The McLean PTSA sent along this account of a talk by nutritionist Victoria Wood at their recent meeting.
By Kathryn Luwis
When a presentation draws double the audience expected, someone has hit a hot spot. Last week at McLean High School, local nutritionist Victoria Wood pulled in an audience of over 150 with her talk, “The Power of Your Plate.” The evening had been billed as a conversation about nutritional health and how it relates to issues such as depression and ADD. Parents filed in with pens in hand ready to learn about how the standard American diet can lead to disease and a lack of well-being.
Far-reaching and filled with information, the evening’s predominant theme was that nutrition should be the starting point when dealing with physical and mental health issues. Due to a lack of understanding and a lack of insurance coverage, Ms. Wood’s office is often the last stop for those who have not had success with conventional medicine alone. She acknowledged the important role of medical treatment but expressed dismay that the connection between what we eat and how we feel is routinely overlooked.
Anecdotal evidence supported her concerns. The 12-year-old girl who projectile vomited every day at 9am who was subsequently diagnosed with “school phobia” saw numerous gastrointestinal experts to no avail. She was ultimately pulled out of school and tutored at home. She became anxious and depressed and was prescribed antidepressants.
When the young lady arrived in the nutritionist’s office, desperate, Mrs. Wood asked her a simple question: “What do you eat at 8am each morning before you projectile vomit at 9am?” In the girl’s answer was the cure. She had been consuming the same thing each day (Cheerios and milk) which affected her then unknown gluten and dairy intolerances. A simple change to her diet cured what ailed her. While Ms. Wood was quick to point out that not all cases are so simple, the story illustrates how removed we are from connecting what we eat to how we feel.
Ms. Wood also elaborated on the importance of micronutrients: vitamins and minerals. Of particular concern is the common affliction of Vitamin D deficiency. For years scientists have known that the further people live from the equator, the lower the Vitamin D levels will be in that population.
Vitamin D controls 200 genes in the body and is usually an unknown and untested quantity in patients Mrs. Wood sees. Cancer patients who arrive in her office know their cholesterol levels, but when it comes to knowing a Vitamin D level, patients fall silent. Vitamin D levels are of paramount importance, especially in cancer patients, in terms of their rates of survival.
Cholesterol levels don’t have nearly that level of importance in this population of patients. The focus of the often myopic medical community can preclude understanding one’s own nutritional profile. Personal biochemistry should always trump recommendations for the masses.
In the area of mental health, Mrs. Wood instructed her audience to again look at the diet. “For those of you who have been prescribed anti-depressants or ADD medications, has anyone ever asked you what you eat?” begged Mrs. Wood. She explained that the cortical brain, which controls reasoning, needs micronutrients to function.
In many cases a change in diet and the addition of certain micronutrients may be all that is needed to improve well-being. Sometimes the culprit is a lack of hydrochloric acid in the gut or a lack of enzymes. A healthy diet can also improve the efficacy of medications when needed. Mrs. Wood spoke of her work during her college years with school boys aged 8-12 years who were labeled as emotionally disturbed and learning disabled. When she saw the diets of these students, she was shocked and knew there had to be a direct correlation.This led her to her studies in nutritional science.
Pens moved swiftly across pads of paper as the audience strived to digest all the information being given. Many parents and leaders in the community were present, including School Board member Ryan McElveen.
Several members of Real Food For Kids, a parent advocacy group in Fairfax County who is working to improve the quality of FCPS school food, were also in attendance.
Without a doubt, the room was filled with those who already know how important the relationship between food and well-being is. Victoria Wood gave them more nuts and bolts to work with, including herbs that reduce inflammation and good fats versus bad fats. She spoke of the value of variety in a diet. With all of this, she fueled the passion for healthy eating.
Were it not for the kindness of PTA president Mary Ann Lastova, who said there was only time for a few more questions, Mrs. Wood would surely still be in the Lecture Hall this morning---answering questions about food for a very hungry audience.