Oldways Finding Common Ground – Part 2


Photo courtesy Oldways

In my last post, I promised more info about the extraordinary, cutting-edge conference, Finding Common Ground organized by the Boston-based non-profit food and nutrition education organization, Oldways.  The purpose of the conference was for  these scientists with extremely diverse philosophies to agree on certain basics of healthy eating in order for consumers to get out from under the cloud of nutrition confusion.  And agree they did.

Dean Ornish, MD, of the  Preventive Medicine Research Institute, who showed the impact of lifestyle on both the prevention and reversal of heart disease over 25 years ago, was one of the first speakers and one with a definite eating philosophy. He showed, though, that the purpose of the meeting came before being dogmatic that everyone adhere to his lower-fat regime.


On the first day of the meeting, each speaker presented research dealing their particular area of investigation.  For me, as a dietitian, it was an experience of a lifetime –  a roster of nutrition experts that reads as the who’s who of nutrition. The amount of brilliance in the room was nothing less than dazzling. I felt like a nutrition groupie as I listened to the presentations. But what was most impressive is how each scientist listened intently and asked questions of the speaker up at the podium. This was science at its best: researchers with open minds.


Photo courtesy Oldways

Just take a look at the five scientists in this photo (from left to right), Antonia Trichopoulou, David Jenkins, T. Colin Campbell Meir Stampfer and Eric Rimm, who  have thousands of published journal articles between them.

The research and knowledge shared in such a short time could easily fill a few books.   Here are just a few examples (I’ll be doing posts on various topics separately as there was so much to share):

The term gene expression deals with the turning on or off of those genes which determine risk for various diseases. Dr. Ornish’s research showing that his diet can impact genetic risk in so many ways shows just how strong the impact of nutrition on cancer risk can be.

The world’s foremost expert on gluten,  Alessio Fasano, offered much food for thought when talking about what’s behind the rise in celiac disease and other autoimmune conditions. (Stay tuned!)

Here are more of the consensus statements below. Keep in mind that these statements came from scientists with very different philosophies – from those who promote vegan and vegetarian eating styles or lower fat regimes to Paleo, Mediterranean and higher healthy fat.

•    “Sustainability is essential. We emphatically support the inclusion of sustainability in  dietary guidelines ” food insecurity cannot be solved without sustainable food systems. Inattention to sustainability is willful disregard for the quality and quantity of food available to the next generation, i.e., our own children.”

•    “Good x 3. Food can and should be:
• Good for human health
• Good for the planet (sustainability; ecosystem conservation; biodiversity)
• And simply…good – unapologetically delicious”

•    “Common Ground over confusion. We express strong concern for the high level of apparent confusion prevailing, and propagated among the public about what constitutes a healthy eating pattern. Despite uncertainty about some details, much of this confusion is unnecessary, and at odds with the understanding of experts and the weight of evidence. We affirm that experts with diverse perspectives and priorities can find common ground.”

•    “Solid evidence, of all kinds. Fundamentals and current understanding do NOT change every time a new study makes headlines. The Oldways Common Ground Scientists emphasize the importance of basing understanding of diet and health on the weight of evidence, including ALL relevant research methods. Biology (adaptation, evolution, plausibility) is a relevant source of evidence. Heritage (cultural traditions) are an additional, relevant source of real-world information on long-term feasibility and health effects of diet.”

•    “Avoid sensationalism. Representations of new diet studies to the public should be made in the context of the prevailing consensus. New evidence should be added to what was known before, not substituted for it sequentially. Accurate reporting is the responsibility of both scientists and the media.”

•    “Compared to what? To make recommendations for dietary changes meaningful, we strongly endorse the general principle of specifying practical dietary substitutions – a “compared to what” approach. e.g, Instead of simply saying, “Drink less soda,” for instance, say “Drink water instead of soda.” What we consume and what we don’t consume instead, both contribute to health outcomes.”

This issue was identified as one of the contributors to public confusion about what to eat and how people got so far off track. For example,  the dietary advice to eat less fat never included what should be eaten instead. The fat-free refined carb and cookie frenzy  that followed would not have happened had the dietary advice been accompanied by the  guidance to eat vegetables, fruit and whole grains instead.

•    “Food Literacy. We support the cultivation of widespread “food literacy” and believe that individuals benefit from becoming knowledgeable about the origins of their food, the conditions under which it is produced, and its impact on their health and the health of the planet. A knowledge of and respect for food traditions and the cultural context of food – health through heritage – is also beneficial, and can be a powerful motivator for better eating, as well as a means of imparting crucial life skills (e.g., cooking).”

•    “Food Systems. Oldways Common Ground Scientists agree that food systems (production, manufacture, food waste, etc.) should align with priorities for human and planetary health while supporting social responsibility/justice and animal welfare.”

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Categories: Food Security, Food Trends, Nutrition News, Research Roundup

Author:Rosie Schwartz

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

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