The Joy of Food – Chasing Life with Dr. Sanjay Gupta

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Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:00:01

You know, it’s not lost upon me that as we’ve spent an entire season talking about weight, that can bring up some pretty complicated feelings about food overall. Not just what we eat, but how we eat and how much we enjoy it. For our guest today, a lot of those sorts of feelings started pretty early in life.

I had this babysitter who was a chronic dieter, and at that time I had no idea what a diet was. I had no idea why somebody would want a diet. She would eat this colorless, aromaless food. And she was sad all the time.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:00:35

That’s Dr. Linda Shiue. She’s an internal medicine physician who’s done a lot of thinking about food. And in addition to being a big foodie, she’s also a chef. She went to cooking school. She worked at a Michelin star restaurant. She even wrote a cookbook called Spicebox Kitchen. Now, part of the reason I wanted to talk to her is back in 2016, she became the very first director of culinary medicine at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco. She runs a teaching kitchen there. So this is a doctor who is teaching her patients how to cook. Part of the reason she does this is because it’s easy to sing the praises of healthy food. But Doctor Shiue has found that people often feel like they have to give up a lot if they start eating healthy.

They think it’s deprivation and, you know, loss of joy and kind of penance even. It’s colorless, it’s bland, it has no texture. It has no flavor, and we’re not supposed to enjoy it.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:01:35

And look, I get that. I can relate to that. Sometimes eating healthy, frankly, means eating boring. And for most people, if something tastes healthy, they don’t usually expect it to also taste good. And the opposite is true. People associate unhealthy foods with being the most tasty. So yes, our relationship with food can be tricky. It’s why people talk about cheat days, why they talk about restricting foods they love, or being bad when they let themselves have a cookie. But here’s what we’re going to talk about today. Food is so much more than just fuel. People really need to think about that. It can be a connection to culture and expression of care. It can be a way to celebrate with others. And food can also be a source of joy. So today we’re going to dive headfirst into food. How to eat better, yes, but also how to eat more joyfully while overcoming a lot of our hang ups around it. What is that balance between eating for pleasure and eating for energy? I’m Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, and this is Chasing Life.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:02:54

One of the reasons I really wanted to talk to you was because you were the first director of culinary medicine at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco. You’re a chef. Obviously you’re a doctor. I just find that to be a really interesting confluence. How did that all sort of come about for you?

I just love eating. I mean, I like to say I was born with a tasting spoon in my mouth. You know, I, I always loved food. I took my first cooking class when I was seven, and I’ve always been really interested in other people’s food. But what really happened was, after my first decade of practicing as a primary care doctor, I, like many other primary care doctors, was kind of burning out, and I kind of felt like I was just writing prescriptions that wasn’t enough for me and for my patients. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough for them. They may or may not have been feeling better, but their numbers look better, right? Their blood pressure look better. But maybe they didn’t feel better. And so I kind of felt like, what am I doing? And can I do this for the rest of my life?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:03:51

I think there’s, what I think is a misperception a lot of times that very tasty foods are going to be, by definition, not healthy, right? Oh well, that looks fantastic. But I don’t think that my waistline can tolerate it or whatever is not good for my health. What do you say about that?

I think there’s room for any food that you like, pretty much. Right. It’s like depending on the quantity, the frequency. I don’t think we should demonize any food except for, you know, ultra processed foods. I may say, let’s really try to avoid those as much as possible, but I still wouldn’t say that you can never have them. I cannot tell you with any honesty that my kids do not like, you know, Cheetos. Flaming Hot Cheetos. I don’t buy them. However, you know, we’re human, right? So we all have things that we like. So it’s about, you know, the frequency, quantity, etc. but food has to be a flavor first. None of us will eat food that is good for us from a health sense. If we don’t want it like it has to taste good to us, to the person eating it. And I think there’s great skill in making food that is, you know, nutritionally better for us, tastes fantastic so that you’re not even thinking about it as being health food.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:05:07

And that’s one of the reasons why Doctor Shiue went to cooking school.

