It is my great pleasure to continue in this article with part 2 of 4, of our interview with clinical nutrition expert Alexander Rinehart DC., MSACN of CoActive Health.

In part 1, Alexander explained some of the differences between nutritionists and dietitians. He also helped us understand the work of a clinical nutritionist and how he approaches patients in his practice for best health and wellness results.

Today, in part 2, I ask Alexander some key questions when it comes to our diets and healthy eating. After all, let’s face it, it seems today that health advice is coming to us from everywhere and so much of it is contradictory in nature or does not address our needs properly.

There are many nutritional health professionals out there today, and I have to be honest, many of them I just cannot agree with, as they either hold old views of how nutrition should be, or are influenced by some food company or product. This is why it is a great pleasure to talk to Alex, as I highly value Alex’s opinion for as I mentioned in the first part of this interview series, his advice and expertise has proven time and time again based on integral and key concepts to our health.

Alex is not about fads or diets. He is about looking at the individual in a holistic manner, and promoting the best course of action based on sound science and wholesome, natural food.

Thus, let us continue as clinical nutrition expert Alexander Rinehart, shares some very valuable and timely advice for us all.

EVITA: Being a scientist and holistic nutritionist myself, I know the importance that a good diet means for our current and future health.

However, as you are well aware of yourself, in our society today it has become very difficult and confusing to eat in a healthy way, which has lead at least in part to our current “health crisis”. How can the average person make better and more informed decisions to improve their health, amidst all the health claims out there today?

ALEX: Nutrition is a highly unregulated industry. This has its advantages and its disadvantages. The advantages are that clinicians like myself do not have to answer to institutional overseers that can be influenced by political lobbying. Being free from oversight can give practitioners more leeway in making personalized recommendations, lowering office overhead, and providing more personalized care as we do not have to wait for institutional or board approval to try the latest evidenced-based strategy.

Social media can be a highly beneficial tool for us as it allows instant critical feedback that can be utilized to keep companies and clinicians on their toes. The importance of reviews and ratings on social media sites could very well replace old institutions and the leading journals as the place to go for respected health information and reviews of health professionals. Leaders like Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Mark Hyman, or Dr. Mercola have thrived in this environment. With primary care doctors dwindling in numbers, more people are turning to the web for health information and advice.

In an information age, patients need to know who to trust to filter out the information for them. Textbooks can be 20 years behind. To put this in perspective, I recently co-authored a book chapter on dietary strategies in times of economic restraint. Most of the literature I reviewed was from 2000-2007 with some 2009 articles trickled in…but the text will not be published until December 2011!

On the downside, there is little regulation on health claims and the quality of many nutritional supplements in the marketplace can be poor. Patients have access to many supplements without necessarily knowing what the best form of a supplement, the appropriate dosage to take, and whether their medications may interact. I will say though that these interactions are a drop in the bucket though compared to the 160,000 people who die each year because of adverse reactions with correctly prescribed medications.

Another disadvantage is that the high school kid working at the local Vitamin store can give just as much advice as a qualified health professional. As bad as this is, the solution may be worse as it calls for more regulation which has its own problems. Many organizations are scrambling to become the regulatory body with the ADA leading the charge. Other organizations like the Institute of Functional Medicine, the American Chiropractic Association, the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board, as well as numerous others are all pushing hard to claim their piece of the huge nutrition industry.

Luckily I’ve seen healthy sections of grocery stores double and triple in size, so on a positive note I honestly think the worst is behind us in terms of finding healthy options at the store. I give people like yourself and new leaders like Jamie Oliver so much credit for devoting your lives to spreading such vital information.

EVITA: Alex, thank you so much. Feedback and support always means a lot to hear, as I really dedicate myself to what I teach and share. I just know having perfect health can and should be easy, but obviously that is not how it seems in society today for many.

And I completely understand what you are saying about the pros and cons of having regulation on the nutritional industry. I think though because so many people are moving in the right direction, as you say the worst is over.

So when it comes down to eating right, what are some of your recommendations to our readers?

ALEX: Well Gandhi once said that we must “Be the change that we wish to see in the world”… I say we can “Eat the Change“.

So supporting companies like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and your local farmers and community supported agriculture programs is first on my list. I think we need to honestly review our values and decide whether our actions reflect those values. People will spend $100 on their hair, $100 a month on their phone bill but will balk at the price of fresh produce.

