Dining with docs


Dining with docs

DFN team and panellists
The Doctors for Nutrition team with the panellists at the Little Bird Kitchen café. From left Jenny Cameron, Malcom Mackay, Adrian Griscti and Luke Wilson. In front Hannah O’Malley, Caitlin Randles, Chloe Corbett

Non-profit organisation Doctors for Nutrition hosted its first Dine with a Doc event this morning. Guests who bought tickets to the event had a plant-based meal while participating in a Q & A session with a panel of health professionals. New Zealand Doctor reporter Zahra Shahtahmasebi went along.

If there’s no junk food in the house, children won’t eat it – you’ve got to set your pantry up for success

It was the crack of dawn, on a rainy Auckland morning, but made all the brighter by my foray into the Little Bird Kitchen in Ponsonby for a breakfast event.

It was the launch of the first Dine with a Doc, a panel Q & A session with a range of health professionals, served alongside a nutritious plant-based breakfast.

Doctors for Nutrition (DFN), a non-profit charitable organisation established in Australia, hosted the event, which member Hannah O’Malley tells me was a sell-out, with 57 tickets sold for a 56-seat capacity space.

Doctors for Nutrition are a non-profit charity who promote lifestyle medicine
Time for tea

As the clock hit 7am, things soon started to kick off. The café’s lovely wait staff supplied guests with either filter coffee or a turmeric tonic tea. As a tea lover, I opted for the turmeric tonic, but after a bad experience with a turmeric latte, and having decided turmeric tasted much better in cooking, I found myself slightly apprehensive.

But I’m not a coffee fan either, so I just had to bite the bullet. Much to my surprise it was actually quite pleasant.

Friendly wait staff supplied attendees with their choice of either turmeric tonic tea or filter coffee served with a range of plant-based milks
A healthy New Zealand

Sitting to my right, I found Andrew, a GP from Sydney, who’s attending the Australasian Lifestyle Medicine conference at the Grand Millennium Hotel over the weekend. He had lived and worked rurally before opening his own clinic in Sydney where he is increasingly focusing on lifestyle medicine with his patients.

We discussed life and briefly put the world to rights before Hannah was up, microphone in hand, introducing the event. She encouraged everyone to discuss their visions for what a healthy New Zealand looks like.

Ideas shared included a dietitian in every school, GST-free vegetables and fruit, and expensive fizzy drinks. But perhaps the most interesting suggestion was introducing a shorter working week, to give people more time to shop and prepare healthy food.

Before long, my stomach was rumbling. It was close to 8am and I hadn’t had anything to eat since I’d woken at the crack of dawn, which felt like a million years ago. The breakfast food was beginning to pour out of the kitchen, but our table hadn’t been reached yet. Boo.

I was filled with apprehension at trying the turmeric tea, but to my surprise it was delicious
Patiently waiting

My GP friend and a few others soon received their Bircher muesli bowls, which were beautifully presented and looked very appealing. As the others tucked in, I and another attendee were left to watch, waiting patiently but also rather hangrily for our smoky baked beans on toast.

Not that we were complaining, as the wait staff did a tremendous job of keeping track of more than 50 orders.

The Bircher muesli bowl option looking very aesthetically pleasing
Breakfast arrives, benefits of plants discussed

As Hannah handed over to her co-host and DFN ambassadoc Luke Wilson, my beans arrived. Score!

I tucked in as he described some of the remarkable benefits that come from eating a mostly plant-based wholefoods diet.

A study undertaken in Gisborne involved working with about 30 people, showing them how to cook and prepare plant-based meals. The effects were almost instant with significant reductions in BMI which were found to be maintained over a year.

All in all, a wholly pleasant presentation. I wish I could say the same about the beans. Unfortunately, while looking very appetising, the beans were lacking smokiness, and perhaps it’s just me, but I found them under seasoned. The freshly chopped chives and other herbs as a garnish were delightful, but all in all the dish wasn’t as flavourful as I would’ve hoped.

The attendees seemed to enjoy their plant-based breakfast
Time for a chat

Once again, I found myself wishing I had ordered the Bircher bowl.

It was now time for the Q&A session where the panel consisted of rural GP Adrian Griscti from South Australia, Malcolm Mackay, a GP from Victoria, Jenny Cameron, a nutritionist, and Dr Wilson.

The smoky baked beans, while looking very delicious, failed to deliver on flavour
The panel

Attendees wanted to know how they could encourage plant-based diets for their children, to which Dr Griscti answered, “Well, if there’s no junk food in the house, children won’t eat it – you’ve got to set your pantry up for success.”

Hmm, sound advice, but easier said than done, methinks, what with junk food consistently cheaper than healthy food. Cost therefore was another issue raised by the audience – what can people do to eat right, and it not cost the earth?

“Especially for mothers, who just want to feed their kids well,” says Graeme Washer, medical advisor for the Men’s Health Trust NZ.

Well, say the panellists, the nutritional value of starchy foods is often overlooked; they are often a cheap but excellent source of energy.

“We can sustain ourselves quite well on sweet potato, white potato, it’s still quite healthy,” says Ms Cameron.

Among challenges that prevent people from improving their diets is confusion. One attendee asked about the ketogenic diet, another about intermittent fasting.

The panel says the benefit of the keto diet is purely short term, with weight loss and some diabetes control. Anything asking you to eat high fats, lots of meats and oils and less of fruit and certain vegetables can’t be good for you, they say.

As for intermittent fasting, there is a range of ways to do it, but the benefits depend on what you’re trying to achieve.

The panellists reckon more resources and services are needed to guide people through how to eat well and sustainably. Not only is the dietary change important, but also the behaviour change, which is often the hardest step.

All of a sudden, the panel was brought to a close by Hannah, and I was left feeling faintly disappointed that there hadn’t been more time to quiz the experts.

The future of Dine with a Doc

After a lot of waiting I managed to tie down Hannah and Dr Wilson, who seemed pleased with their efforts.

Dr Wilson tells me Dine with a Doc was an idea of Hannah’s, as she saw it as a fun, educational opportunity for people to connect with a health professional while enjoying a delicious, healthy meal.

“It’s all well and good to talk about it, but you’ve got to show them,” says Dr Wilson. Listening to the benefits of a plant-based diet, while eating a plant-based meal, people will be more inclined to take that message on board.

Compared with the traditional and clinical way of going to see a doctor, Hannah says, the event places health advice in a more comfortable space, where people feel questions are welcomed.

Hannah and Dr Wilson would love to see Dine with a Doc taken on at a more community level, with general practices throughout the country offering similar events for patients. They’re hoping to hold more such events in Australia or New Zealand.

While it could be argued DFN was simply preaching to the converted today, Dr Wilson believes the attendees have the connections and influence to share the message and make real change.