I wanted to learn a couple of things. One is all the techniques, right? If I was going to teach people professionally, I want to make sure I was teaching them the right way. And two, I wanted to learn how to flavor. So how do we seasoned food? Seasoned not just meaning how much salt we add, but how do I use spices and herbs in the right way? What cooking techniques bring out the best flavor in things that are better for us, namely vegetables? Because I truly think that people who don’t enjoy vegetables just don’t know how to prepare them properly.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:05:40

I would not cut the idea short that healthy diet, I think, is actually the most important thing. I think it actually supersedes physical activity. When I’ve traveled around the world and seen some of the healthiest societies around the world, they are active, but they’re often not intensely active. But what is the most different, I think, is their is their diet as a general rule. People have said to me that the vast majority of our chronic disease in the United States revolves around diet and one shape or another, the food that we eat, the quantity that we eat, whatever it may be. And if you if you think about it, we’re a $4 trillion spending health economy in this country. And let’s say even half of it is due to diet.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:06:26

I mean, it’s it’s remarkable. The fact that we need to eat better as a country and that it can be still tasty and something that people enjoy, I think is a reality. What do you think is the perception of a healthy diet?

They think it’s deprivation and, you know, loss of joy and kind of penance even. And so I think that remains a perception for a lot of people. That that is what health food is. It’s colorless, it’s bland, it has no texture. It has no flavor. And we’re not supposed to enjoy it. That actually, you know, this outdated perception that if you are overweight, that it’s because you have overindulged. And I really like to counter that with food is meant to be enjoyed nutrition and sustenance. That’s only one small part of food. Food is for me, is mainly pleasure. It’s a connection to myself, to my loved ones, to my culture. A lot of people were taught that, you know, quote unquote, cultural food, whatever that means. We all have a culture is not healthy. People are told, oh, no, no, the food that you eat, that’s why you have diabetes. You have to eat this kind of standard healthy American diet. And then, you know, people being polite may not say, I’m not going to do that. That doesn’t resonate with me. Or like, I don’t know what that is. They’ll say, okay, I’ll try that. And then, you know, three months later they come back. No change. Oh, that didn’t work for you. And the fact is, they never ate it because they didn’t understand what it was or didn’t want to eat it. Every culture has a healthy diet.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:08:08

We do know from studies that in general, healthy diets are going to involve fewer processed foods and more whole foods. That makes sense.

Actually, the way that our food supply has become, is kind of devoid of nutrition, may have a lot of additives. We use a lot of convenience foods that are ultra processed. That is actually really the main problem. So if we go back to, you know, minimally processed foods from any culture and focus on lots of, you know, whole grains, legumes, vegetables, we can all actually eat joyfully and healthfully.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:08:46

You know, I never really thought of, the idea that people immediately when they think of healthy food. I got the idea that they they realize they need to eat less. But the idea that you also needed to eat more bland, that’s a really interesting thing. So it became fewer calories of a very, very plain food that that’s what you’re saying. That’s what your patients sort of came to you with. And on the other hand, humans, you know, we crave sweet, we crave salt, we want those tastes. And I think that’s part of what leads us to overeat is that if you’re in a society or an environment where you have plenty of options for food, you tend to seek out those foods. How do you how do you tackle this problem?

I really try not to demonize anything. So personally, I have a sweet tooth. Naturally. That’s that’s my, you know, my weakness. If anything.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:09:36

Mine too.