Planning is so important. There’s a saying “When you fail to plan, you plan to fail“. Making grocery lists and meal plans in advance for your family can be extremely helpful. Try new recipes. Pre-cut and pre-wash veggies and make little goals for yourself at the grocery store. Goals could be as simple as staying away from foods containing a certain additive or trying a new fruit or vegetable. Explore substitutions for wheat or dairy. Be proactive and have common sense. If you seek health advice at a vitamin store, you’re likely to leave with a bunch of vitamins.

People make food choices based on taste, cost and convenience. Food companies love the fact that they can literally design foods that people love to consume. We have to remind ourselves on a daily basis that food is for nourishment foremost and pleasure later.

We need to live purpose-filled lives, and stay away from destructive relationships. We cannot eat mindlessly out of boredom or emotional need. We need to link up with close friends and social groups that match our values. Sometimes we also have to counsel our “M&M” friends that always tempt us with the snacks they hide at their desks. It’s all easier said than done, but it’s our only choice if we want to live long and healthy lives.

Your readers should check out any work by Michael Pollan. He has a knack for taking the science that clinicians like myself love and making it available for a wider audience. His quote: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” is one of the most profound statements of our generation.

EVITA: Wow, that is all such fantastic advice, and I agree with you completely! I am also a a fan of Michael Pollan and really appreciate his approach, and how much he has already influenced so many in the right direction when it comes to being conscious consumers.

Now when it comes to a good and healthy diet, I still hear from many people that they are just not convinced that food really is all that important. They feel that there are just as many studies backing up “unhealthy” substances as “healthy” substances for our consumption. We know consumers today are confused when it comes to all the messages the media offers them. How do you approach this issue in your practice?

ALEX: Well this is just a perception that has defined the last century of healthcare. It was not that far back that people died primarily from infectious diseases like pneumonia. 20th century medicine made extraordinary advances in the care of acute illness. We practically eradicated diseases such as Polio and can boast some of the best trauma centers in the world. If I was acutely ill or injured, I wouldn’t want to be in another place.

But now 21st century healthcare depends on a new understanding of disease that is less mechanistic. Most people are dying now from chronic diseases and their complications. We have created a sickcare system, not a healthcare system.

Unlike the catching of a virus or bacteria, chronic disease has multidimensional causes and cannot be treated with something as simple as a pill. Chronic diseases like heart disease can lie dormant for years and decades before symptoms arise. Early atherosclerosis can even occur in the womb!

Small stresses over time do have influence on health outcomes. People are more vulnerable to their choices during some periods more than others. We now know that attitude, diet and lifestyle have direct influences on the expression of our genes. We now recognize that neurons can regenerate and that physical activity feeds the brain and matters for more than just weight management and bone health. Unfortunately opinions can take generations to change.

Luckily, we are approaching a tipping point in people’s perception of illness. People are wanting more options than just drugs or surgery and want to live active lives. Utilization of chiropractic, nutrition, and other alternative fields will continue growing at a rapid pace, but there’s a lot of interested parties who do not want to see this happen. I don’t mind the fight though, it’s a sign that we’re making progress. This is a huge movement that is consumer-driven which has me comfortable that it is not going away any time soon. Without the consumer drive, we’re in trouble.

Information regarding nutrition is so mixed because we’re trying to study it with reductionist thinking. Trying to cure disease by eating a bunch of carrots or just taking one nutrient is just not how nutrition works in the body.

When you eat food, you are literally talking to your body with thousands of chemical messages, telling genes to turn on or off and coaxing your physiology in to a state of balance or imbalance. It’s a much more dynamic system dependent on “net effect” which a simple randomized clinical trial and other forms of research have difficulty showing.

EVITA: What a powerful statement to finish off this segment on! Thank you so much again Alex for the fantastic and such highly valuable information and advice you have shared here. Again, I cannot agree with you more, as these are very similar points that I teach and try to explain to my readers and clients.

We, as consumers have to realize that change really does rest with us. Every day we are shaping the changes to come with the foods we buy, the establishments we support and the health care professionals we visit. If we don’t like what we see, we have to start by looking at our actions.

I hope you enjoyed our second segment with Alexander Rinehart and please join us in part 3 as we discuss how scientific studies are run, where all the health information is really coming from and what impacts all this has on you and your health. And for any of our female readers who are all too familiar with the birth control pill, Alexander has some very important points to share about how it impacts your health, where nutrition is concerned in part 4 of our series.