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Healing with food 

Sometimes medicine isn't always the best medicine

click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER

Common wisdom says when you’re sick, you go to the doctor. But modern wisdom says to go to your refrigerator—or, more appropriately, your fruit and vegetable drawer.

Instead of relying on medication to fix chronic disease, the key to good health might just be as simple—and complex—as modifying your diet. Nutritionists, and many doctors, are teaching patients that in order to take control of their health, they need to take a proactive approach to what they put into their bodies.

Dale and Abiola Oladoke both preach the same gospel: Food heals. Both nutritionists believe that through natural foods people can prevent and even rid themselves of chronic disease, but they differ in their approach to this idea.

Nancy Dale, who has offices in Santa Maria, Solvang, and Santa Barbara, believes certain foods are better for certain body types. She works with patients by first determining their current eating and exercise habits and then reshaping that routine. During her eight-week program, she customizes foods and exercise for each client. She often employs the use of metabolic typing, a method that analyzes an individual’s physical, emotional, and mental reaction to food and suggests adding or eliminating certain foods. By the third week, she said, most clients are feeling better, not just because of relief from their illness but also due to the lifestyle choices they are making.

Oladoke, on the other hand, takes a holistic approach to using food to heal. She incorporates Ayurveda, reiki, herbs, meditation, and other alternative therapies in Santa Maria. Oladoke is the owner of Healthy Palate and Radiant Lotus Alternative Therapies. In addition to serving up healthy fare at Healthy Palate, Oladoke meets with clients with health problems and tailors a nutritional and holistic therapy for them. She also offers an eight-week series of cooking classes in which she demonstrates how to cook foods properly and how to eat for optimum wellness.

Oladoke focuses on a gluten-free, vegetarian diet, heavy in raw vegetables, seeds, and nuts. Meanwhile, Dale believes animal protein in moderation is essential, and for some people, necessary for their bodies to function optimally.

Though their approaches differ slightly, both have one common belief: that nearly any health ailment can be prevented and even relieved by eating the right foods.

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Why food heals

It sounds easy, in a general and vague way: Maintain a healthy diet, exercise, and good health will follow. There’s actually more to it than that, Oladoke said. The right foods must be consumed and even prepared in a certain way. Oladoke said most vegetables do wonders for the body, but only if they’re cooked properly. Most people cook all the nutrients away, she said.

Some foods are power foods, including amaranth, sorghum, dandelion, red clover, kale, collards, watercress, kohlrabi, mustard greens, turnips, parsnips, ginger, coconut, goji berries, golden berries, and sea vegetables. They contain beneficial nutrients difficult to obtain elsewhere.

Other foods may lull people into a false sense of eating well. Oladoke said most people think things like pretzels or pita snacks are healthy, when they’re not.

Using an endless supply of colorful analogies, Oladoke tries to convey the importance of nutrition in terms the layman can understand.

“I asked a gentleman in one of my classes, ‘What kind of gas do you put in your sports car?’ He said, ‘Premium.’ I asked, ‘What would happen if you used regular?’ and he said ‘Well, I guess eventually it would start to have engine trouble,’ and I replied, ‘What do you think will happen to your body if you put junk in it?’” Oladoke said.

   Oladoke focuses on building immunity because if it’s strong, it cuts down on the risk of getting sick. She also believes it can speed up the healing process once someone is sick. She believes the radical changes she made in her diet helped her defeat health problems, including endometrial cancer and a thyroid that wasn’t functioning properly.

“I was very sick,” she said. “When I realized the emergency room staff started to know my name, I thought, ‘This shouldn’t be happening, this isn’t acceptable.”

That realization prompted Oladoke to make some serious changes in her diet and lifestyle. She prepares gluten-free, organic, and natural recipes for herself and formulates recipes for her clients, designed to address ailments in different body parts.

Dale also believes that most chronic illnesses can be traced back to inadequate nutrition as the cause. She dispenses advice in a no-nonsense manner, which suggests there’s no room for excuses.

“What do people do when they get a headache?” she asked. “Take an aspirin, right? Well about 95 percent of headaches are caused by dehydration or a vitamin deficiency. Something is missing that your body needs. But we take aspirin. No one is deficient in aspirin.”

Adequate nutrition isn’t just good for the common headache. It can also help patients with more serious illnesses, like Type 2 diabetes, a disease Dale said is almost always about too many carbohydrates for the patient’s particular metabolic type.