‘Yeah. It’s hard. So I like to ask myself, is it worth it? Like, do I want to have a bigger portion of a so-called healthier dessert? Or do I want a little bit of the real thing? I actually want a little bit of the real thing. Maybe less frequently. Right. So I want my amazing dessert. If I happen to be traveling in a place that has, like a really well-known bakery, I’m going to have that. But I’m going to eat it mindfully. So I think this is a really important tip for everybody. What that means – it doesn’t have to be meaning that you have to meditate over your food. It means when you’re eating your food, just focus on the pleasure of that. Eat slowly, chew your food. My dad actually has a saying chew your food 100 times. No one does that, but chew your food more than the half chew that most of us do before we swallow our food. You’ll taste it better, right? Chew it. And then also pay attention to when you’ve had enough. Some people say that it’s the first three bites where you really taste it, and after that you’re just eating it. So, you know, if that means that you’ve had enough, then then you’ve had enough then. And an easy way to do that is to split your dessert. That’s typically what I do.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:10:45

Another issue the day to day snacking. Doctor Shiue has some thoughts on that as well.

People snack a lot and I think snackers are divided into salty or sweet snackers and the salty snackers typically like chips. You know, this is what people eat when they’re watching TV at night, and the sweet snackers often like ice cream. So the first two recipes, which are very simple that I put in to my electronic medical record, were for the sweet snackers, banana nice cream. Have you had that before?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:11:15

I’ve not had it, but I read about it because of you.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:11:18

So I saw they take the frozen bananas and put them in the blender.

And it’s that easy and it’s surprisingly good. It tastes like soft serve. You can put in spices, you can add on toppings. You know, let’s say I make a healthier sundae with it with dark chocolate, put on fruit, nuts, etc.. And I always say, you know, I have to be real. It’s not ice cream, it’s not gonna be the same. But if you want to have this every night and then have your real ice cream once a week, this might make it better for you, right? So let’s do this a little bit better for the chip eater, the salty snacker I couldn’t a recipe for kale chips. And, I remember like, the skepticism of some of these early people. You know, I remember this guy. He’s like, come on, I don’t eat kale. Why would I do this? And I don’t I don’t really cook. I’m like, this is so easy and I’ll tell you how to make it right now. Have you ever made kale chips yourself, Sanjay?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:12:14

No. I have not.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:12:15

I’m…. I’m with your other friend here probably in terms of my skepticism.

Right. So again, not the same, but pretty good and really easy. So, you know, get your organic kale and I say organic for kale in particular because it keeps a lot of pesticide residue. Wash it well. Spin it dry and dry it off completely. And that tear or cut it into bite sized pieces. Toss it with a lot of olive oil, salt, pepper. And then you bake it in a slow oven like around 300 degrees for about 10 to 20 minutes. And you get these nice crispy, crunchy, salty snacks that actually are a value add. Right. So the idea with my stuff is that it has to taste good, but it should also add nutrition, right? No matter what. If you’re going to be eating something, why not have it do something that’s good for you? So kale, you’ve got all that fiber. You have calcium, magnesium, iron, vitamin K, potassium, all the things that we may not actually get enough of. It’s very heart healthy. It’s very diabetes friendly.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:13:17

Okay. I just want to say here that if you’re still skeptical about whether kale chips are going to satisfy your cravings, I do hear you on this one. But Doctor Shiue says stick with it. You might be surprised.

It’s worth it in a long run, you know? But as adults, too, we can all change our palates. Our taste buds constantly regenerate. And so give yourself a month if you’re cutting back on sugar or if you’re cutting back on salt, cutting back on fat. If you’re new to vegetables, just keep trying. Be patient. In a month you’ll be like, oh, that thing is now too sweet for me that I used to love.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:13:52

Coming up after the break, why the words we use around food do matter, and also a step by step guide to reframing your approach to eating. We’ll be right back.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:14:06

You know, being a writer like you are and someone who communicates this as well as a physician chef. I imagine that the word choices are really important to you. You made a conscious decision not to to lean into calorie counts. For example, the word diet. The word junk food, the word cheat day, things like that…. Are these. Is this language you use?

