to see so much common sense emerge rather than extremism!

  2. January 5, 2016 at 12:36 pm #

    Thank you Rosie. Excellent piece, so glad you joined us at Finding Common Ground. Look forward to reading your follow-ups!

    • January 5, 2016 at 6:18 pm #

      It was my pleasure and privilege indeed! The conference was incredible – the scientists and their brilliance as well as the outcome!

  3. Judith Cane
    January 5, 2016 at 4:21 pm #

    I’m really looking forward to hearing more about the conference. I enjoyed the posts your wrote while you were there.

    • January 5, 2016 at 6:17 pm #

      Thanks, Judith! As I am putting together more posts, I realized the amount of information and research shared could fill a book – or two for that matter!

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