Interview with Barbra Allen Bradshaw and Carol Loffelmann
This week I had the pleasure of interviewing the co-founders of the Canadian Clinicians for Therapeutic Nutrition and a low-carb female physician facebook group with over 3000 members. Barb and Carol are both practicing physicians. Carol is an anesthetist in Toronto and Barb is a pathologist in Abbotsford. Individually, they developed an appreciation for the impact dietary choices had on their own health and weight. About three years ago, they met online and have been collaborating to support Canadian physicians who are interested in lower carb, whole food eating for themselves and for patients.
Carol and Barb have also become involved in food policy advocacy. They worked hard to be heard about the recent Canadian Food Guide changes; organizing petitions, and even traveling to Ottawa to meet with Health Canada. What they were advocating is for a food guide based on where the evidence truly is currently. Is there enough evidence to say everyone should be eating low carb? Probably not. Is there enough evidence to support the current guidelines that everyone should avoid saturated fat? Probably not either.
Making population based recommendations is a big deal. There are many different types of bodies out there. People have a range of metabolic health. Barb and Carol were asking for the food guide to base any population based recommendations on good quality evidence, not consensus opinion. They advocate a whole foods, lower sugar approach. How did it go? Have a listen to the podcast episode to hear their experiences.
What if the 1980’s food guide hadn’t happened?
My conversation with Carol and Barb led me to reflect on my memories of the food guide. I remember when eggs suddenly became “bad” because of cholesterol (As a child, this was a good thing in my life as I LOATHED eggs) and we switched to eating cereal or toast for breakfast. In elementary school, when the food guide came out recommending 5-12 servings of grains per day, I thought, “Great! All this homemade bread I’m eating is healthy. It’s low fat. I just need to eat more of it.” Snacks were solidly in the grain/starch category with bread or crackers or sugar sweetened yogurt. As long as something was low fat, it was considered healthy and got a thumbs up.
I think my parents really tried to eat healthy as a family. Most of what we ate was homemade. We rarely ate out. Pop and chips only entered the house at Christmas time. We always ate dinner as a family. They did their best to follow the food guidelines.
So how did this work for us? Not well. All of us ended up overweight and struggling with obesity. I used to think that it was just genetics. It was how my family’s bodies were. We were doomed to always have a weight issue.
Looking back now, I do wonder how it would have been different. What if we had been left alone to continue eating a fairly balanced diet of whole foods? What if all our school snack foods hadn’t been amped full of sugar and marketed as “healthy”? I suspect we may still have had some weight issues as a family. But I truly don’t think it would have been to the same progressive level that we all experienced.
Following the food guide wasn’t the right approach for our particular family. Eating with a lower carb approach has worked much better for us. I’m not saying that low carb is the right answer for every person. Just like low fat was not the right answer either. I think people should be supported in finding a whole food way of eating that works for their body and their life. This will look different for different people. Government guidelines should reflect the variation in the population and the uncertainties of the current evidence.
Often I go to a meeting at work and realize the only thing I can eat is the butter (that is there for muffins or scones). Probably not, though, as it is “whipped butter” in tiny plastic containers that likely has corn oil or whatever added to it.
About once a month at work, there is a birthday party: I do not EAT the cake but I do TASTE it, a sliver that allows two bites. I bring my own cheese and hard-boiled eggs daily. Also bacon.
I love Barb and Carol!
It is very difficult to eat out. If the gang goes to Mr M’s and you don’t want the sugary salad, and order the sliders sans buns and sans toppings, you discover the beef is actually not that good. Everyone else seems so happy.
While there can be benefits to different health conditions to low carb diets, the population health studies with the best outcomes include whole grains. Processed foods and sugar can be reduced or removed without going low-carb which removes nutritious foods such as whole grains and fruit. While they do say that a low carb diet is not the best for everyone, the on-line group focuses almost entirely on low carb high fat which is a very restrictive and challenging diet to recommend broadly.
I think you are right that the online group does contain a lot of information about lower carbohydrate approaches to eating. Maybe this is because there aren’t a lot of platforms to share experience with this. I have found that other approaches are discussed and the group is quite friendly to different view points.
I think it is also important to note that the advocacy work Barb and Carol did was not to have a low carb diet be recommended for everyone. It was for our food guidelines to be based on good quality evidence, not consensus recommendations, and to focus on a whole food approach.