Words are so important, right? You know that words are so important and that people will remember your words if you make an unfortunate word choice forever. I can’t say that I have made lots of mistakes around word choices. But I try my best. And so for cheat day, I have fun when I can come up with a better term for something. I call them treat day. So I tell people, do not, you know, let’s let’s be positive. Let’s have a positive approach to all of this. You’re not going to eat perfectly. None of us eat perfectly. I don’t eat perfectly. You’re going to eat better. Don’t have a cheat day. Have a cheat day. I think it actually really is important to have a treat day. It’s like our lives are hard. We deserve to treat ourselves in whatever way that is, including in how we eat, i that is what people are into. Like, for me, I like to have my treats, but I don’t have them all the time and. There is no one healthy diet that is one size fits all. What works for me may not work for you and that is really important to recognize.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:15:26

As a general rule though, whether it’s a particular cultural diet or, you know, something that comes from your own heritage. Focusing on plants… That seems to be a pretty universal truth, as I’ve talked to lots of people about this, but I am curious, are there some top line things that people should think about if they’re listening to this podcast and say, okay, I want to enjoy my food. I don’t want to punish myself. I don’t want to deprive myself. I’m not into that bland diet that that Dr. Shiue’s babysitter ate when she was in kindergarten. Where do you begin?

Eat home cooked food more often. Right. Because again, you know exactly what’s going to it. You have control over it, and you can make it taste the way that you want to taste. So that is going to be number one, something that resonates with you and is better for you. Focus on again the plant based food, so specifically wholegrains leafy greens and legumes, beans and legumes. Focus on those things. No matter how you’re eating, then quantity is important and proportions of these items are important. So make vegetables half of your plate. Whole grains and proteins ideally a leaner protein including plant based proteins one quarter each of your plate.

And then getting to that plate. This goes back to my Michelin starred experience… Plate your food. Make it look good. We eat with our eyes first. You know, we talk about satiety often and like, do we feel full satiety actually is contributed to by what is our pleasure of that eating experience? If the food looks beautiful, you’re going to take your time to eat it. You’re going to have that joy of like eating a beautiful plate of food, even if it’s leftovers. And, focus on exploring spices. You know, my cookbook Spicebox Kitchen focuses on that because one, I love spices, but they’re also… they have health benefits. They’re are first medicines they bring us and connect us to different cultures around the world, and they’re kind of fun to play around with. You can’t go wrong, and I think that’s a good way for people to diversify their diets, even if they only know how to cook two things. Let’s say they only know how to roast a vegetable and grill some protein. If you play around with 20 different spices, you have 20 different meals there. I think that getting back to the mindful eating part of it, really, let’s try to shift from our kind of dominant culture of being productive all the time, even that that’s the culture that we all live in. Focus solely on your food. Enjoy that food. Take your time and chewing it so you can savor the flavor, absorb those nutrients better, and just give that as a gift to yourself. I think those sorts of things any of us can do, and it will improve most people’s eating experience and nutrition if they do that.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:18:10

Yeah, I think the idea of the mindless eating is, is that I’m, I’m a victim of that, or I’m somebody who falls prey to that. I guess, you know, the idea of being mindful when you eat, not being on your phone, not trying to multitask whenever I’ve done that. And it’s funny, I will just be candid. It happens rarely for me because I feel like I’m always on the run, but when I do it, it’s kind of magical, right? I really do enjoy each bite.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:18:40

Doctor Shiue says tuning into your body’s needs can really help drive better choices, but you got to be intentional about this. She recommends following the principles of what’s called intuitive eating, listening to your body’s signals about whether or not you’re actually hungry, or whether there might be something else you need at that moment.

Are they thirsty? Are they tired? Are they upset? Is that really what they’re seeking when they think they’re looking for food? So one, listening and trying to just take a moment to really establish what it is that they need at that time. And then when they’re making the food choice, thinking about, is this going to make me feel good right in the moment or also later? And then seeing what happens when you eat whatever you’re eating, notice that, like, do I feel better now or is this dragging me down? Did I feel better for a few minutes? And now I wish I hadn’t eaten that?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:19:35

And when it comes to noticing your feelings around food and around eating, Doctor Shiue says, try and let go of the guilt or shame. It really doesn’t serve much of a purpose.

