This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Doug Cook. In his own words:
Doug Cook is a Registered Dietitian and Nutritional Consultant with over 14 years of experience in a wide range of settings serving diverse needs. He has a mixed bag with respect to his practice ranging from clinical nutrition at St Michael’s Hospital, St Joseph’s Health Centre and The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, to writing for the public, patients and other health professionals, program development, private practice and has had a variety of experience in media including TV, radio and print.
For four years Doug served as the nutrition expert for the Ontario Ministry of Health’s former website Healthy Ontario, and, for seven years, wrote a popular column in the Toronto Star and Hamilton Spectator called The Vice Squad, wherein he helped readers cut through the hype by deconstructing the marketing claims of various food products. He also wrote a well-received column in the Medical Post called Food as Medicine and co-authored the book Nutrition for Canadians for Dummies.
Doug is very passionate about nutrition and believes that a diet based on nutrient-dense, whole foods can go a long way in truly healing and restoring health. He practices an integrative and holistic approach to nutritional counselling providing evidenced-based guidance with the judicious use of natural health products where appropriate.
Not being satisfied with blindly toeing the party line, Doug prefers to challenge long-standing conventional wisdom, by considering other points of view — even if unpopular — and by delving into the generally accepted assumptions of professionals in order to learn for himself and to provide a more balanced view.
The Slim Is Simple.org Non-Profit Nutrition Education Effort
Jonathan: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science to Slim podcast and I’m very excited about today’s guest. He has a line on his website Doug Cook, RD. I actually just spoiled the surprise. Our guest is Doug Cook, RD. His website is dougcookrd.com and on that website, he has a statement which I want to share to get our show started today and that’s “I’m on a journey of revisiting most of what I’ve held to be true.” Now, that is on the website of the Registered Dietician. You can imagine why I wanted to bring Doug on the show today. Doug, welcome to the show. How are you brother?
Doug: I’m good. How are you?
Jonathan: Good. Good. Hey, so you are a Registered Dietician who is on a journey of revisiting most of what you held to be true. What’s going on there?
Doug: Well, I got interested in nutrition when I was quite young taking up books in book stores and I thought I knew what nutrition was or I thought I had a personal philosophy of it and decided to pursue it further so I went to school, University and got my degree and then to become a dietician in the U.S. and Canada, most people have to do a clinical internship in a hospital and it was there I found out that everything, I thought before going to school was wrong and that I was there to learn what was truly right and then now, I am starting to revisit all of that.
Jonathan: What are you revisiting and why?
Doug: Some of the tenets that are just held to be kind of in high regards to a traditional internship that’s based on that have cliche western medical model. I guess they call it mainstream medical model, just the idea that… I’ll be blunt but anyone who knows me, knows my opinions and that’s the idea that these institutions feel that they have all the facts and all the information and if there was anything else to be found or to be known, they would know about it.
I kind of fell into that mindset and thought that dieticians knew everything there was to know about nutrition. Some of the things that I’m just revisiting is this whole concept of saturated fats are not as evil as we once thought they were. The food guide or the food pyramid or my plate in the U.S. is highly political and a lot of economic force is in play, a lot of those types of things, so it has just been a real journey in that regard.
Jonathan: Doug, what led you to question these things? Was it you were practicing the traditional methods and it wasn’t working for you? Was it research you conducted? What flipped the switch?
Doug: Well, it’s just I’ve always been highly skeptical, I guess it’s a personality trait and I’m a bit of a nerd, left to my own devices, I’ll just sit and read and read and read all day. Regardless of whether or not I agreed with the person’s philosophy or their ideas around health and nutrition, I subscribed to a lot of newsletters and picked up a lot of books and go to health food stores.
I picked up what’s referred to as these alternative ideas and just try to keep an open mind. The more I read, of course I got kind of defensive and I kind of co-oed with it and eventually you have to start looking at the facts and be a little more objective and realize that there’s a lot more out there than what I was exposed to.
