Ignorance is the greatest barrier to good nutrition and healthy living, according to popular author, educator and physician Andrew Weil.

“I would say the biggest obstacle (to healthy living) is the lack of education and information,” Weil told EthicsDaily.com in a recent interview. “If people had the right information I think they would make better choices.”

Weil is on a mission to teach medical students and doctors information they can pass on to their patients. Weil, director of the program in integrative medicine and clinical professor of internal medicine at the University of Arizona, said, “My main work continues to be training a new generation of physicians better suited to the needs of consumers and to work for the reform of medical education.” He believes medicine needs to combine the best of alternative healing wisdom that has been passed on for ages with the best of conventional medicine.

Weil says that medical practitioners should do more than impart information on healthy living; they should also be living examples of what they preach. “Most of the doctors in our training program work at maintaining their own fitness so they can be good role models for patients,” he said.

Bald-headed with a face full of gray whiskers, Weil doesn’t look like a distinguished Harvard-educated physician, but few people would argue that he is the undisputed modern-day “guru of alternative medicine” and fast becoming America’s most trusted medical expert and educator.

His popular healing methods are forcing mainstream medicine to deal with a counterculture that includes herbal medicine, diet, exercise, deep breathing and peace of mind as part of normal, primary care for patients.

But being misinformed is not the only barrier to getting people well; outside forces are major hindrances to proper diets. “I see the commercial pressures to choose unhealthy foods as an obstacle,” he said. “For example, all the advertising of fast food and junk food directed at kids.”

Childhood obesity is one of the most pressing epidemics facing the United States. Providing proper nutrition and teaching children how to eat for good health is at the top of Weil’s list. He urges parents and teachers to advocate healthy meals at schools so children can learn proper dietary habits.

The death of 33-year-old ace pitcher Darryl Kile from coronary atherosclerosis shocked Americans, but Weil says similar incidents “will become more commonplace, especially as the current generation of overweight kids gets into middle age.”

Before he became a physician, Weil earned a bachelor’s degree in botany from Harvard, so it is not surprising that he advocates diets with high amounts of fruits and vegetables. “The diet I would recommend is low-fat, low-protein, with plenty of fruits and vegetables with plenty of antioxidants,” he said.

He believes that Americans would have better diets if they stopped making meat the center of a meal and used more fish like salmon or mackerel. These fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which Weil believes fight heart disease and cancer.

According to Weil, the traditional Mediterranean diet—rich in fruits and vegetables, coarse breads, olive oil and fish—”is the best in the world. It incorporates all the elements of good nutrition.”

“I recommend consuming 10 to 20 percent of calories as protein,” he said. “Only if you are engaged in very heavy physical activity would you want to take more than that. The people who need more protein really are nursing mothers and people recovering from illness and injury and growing children.”

But good diets are not just what you eat. It’s also important to avoid large consumption of foods that may be harmful. On Weil’s list: milk and milk products, animal foods and bad fats like margarine, partially hydrogenated oil and polyunsaturated vegetable oils.

Human cells are bombarded about a billion times a day by “cancer-causing agents” known as free radicals. Antioxidant vitamins tie up these culprits so they can’t injure a person’s DNA.

Recent reports indicate that diets high in Vitamins C and E may reduce Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and many forms of cancer. Weil thinks high levels of antioxidants are more important today because of environmental toxicity.

High antioxidants are founds in fruits and vegetables, garlic, green tea, black tea, Vitamins A, C and E and selenium. Weil advocates the use of extra virgin olive oil for cooking because it contains a high concentration of good fats, and it’s high in desirable antioxidants.

Ray Furr is a freelance writer and operates his own communications/marketing business in Poquoson, Va.

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