Many of us have experienced shame or guilt around food, and that a lot of that is a product of our culture. And you know what the food industry has taught us, and what the fashion and whole dieting industries have created where there is an idealized image. And even though we as an individual may not even think that we care that much about that message, it’s reached all of us in all of our subconscious. And so I think that most people at some point feel like, oh, I shouldn’t eat that. That’s bad for me. It might affect my weight. Let’s get away from the weight as the reason why we maybe want you to make a different food choice. Let’s focus on your health, which is not always accurately reflected by your weight, whether it’s your weight gain or your inability to lose weight. But how.. what you eat, how it makes you feel, and what it does in terms of promoting the health of your body overall.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:20:48

I think for so many people it feels like I’m just trying to get my calories in. I know I need to eat, probably not gonna eat that healthy. I’m eating bland, whatever it might be, depriving myself. You have flipped the script on that. Enjoy your food. I mean, I think that’s probably the biggest point of this podcast, is that you can enjoy your food and eat healthy at the same time. Don’t demonize certain foods for being bad.

And there’s still room for indulgence. I really want to always acknowledge that that we should eat for pleasure, even if that means eating something which we may not categorize as being great for our health. And so I think that people have to put it all in the context. It’s not what you do every second, it’s the overall pattern of how you’re eating. And I think if people really lean into that and pay attention to their body signals of how their body is processing certain foods and how that makes them feel, you know, right after eating and from day to day that that will help guide people, you know, kind of listen to your body. I think that will never steer you wrong.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:21:50

‘You know, in a world where talking about food often revolves around weight, calories, nutrition, it is refreshing to hear Doctor Shiue’s perspective on all of this, that we should also focus on satisfaction and well-being, and try and let go of guilt and strict rules or labels. There’s also a lot of room for the foods we love because it’s not about being perfect. Instead, it’s about listening to your body signals about what you need not only what’s good for you, but what also makes you feel good. Because let’s be honest here, food is one of life’s greatest joys. I heard from a lot of you about that.

My comfort food is pizza. My goodness, it just hits all the things and I don’t even need toppings.

Grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup just reminds me of childhood.

Butter beans. No one ever thinks about them.

Hot tea. And if something Really wretched has happened…. Then it’s hot tea with sugar and lemon,.

Greek avgolemono soup which has chicken broth, eggs and lemon juice.

My mom passed away when I was about 20, and I realized that some of those processed foods from my childhood remind me of being with my mom. So I would say Oreos are my biggest comfort food.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:23:21

You know, I’m really grateful for all the conversations we’ve had on this season of Chasing Life.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:23:26

Doing this podcast is such a privilege because I always learn so much. I set out on this journey to find out what weight means for our health. What is the connection really between those two things? Whether it is possible to feel good and be healthy without agonizing over the numbers on the scale, and also why it can feel so hard to lose weight.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:23:47

Again, I learned a lot, not only about the latest weight loss drugs and why obesity is considered a disease, but also how to simply think about weight in a different way. To get some perspective on ourselves and others. Our society is evolving quickly and right now it has a lot of catching up to do. There is still so much to learn about weight and health, but I’m glad we get to do this together. I’m glad so many of you show so much interest in this topic, which I know can feel personal and complicated.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:24:20

In celebration of all this, we’re going to be diving into one of the biggest mysteries of life. Something I’m really excited about happiness, the science behind it, what it really means, and how you can be happier.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

00:24:41

Chasing life is a production of CNN audio. Our podcast is produced by Eryn Mathewson, Jennifer Lai, and Grace Walker. Our senior producer and showrunner is Felicia Patinkin. Andrea Kane is our medical writer and Tommy Bazarian is our engineer. Dan Dzula is our technical director. And the executive producer of CNN Audio is Steve Lickteig with support from Jamus Andrust, John Dianora, Haley Thomas, Alex Manasseri, Robert Mathers, Lainey Steinhardt, Nichole Pesaru and Lisa Namerow. Special thanks to Ben Tinker, Amanda Sealy, and Nadia Kounang of CNN Health and Katie Hinman.

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