What & Where the Doctors Eat — Dr. Cate Shanahan

Chris Armstrong Posted By Chris Armstrong on Jan. 15, 2017 / Comments

We all talk a good game about how to eat, what to eat, and the importance of preparing our own food from quality ingredients. The truth is that everyone faces the same dilemmas from time to time. Whether it's travel, working late, business lunches, social outings, or simply not being interested in cooking, there are many reasons that eating that home cooked meal may not always be possible.

I've decided to pose a series of questions to our members on a weekly basis on what gets them through these situations. You might be surprised at some of the answers and others might be exactly what you expected — either way, I'm hopeful that this will help you navigate your way through the myriad of awkward, inconvenient, or simply lazy situations you find yourself in.

This week's interview:

Dr. Cate Shanahan from Denver, Colorado

Catherine Shanahan

Catherine Shanahan, MD

Newtown, CT

CA: Do you put much thought into where you eat out? Or do you simply go anywhere and try to make do with what's on the menu?

CS: The only ingredients I avoid categorically are the vegetable oils. These are, however, ubiquitous in restaurants and the staff will lie and say they use olive oil when they use a blend containing as little as 1% olive oil “any ratio, any grade”.

When its up to me where to go, I pick restaurants that serve foods that don’t need oils, raw (sushi or crude) and bone-stock soups, like pho. If I want to go somewhere fancy, I will have to call first and grill the poor hostess about the oils they use and what can be made with butter. It’s a process. This is one of the most time consuming tasks that I perform for the Lakers.

CA: Most memorable restaurant meal in Denver?

CS: Bon Bo Hue. It’s this Vietnamese soup made with bone stock, blood pudding, beef tendon, and pigs feet topped with fresh herbs, bean sprouts and spicy sauces. Also I enjoyed it with another Re-Find Health doctor, Jeff Gerber. It only cost like 9 bucks and was ridiculously filling.

Photo Credit: Coppertane

CA: Most memorable restaurant meal outside of Denver?

CS: That’s tough, I’ve been treated to so many good meals! Probably the most memorable opened my eyes to a whole world of traditional food I’d never imagined existed.

This was in 1994, years before I changed my diet, in Nepal. I’d tell you the name but am pretty sure it did not have one.

I had been attending a medical school elective rotation at the Chang Mai hospital when I randomly encountered a high school friend and we'd decided to head to Nepal and do the Annapurna circuit after my elective was over.

Along the circuit, every menu at every hostel was regulated by the Nepalese Trekking board and had mostly the same stuff, but every interpretation was wildly different. The most memorable of them all was not on the menu, technically illegal. I got it at this huge hostel perched in the rocks on a ridge somewhere in the Himalayas in this otherwise undeveloped ridge. It was the only hostel for miles in every direction and it was dinner time and it was totally packed with probably 150 travelers. The kitchen didn’t have enough staff, and after 2.5 hours waiting at a table, our Sherpa took pity on us and went into the kitchen to demand something… anything.

What he brought out was completely authentic no doubt, a small plastic bright pink bowl, no bigger than what you’d see in a rabbit cage, of dahl (lentil) soup with random chicken parts including the head, complete with beak and eyeballs, and feet. My friend had no interest but I was hungry enough to taste it--after much consideration and deliberation that I still feel bad about.

The flavor of the soup, to my delight, was like totally regular chicken lentil soup. Actually it was quite good. I had no idea you could eat that stuff and no idea it would taste good.

I realized that, even in that mostly undeveloped, super rural location, our concept of Nepalese cuisine had been highly censored.

That plastic pink bowl forever changed my perception of what kinds of foods were edible. More importantly, when it comes to understanding the kinds of nutrients our genes have come to expect, it jolted me into a new reality of what traditional food really looks like. Keep in mind Nepal, like India, is widely thought of as a place where folks eat primarily vegetarian cuisine.

CA: For people with special diets, how do you suggest they talk with restaurant staff in order to get what they need?

CS: Since my primary focus is avoiding vegetable oils, I will focus just on navigating that. In many ways, it’s far easier to avoid gluten than vegetable oils because so many people are gluten free and so few people even know what vegetables are. (Gluten composes 1% of the average American’s diet, while vegetable oils compose 4-50%, so the issue seems a bit out of proportion.) To avoid exposure to these toxic fats, aka liquid death, I recommend you call ahead and ask if there is anything on the menu that can be made with pure olive oil or butter instead of a blended oil or soy or canola or rice bran, since those are the most common. If you can’t call ahead, then ask the same question once you arrive and politely insist your server check with the kitchen. It’s a real pain to have to feel like you are spoiling the mood with all these questions but the fact is that no matter how busy the restaurant you are educating the server about the most important toxin in the American food system and someday he or she might benefit from your exchange.

CA: Do you prepare an emergency meal when you travel? If so, what do you include?

CS: Milk and cream, which I pack frozen, canned tuna or sardines or oysters, hard cheese, kale chips, peeled carrots, pickles and sprouted pumpkin seeds are my favorites.

CA: Your favorite quick meal to prepare at home?

CS: My breakfast. Cold brewed coffee poured into a cup of milk and 1/4 cup of cream, both raw and grass fed.

CA: In terms of food, what is your guilty pleasure?

CS: I was going to say chocolate but realized I have it more often than the other option: Bacon. So I must feel guiltier about bacon or I’d eat it more.... Bacon is not as healthy as a lot of folks think. Either that or fresh baked bread with pasture butter. And now that Tommy brought up pecan pie, that’s a good one too, which I last had 9 years ago… mmm. Or cookies… I had one in September. Or cheesecake… or….has anyone picked just one for this question?

More About Catherine Shanahan

Catherine ShanahanDr. Cate Shanahan is a board certified Family Physician. She trained in biochemistry and genetics at Cornell University before attending Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. She practiced in Hawaii for ten years where she studied ethnobotany and her healthiest patient’s culinary habits. She consults for the LA Lakers. And in March 2017 will be relocating to Newtown CT to open a new office.

Read More Q&A's from the "What & Where They Eat" Series