Marco Schaden (MS): What kind of diets do you recommend?
Maria Dello (MD): I developed the Lifestyle30 because every day I get a question about a fad diet. Right now, the most popular diet is the keto diet. Everyone should be evaluated, it’s very customized, your genetics are different and the way you work out is different. So, you really have to look at someone and say what is your body makeup, are you shaped like an apple or a pear. A big thing for me is looking at family history, so I’m not only treating someone for today, but I’m treating someone in 20 years. So if I were to evaluate you, I would say, how old is your mother? Does she have diabetes? How old is your dad? Does he have heart disease? It’s really important for someone to look at their goal when they look at their diet. Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to gain muscle? What is your family history like? On Weight Watchers, people are counting points, to me that’s a food prison. People ask if they can have popcorn or a treat after dinner–well are you hungry? Are you listening to your body?
MS: What do you say to someone that wants to lose weight?
MD: People say they want to lose weight, but what kind of weight do you want to lose? Most people as they age lose muscle mass so that is not the best thing to do, because with every inch of muscle you’re going to burn 50 calories. I don’t really go too much on the weight scale, I go on the body fat, and so the lower the body fat statistically shows that you will live a longer life and burn more calories. So, ideally, in a perfect world, you should be on a low-carb diet, paleolithic and Mediterranean diet.
MS: What is your diet regimen?
MD: It’s really important to know who you are and what your goals are. The number one diet is actually the Mediterranean diet. I pretty much follow the Mediterranean diet. I don’t eat gluten, I eat a little dairy, mostly some yogurt, and lots of fish. However, I also did my DNA testing, which gave me a specific diet to go through, so it basically took the guesswork out. Patients come in and they want to try the keto diet, but they gain weight on it. If you were to really narrow me down, I’m more of a qualitarian. I try and eat organic as much as I can, eat non-GMO and shop at local farms. I have not eaten a non-organic piece of hormone-free meat, very rarely, but I’m also not going to be a food-snob if I go out to eat. I will look for deep-sea fish, salad and vegetables when I’m out. Once a week you got to have some fun so you pick your fancy, have a cheat day. Pick your day, pick your fun.
MS: What is a Mediterranean and paleolithic diet?
MD: Thousands of years ago, there were not any grains so we as humans created processed foods. For example, there was wheat, and then, to feed the masses they processed it or they processed sugar from corn and you got high fructose corn syrup. Anything processed is not in the paleolithic diet and if you look at the history of humans, most of us have these fangs for teeth because they were supposed to eat protein. Protein is essential for the building block of muscle, without it you can’t build muscle and you can’t burn fat without muscle.
MS: What kind of diets do you recommend to someone that may be 50 pounds overweight? Do you factor in body type and genetics for someone like that as well?
MD: If someone is really trying to lose 50 pounds, I would say the number one thing they can do is be consistent. Without being consistent you can’t lose weight.
MS: Should they have a cheat day?
MD: Not initially. Remember, every time you eat something and if it is sugar, it will alter our chemistry. When you eat sweets, you want more sweets, it’s a catch 22. You have to be aware of that, the best thing this person could do is be on a low-carb diet and be consistent. Being accountable is another one and you can do that by keeping a food journal or meeting with a nutritionist—every week or every two weeks is crucial even if you wanted to do it virtually.
MS: Would you recommend that people find out about their genetics to understand what they should be eating or not eating?
MD: 100 percent. I have been practicing for 20 years and I have every diet you can imagine. I can practically make you lose weight overnight.
MD: Really. I can make you lose weight by tomorrow. I can tell you three things today to lose weight, but can you keep it off. Anyone can lose weight, but can you keep it off and that is the problem with diets. When I discovered DNA testing, which I do here, it tells me exactly about food allergies, are you lactose intolerant, how do you deal with carbohydrates and are you sensitive to fats. All these people that are doing this keto diet, it might not be working for them because guess what? They didn’t test their DNA. This DNA test that I do at Dellonutritionals totally takes the guesswork out of dieting. It tells you if you should be on a Mediterranean diet, high-fat diet, high-carb diet, low-carb diet. This all goes back to the history of you as a human being and to your ancestors and what they ate. It’s also tells me what type of exercise is best from my history. Should I be doing more weights or cardio, or should I be doing both. This takes all the guesswork out of dieting, it’s a brilliant test, the results are amazing.
MS: What about prices for healthy foods? Low-income families struggle finding healthier food choices because the prices might be too high and the only food they can afford is the unhealthy option. Is there a way to work around that?
