It felt like Woodstock for the natural food industry. A long, snaking line led to a giant ballroom so packed that attendees sat in the aisles when chairs were all taken.
The main attraction was a Harvard-trained medical doctor and botanist whose work has long been familiar to this admiring crowd.
And Dr. Andrew Weil did not disappoint.
As sharp and insightful as ever, this veteran teacher and author on holistic health outlined extreme challenges with the state of nutrition and diet in this nation and the world, but offered some simple prescriptions to begin to address the problems.
"There's so much confusion about diet and food today, and I don't see it getting any better," he said.
The big problem, he said, is that good nutrition practices are widely agreed upon, but in fact that consensus is not being adequately communicated to health professionals and the media.
"Physicians still receive virtually no training in nutritional science," he said. "Medical doctors in this country are functionally illiterate about nutrition. It's not their fault. They weren't taught it."
Meanwhile, vested interests, including parts of the food industry, resist change, he said. The government also needs to do more to guide consumers on good nutrition, he added. As one example, he said the government, in promoting produce, doesn't distinguish between fruits and vegetables in terms of priorities, even though fruits are high sugar sources and need to be eaten with more moderation.
Weil said he's surprised by the surge of interest in cooking in this country, reflected by the growing output of cookbooks and food shows on TV.
"Fewer people in this country are actually cooking than ever," he said.
"Cooking has become entertainment, which is discouraging."
He said the joy of really good, fresh food has been lost of most people in the face of all the processed foods being eaten.
"When I make food for people, they are often knocked out by how delicious it is," he said. "That's because I start with great, fresh ingredients. People haven't tasted that."
He offered a few general guidelines as takeaways for those trying to sift through seemingly conflicting advice in the media.
First, reduce sweetener consumption, and try to avoid sweetened beverages.
Read more: SN's coverage of Natural Products Expo West
Second, try to get a better grasp on facts about grains, particularly the differences between whole grains and pulverized grains.
"Grains aren't the problem, it's what we've done to grains," he said.
He advised people to stop eating products with flour and sugar in order to manage weight.
In the face of dietary challenges in this country, Weil offered some comforting words to avoid making people feel overwhelmed by the need to follow strict and shifting nutritional advice from multiple sources.
"There's no such thing as a 'right' diet," he said. "Humans are omnivores and designed to exist on everything."
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