Dale speaks frankly about the state of health in American citizens. She speaks just as frankly with her clients, doctors, and anyone else she thinks needs to listen.

“Nutrition should be No. 1 in every disease,” Dale said.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER

This philosophy didn’t win her many friends in the medical community when she first moved to the Santa Ynez Valley 10 years ago, but her clients were seeing results.

“A lot of physicians rolled their eyes and would say, ‘Oh, you’re seeing her,’ but now they actually refer people to me,” she said.

Though her whole premise is based on preventing chronic disease in the first place, Dale makes no apologies for her belief in the power of foods to heal.

“There’s not one medicine that I know of that ‘cures’ any disease,” she said.

She added that food, on the other hand, could put your body back in balance.

What the medical community says

Geri French, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator for Sansum Medical Clinic, agreed that the right food choices are vital to health, but she stopped short of saying that diabetes—or any chronic illness—can be “cured” by eating right.

“I think you can control it as if you don’t have it, but if you go back to the old ways of eating, it will come back,” French said.

She added that chronic diseases like diabetes are progressive and that someone who may be able to control the illness through food now may need medication down the road, but he or she at least can delay the disease’s progression.

Still, French strongly advocates taking a look at diet first and analyzing food choices patients are currently making. She said more doctors are thinking that way as well.

“It’s happening more than it ever did,” she said. “People are reading and researching on their own as well and telling their doctors, ‘I’d like to try diet first.’”

Dr. Mark Juretic is an internal specialist at Marian Medical Center Clinic. He said most doctors realize a healthy diet is important to treating illness.

“There are certain diseases—like high blood pressure, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes—in which diet is absolutely crucial to effective treatment,” he said.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER

Juretic added that most doctors now spend more time emphasizing diet and nutrition than they did 10 or 20 years ago. He said it’s not misleading to say that nutrition plays a role in preventing chronic disease, but he has a big problem when he hears people say diet can cure chronic illness. Diet can help someone with chronic diseases like diabetes, but if that person falls off the wagon and goes back to old eating habits, the diabetes will come back or worsen.

“My experience is you can slow down damage, you can help improve health, and maybe even reverse it, but I have a problem when people say ‘cure it,’ because that implies they will never get it again.”

Juretic pointed to studies that show the results based on a diet by Dean Ornish. Those results have shown significant drops in high blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart disease.

“But it’s pretty strict stuff,” he said. “It’s hardcore. It’s not a diet most Americans will follow.”

It might seem like any sick person who sees those results would overhaul their cupboards right away. However, French said the reason most Americans don’t follow healthier diets is because food trends are dictated by the food industry.

“People need to be able to see through those health claims by the food industry and vote with their forks,” she said.

That means choosing non-processed foods.

“When you really look at it, it’s getting back to the food that our great-great-grandparents used to eat,” French said.

Is food putting pharmaceutical companies out of business?

Oladoke believes the same thing: “If you can’t just take something and plop it in your mouth and have it go down easily and feel good, and not have it sit in your stomach for a long time, then you shouldn’t be eating it.”

Changing eating behaviors in such a drastic way isn’t always that easy, though.

Dale puts it another way, and she’s not afraid to tell her clients so: “Is this for everyone? No. If you’re lazy and want to take a pill and manage your disease, then this isn’t for you.”

Both Oladoke and Dale said there are times when medicine is necessary. Those instances are usually when diseases are severe or emergency situations, but never to “manage” chronic disease, because food can do that.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER

The medical community’s opinion differs.

Despite the best dietary intentions, some people are genetically determined to have health problems, they say. High blood pressure is one such example.

“It’s possible they can delay this, I’ve seen it time and time again,” Juretic said. “However, it may not be possible to completely prevent it.”

Regardless of what the future may or may not hold for someone’s health, Dale said people can start feeling better now by eating right.

“I want people to start questioning things when it comes to their health,” she said. “We have a birthright to feel healthy and good, and if you’re not feeling right and if you’re on medicines, you can change the way you feel.”

Oladoke said drugs and surgery have their place, but they aren’t designed for long-term use. And for the long term, she wants to be as healthy as possible.

“We are all going to die, yes, but you shouldn’t die from high blood pressure,” she said. “You should die from old age. I don’t want to suffer with cancer. I just want to be old, and wrinkled, and gone.”

Shelly Cone is arts editor at New Times’ sister paper, the Santa Maria Sun. She can be reached at


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