Low-carbohydrate or low-fat, butter or margarine, fresh or processed, organic or conventional? With so much conflicting advice about nutrition, Andrew Weil, M.D., comes to the aid of confused consumers in his latest book, Eating Well for Optimum Health: The Essential Guide to Food, Diet, and Nutrition. Two of Weil's previous books, Spontaneous Healing and 8 Weeks to Optimum Health, gained wide public attention and helped establish him as an authority on health-related issues. Refreshed from escorting his mother to Antarctica for her 89th birthday, Weil recently spoke to BookPage. Highlights of the conversation follow.
BookPage: What prompted you to start writing your books?
Andrew Weil: Over the years I had really built up a lot of ideas about the nature of healing and its relationship to treatment. It seemed to me that these ideas were new to most patients and doctors. I thought that it could be very helpful for people to learn the concept that the body has an innate ability to heal itself.
BP: In preparation for your books, with whom did you study?
AW: I've studied all over the world with many different kinds of practitioners. I've worked with an osteopathic physician, energy healers, naturopaths, Chinese medical doctors, and shamans of different cultures. I've also been practicing as a physician doing natural and preventive medicine for many years.
BP: Your books have been so successful. How has that changed your life?
AW: All the celebrity stuff has really turned my life upside down. The good side is that it's made it possible for me to get the ear of the medical establishment. My main work is to try to change the way we educate doctors, and that is the work I've been doing at the University of Arizona. It is very important to realize that most doctors are uneducated about nutrition. I'm actively involved in trying to develop new models of medical education. I think that the success of the books with the general public has made it easier for me to do that.
BP: There are so many doctors who are publishing books that it's almost overwhelming. What advice do you give to consumers who wonder which method is the right one?
AW: I think you have to develop a good instinct for good information and reliable sources. I try very hard in all the books I write, and in my newsletters and website, to put out the best information I can that's consistent with what we know scientifically. I think a lot of people like my work because it guides them in the right direction.
BP: I've heard that our food supply is suffering because of our conventional production methods. Lately I've heard much about the bad effects from how our livestock are treated and the antibiotics they are given.
AW: I think that's true. In the new book, I do talk about how the fat of chicken, beef, and pork is now very different from what it was in the days when animals grazed in the wild. It's probably much less healthy for us, and that's apart from the whole issue of concentration of toxins and antibiotics. I think if you're going to eat animal foods, you want to try as much as possible to get those that are from free range, organically produced animals.
BP: Another thing I've heard is that one should eat canned vegetables instead of fresh ones because of the pesticides on the produce.
AW: I don't agree with that at all. I think it's worth trying to get fresh, organic produce wherever you can, and it is getting cheaper and more available. In my book, I also mention the study that was done in Texas last year that showed that simple washing of fruits and vegetables in warm water and a little dishwasher soap will remove a huge percentage of pesticides. Peeling helps too.
BP: In your latest book, you discuss how our culture has an idea of thinness that just may be unobtainable for most people.
AW: I think that people will really respond to this. I think that our obsession with thinness has warped our medical knowledge. If people are heavier than the charts say they should be, I think the most important thing that they can do is to keep themselves fit. If people exercise and have a healthy lifestyle, I think they're just fine. The problem is to learn to like oneself that way.
BP: If you wanted to sum up your latest book, what would you say?
AW: That how you eat has a very important influence on how you feel and on your health and longevity. It's really worth informing yourself about what the principles of healthy eating are. This is one of the big variables over which each person has a lot of control.