Jonathan: What would you say are the consequences you’ve seen in your clients for subscribing to this more mainstream, fat kills you, protein is irrelevant, and carbohydrate from any source is really where it’s at? What’s the impact of that?
Doug: There’s a lot of different consequences of that kind of approach. It is…the least defensive and the least impactful might just be some food myths or confusion, which may or may not be that benign to all the way to the other spectrum where people are just being fed perhaps information that isn’t the best for them. One great example is the whole concept of an Omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, going to school and in my internship it was just pushing these grain and seed oil as much as possible in an attempt to lower LDL cholesterol.
There’s a lot of great research to show that it’s not as inconsequential in these kinds of things and a lot of the stuffs that we preach really never had really good evidence for us. It can be as benign as just harmless and maybe some food myth to some real consequences that might have a negative impact, like pushing a lot of carbohydrate on people with diabetes type of thing, is a simple example.
Jonathan: Well, speaking of consequences with a potentially negative impact, I can imagine that as an RD who is associated, you’re a Registered Dieticians, you have continuing education credits, you have peers. I would imagine you’re in the minority because I know that’s the case for my RD counter parts or RD friends in the United States, so what do you do? How do you continue your education? How do you continue to swim upstream? It seems like it would be very tiring to say the least.
Doug: Well, I’m known to be a “rebel” in that regard. I’m kind of known to not toe the party line and I’m not sure I understood the question properly just because I may perhaps wasn’t listening but how do I keep doing it? I just, I keep at it. I keep following what I think is right. I can back it up with the research. I have no problem going against the grain in that regard.
I’m not legally bound not to tell somebody that they can eat eggs or eat butter, that type of thing. At first I have encountered resistance and naysayers but I think there is a real shift overall. People are being more open-minded and the pendulum is swinging somewhat back and for sure social media and that kind of thing has an impact on that kind of dissemination of knowledge.
Jonathan: What do you do? How do you handle when you might be in a conference or a continuing education environment and the person who is speaking, the person who is supposedly in a position of authority may be preaching this classical mythology that you know through experience and through research to be false to you, what do you do?
Doug: What do I do in that moment or how do I deal with it philosophically?
Jonathan: In that moment. Is that hard? You just sit there and shake your head? Did your blood start to boil? Do you raise your hand and say “Actually, where is the study supporting what you are saying” you know what do you do?
Doug: Yeah, for sure my blood boils and for sure I get angry and I certainly learned how to temper my passion as it were but you present counter arguments. You present the research and I just kind of go from there. When I worked in the hospital, there is just no luck of changing mindsets in that regard, so I really did have to toe the party line. I’m not working in that setting as much anymore where I am restricted in that regard so that’s probably why I started my blog, which is a bit of a rant like with any people. It’s just a way to get out in that sense but the tide is turning I think so, I’m hopeful.
Jonathan: Doug, you have a unique ability, it seems. You are very courageous and you are very open and honest about your opinions. At the same time, you stated on your website that there’s many different perspectives to be considered in the field of nutrition and that no one body of expert has all of the answers. What would you do, for example, we know that you have a particular way of eating, that’s been very successful to you and that you often recommend. Let’s say someone came into your, well they won’t come into your office. Let’s say you meet someone on the street and they said “I am a vegan and I am vibrant, I am healthy, I feel great, I love it.” What would you say to that person?
Doug: I would say good for them. I would meet them where they are as they say. My goal as a nutrition counselor is to help people get the nutrients that they need. If they came to see me in private practice, I would still find out where they are. What they are open to talking about, presenting one or two points that might be room for discussion but when it comes to that kind of behavior change and that kind of stuff.
You really have to meet people where they are, work with that position and go from there. I’m really not trying to change people per say but to work with them and present my argument. If you get into the realm of discussion, where it is philosophical and dogma then it becomes a bit of a lost cause, but there’s always a starting point which you can connect with.