MD: It is a little bit pricier to buy organic or non-GMO, but I have realized that now every supermarket has aisles of organic food. There are the local markets that have food co-ops where you can buy a box of vegetables for $30 a week and believe me it’s a lot of vegetables and it’s all organic. I supply my patients with food sources that are not going to break the bank. The other issues with low-income families is they sort of have to be a hunter. They have to scout out different venues of food for better quality and purity. I think it is important that even if the prices are lower, really be a smart consumer and shop around. Nowadays, you can go online and look it all up and find the healthier choices.
MS: How do low-income families stay away from going to the $1 dollar menu than going to the grocery store when the unhealthier option is cheaper and easier?
MD: That is true, but if the idea is that there is no other food source that cheap—are they ordering a soda with it? There are other things they can do to offset that cheap unhealthy meal. Did they exercise that morning? Did they drink water that evening? Can they complement that meal with a piece of fruit? There is no doubt about it, fast food is always going to be around and it’s always going to be cheap. McDonald’s does not have closing signs, they seem to be doing very well. I think perhaps ordering a healthier choice there can help. Even Burger King has a vegan meal. Over time all these people that eat fast food, what do they get?
MD: They get sick. It’s much cheaper to be healthier in the long run because having diabetes is super expensive. I evaluated a patient one time and we figured out it cost them $400 dollars a month just to have diabetes. It’s very, very expensive.
MS: Do you find that our food system in this country is set up to make you obese? You’re not seeing advertisements on TV about healthier foods, you’re seeing McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell.
MD: Absolutely, no doubt in my mind. Look, you’re in control of your own body. From what I see and I think everybody can almost agree to this, there are food advertisements everywhere, even if you’re on the treadmill—you’re seeing advertisements for pizza, burgers, french fries, donuts and we eat with our eyes. Now that you mention that, there is a reason we should be reading labels. Do you think the government cares that there is a FDC-number yellow or red dye number four and five and six in our foods? The healthiest person is an educated person.
MS: Do you think the government should be helping the consumer educate themselves in terms of providing better labels and showing us what is exactly is in the food we eat or things we drink?
MD: Yes, yes.
MS: Why is that not being done right now?
MD: Because we’re behind. All the European countries do it. Why? That is the big question. That I cannot answer. ‘Why’ is the million-dollar question because Europe is doing it, we’re way behind on everything. Germany and England don’t allow dyes and coloring in their food, only we do. Even Russia is before us.
MS: Why have we not gone with the European thinking towards our food?
MD: Like I said, I think we’re behind. I also think that big pharma, the drug companies, hugely influence the food industry. With that kind of combination, the only armor of protection is an educated consumer.
MS: Specifically, what kinds of things do countries in Europe do to protect the consumer?
MD: First off, they don’t allow dyes. It’s known that it causes cancer, it’s a carcinogen. My big pet peeve here is the aspartame. European countries don’t allow it.
MS: What is aspartame?
MD: Aspartame is the artificial sweetener. It’s in anything usually called ‘diet’ so the consumer thinks oh if I drink this I will be on a diet.
MS: So like a Diet Coke?
MD: Yes, like a Diet Coke. Over time these companies were forced to get on the bandwagon because consumers don’t want it. We know because there is so much evidence and I think with the internet, it educated people. People Google aspartame and they say ‘oh shoot I should not drink that’. It causes cancer in rats.
MS: Should we be relying on the government–
MD: No. We should become an educated consumer and that is the very thing I have been talking about in my lectures for the past 20 years.
MS: Do you think the government should help people become educated consumers?
MD: Yes, they should. The million-dollar question is ‘Why aren’t they?’ they should be. It’s like letting your kid out to play baseball in the middle of the expressway. No, because they will get hurt, right? We would like to think the government is watching out for us, but are they is another question.
MS: Have you ever heard a politician talk about the FDA or about nutrition?
MS: Should they be talking about it?
MD: I think so. I think it should also be a requirement that whoever runs to be a politician they should also be adherent to a healthy lifestyle. Just like parents, we teach our kids. Just like practitioners, we should be an example. All politicians should be an example of what we want our population to be doing. I think it is super important.
MS: When was the last time you ate fast food?
MD: Probably high school. That’s true.
MS: Do you remember what you ordered?
MD: It was at Great Adventure. It must have been a hot dog at one of those concession stands. That was the last time I had a hot dog.
MS: (laughs) Okay.
Maria Dello is a nutritionist at Dellonutritionals. Her office is located in Manhasset on 75 Plandome Rd.