Dr. Steven Acker of Elite Dental of Staten Island. (Courtesy of Dr. Acker)

July 10, 2020

A Foodie’s Trip to the Doctor

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What do your teeth, brain, mood and gut all have in common? Unsurprisingly, it turns out one answer is almost everything. They are, after all, interconnected and essential aspects of your body and life. The other, often overlooked answer, however, is food. The COVID pandemic put into perspective how little control we have over certain parts of our health, but quarantine was sobering, proving we don’t have to be “an inert chunk of randomly assembled molecules drifting wherever the universe blows” us.  In fact, the decisions we make about our food give us resounding leverage over our health. While the extent to which health outcomes are influenced by our food choices is still an area of active research and investigation, physicians can give us insight into how to make the best choices for our health.

It seems like a new “diet” or fad food appears every day — Atkins, Alkaline Water and Keto to name a few. Dr. Carolyn Newberry, a gastroenterologist at Weill Cornell Medicine, advises against jumping on fad diets and foods, warning they may not be sustainable nor provide health benefits. Take the ketogenic diet, or Keto for short, which requires replacing most carbohydrates with fat. Such a diet may lead to unbalanced eating and cutting out entire food groups. Worse, it’s difficult to adhere to for a prolonged period of time, causing “yo-yo” dieting, characterized by rapid fluctuations in weight. Dr. Newberry advises her patients to opt for food choices your “ancestors would recognize,” and to think about making choices you can continue to make for the long term. Her message is this: Eat simple. Stay away from processed foods, eat plenty of plants, vegetables and seafood and moderate the junk.

Dr. Steven Acker, of Elite Dental of Staten Island, lent us some insight into a holistic picture of food and health. According to Dr. Acker, the villain of college students’ diets is acidity, typically found in fast and carb-dense foods. When it comes to dentistry, acidity is responsible for dental disease, gum disease, cavities and even contributes to sleep apnea. The impact of poor food choices doesn’t end there, as it can also adversely influence the composition and quantity of the essential bacteria living in your gut. At this age, however, there is good news: Damage caused by acidity is reversible. A kombucha and jamba juice overdose isn’t going to be the panacea we are looking for, but fermented foods, unprocessed diets and eating well in the long term are the powerful preventative measures we should all be taking to decrease the chances of poor health.

For the majority of us, it’s perfectly OK to eat chips. It’s OK to have a slice of cake at a birthday party. It’s OK to have some fast food because sometimes there are no other options. The relationship between dietary choices and health is a long one. The decisions you make over months and years are closely related to what happens down the road, so it’s important to make these choices consciously and learn about the pros and cons of what’s going into your body. If you are interested in learning more about the cutting edge in the link between food and health, here are some resources:

  • Dr. Zach Bush: Physician and leading educator in nutrition and disease.
  • Dr. Steven Lin: Author of “The Dental Diet.”
  • Michael Pollan: Professor at Harvard University and author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

Peter Kaplinsky is a rising junior in College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at pk445@cornell.edu.