Jonathan: I love that. I love that and Doug what are your thoughts on, a lot of people have had a lot of success with eating a higher fat diet and often, when people talk about eating higher fat diets, there is an assumption that that is an animal product heavy diet but it seems like one could eat a usually a 50-60 percent of their calories from plant fats if they wanted to. There’s a lot of healthy, delicious plant fats, are there not?
Doug: Yeah. There are tons. There are nut seeds, avocados. We’re drawing a blank here but yeah, there’s no problem getting a lot of fat from plants. I have no problem with people eating a lot of high fat foods. I’ve certainly done my homework. I’ve tried every diet out there, so I fared quite well with a higher fat diet myself but I am an omnivore in that sense but yeah, there’s no problem getting fats and eating lower carb on a plant based diet if that’s for somebody is or if that’s their choice.
Jonathan: I think it’s so interesting how many layers there are to things. The reason I ask that question is, so often for example the idea of avoiding animal products and eating low fat are conflated because you could avoid animal products and eat plenty of healthy fats and you could eat a lot of animal products and not eat much fat at all. How do you, there’s just like a lot of conflation that goes on and you mixed like you said, you mixed dogma and almost ideological beliefs with science and practicality. How do you find with your clients the best way to unpack all that stuff is?
Doug: Context for me is everything but you really have to find out what people are talking about when they come in with the particular view point or approach. A perfect example for me is the whole concept of vegetarianism. I don’t know what that means. You really have to find a common language, common definition and work from there and for sure, context is everything.
Most people have departmentalize these nutrition messages and these little like black and white statements or just these little sound bites taken out of context and they really don’t know what it means. A lot of times people don’t even have a real sense of what they’re doing. They might be eating a particular way and reading in a completely different manner, so yeah, I think you have to kind of lay it out and be absolutely clear on what you’re talking about.
Jonathan: I love that. I love that and Doug do you think, as an RD, I know becoming an RD is not an easy process, very, very rigorous. Are there still RDs out there, because you talk about it on your website, you describe it very well. You say “Nutrient dense, whole foods that are as close to the earth as possible, minimally process with loads of vitamins, minerals, and phyto-nutrients.”
It’s a very succinct, wonderful statement. If I go to a Registered Dietician and I say “I’m going to eat some avocado or some coconut.” It’s a nutrient dense whole food that is very close to the earth, are there still dieticians on this planet that would say, “You’d probably be better off eating 100 calorie snack pack of some Chips Ahoy cookies because you’ll save yourself some calories.”
Doug: Of course I would say, I’m not going to go on a limb and say the majority of people are still thinking that way. I thought that way and I know why they are thinking that way. I think if I can make a generalization with my own interpretation of the history of dietetics is that it come from a great history of home economics, making food, dealing with real food traditional foods. I think somewhere along the line they probably wanted to become more legitimized.
I am not sure but there was kind of a bit of alignment with the medical model and then we kind of lost their way where I guess it was this reductionist approach and everything just kind of focused on the three macro-nutrients; protein, fat, carbohydrate, calories, and then sodium kind of got into the play. I think nowadays because if people eat relatively well and they’re following the food guide or my plate and they are not suffering from an overt clinical deficiency, we assume that diet has done its job and it’s not much more than the diet can do.
People dubiously look at the nutrition facts table and looking at calories, protein, fat, carbs, fiber, sodium and they’re just not paying attention to the quality, kind of getting back to this whole ideas, whole foods, nutrient dense foods but I am as I said hopeful. It is kind of starting to change. There is, I think that kind of grass roots getting back to talking about real food but yeah for sure people will demonize coconut or avocado and think that the little snack pack Oreo’s might be a better snack choice, so it’s slow.
Jonathan: Well Doug, it blows my mind a little bit. Especially the rate at which things change because my parents recently came to visit and they saw the coconut in my house, the shredded coconut, coconut oil. I’m all about coconut. I love coconut and we are talking more like you know it wasn’t that long ago that there was that like big public outrage about movie theater popcorn being popped in coconut oil.
I was like “Was that coconut oil?” They’re like “Yeah that was coconut oil” and now it’s like coconut oil is great for you and it was literary like coconut oil used to be treated as we treat trans-fats now. We’re kind of like everyone thinks they’re bad and that’s, in less than a decade or about a decade, that’s done a complete 180 almost, it seems.
Doug: It has and I guess my sense is that the quality of the coconut oil back then might have been a problem, for sure there is processed hydrogenated coconut oil because it’s not 100 percent saturated. I really think they were poor quality oil out there. I think there may have been an element of legitimacy to the concern but I’m completely hear you. It was put up right there with trans-fats and cigarettes. Now it’s all the rage. I still discuss with people. It really does have to be virgin coconut oil. a non-refined coconut oil. as pure as possible. It is funny but for sure most dieticians are still afraid of coconuts, so we’ll see where it goes from here.
Jonathan: Well speaking of things to be afraid of, just getting inside the mind of a dietician, there are things we just kind of said almost ingest individual still recommending 100 calorie snack pack because 100 calories is better than 200 calories. It seems even at the most basic level, we just took a step back and you will get fat, protein, and carbohydrate like fat to be stored as fat in the body is going to go through a different, probably simpler process than for example protein, which is a completely different thing.
There is a chair and there is a chapstick, you can tell what I have in my room right now like those are two totally different things. Fat and protein are totally different things, so how can people say, still say or still think, especially if this is their job that eating 500 calories of fat will do the same thing in the body, even from a like turning into and being stored as energy, as 500 calories of protein? It just seems at the most basic level, we have to understand that they can’t be treated the same way because they’re not the same thing.
Doug: Right and I just wanted to kind of cover my butt and say that dieticians have great training. They’re smart. They’ve got great critical analysis or thinking skills. The problem is, their exposure to a lot of this other research is limited because they don’t know where to look for it, etc. I want to give, as they say, I’m probably too old to say say this, props to dieticians but we have been thought that calories are calories, right? But we’re not bomb calorimeters. We don’t incinerate food, we don’t extract the same number of calories from a celery or carrot as we do from the same quantity of calories from butter.
That concept I think, is slowly gaining ground but it was never questioned. I don’t think we really thought about it. I’m not sure why. It never made sense to me until ten years later into my career but you’re absolutely right, they’re not the same. They’re not treated the same or used by the body in the same way, so it is like any kind of convention or belief. It’s going to take a while to be accepted because there is always that point where you, rather than accepting the new evidence of the fact, you kind of try to store it and shape it into that same mold but eventually it cannot be, so I think we’re well on our way. It’s slow but for sure, I think it’s going to happen.
Jonathan: That’s good news and I certainly appreciate the work that you do to help further that cause and I will also second you and say props to borrow your term. Doug that is your term now officially, props to RDs and even props to many of the individuals out there who are literally just doing what they’ve been taught, right? Like if I tell you that smoking is good for you and you spend 30 years smoking and you get lung cancer, are you really at fault? Well, no, so yeah, again props there and Doug, what’s next for you on this crusade to help bring the modern science to the forefront?
Doug: I think it’s just more of the same. I’m going to continue with my blog. I’m going to continue to work with various outlets and continue to write articles, work on books. I’m working with a publisher, working on some cook book revisions and working as a nutrition consultant in that way and it’s slowly, but surely kind of getting these little nuggets of nutritional wisdom out there.
Jonathan: Well again, I so appreciate that Doug. It’s so important to have people inside making these changes. So, kudos to you and folks please do support Doug in his efforts. You can learn more about him at dougcookrd.com. Doug, thank you again for joining us today. It has been a pleasure.
Doug: Thank you very much.
Jonathan: Listeners, I hope you enjoyed today’s show as much as I did and please remember this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. Chat with you soon.
[End of Audio 30:43]