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Mediterranean Diet Month Interview – Dr. Cicerone

As National Mediterranean Diet month marches on, we had the chance to sit down with Dr. Aliza Cicerone, ND, FABNO to talk about naturopathic medicine and her advice for patients looking to live life to the fullest while putting their health first. Dr. Cicerone is the owner and medical director of Spark Health in Solana Beach, CA. Not only was Dr. Cicerone SO inspiring, but she was also a breath of fresh air. We admired her passion for helping patients get to the root of their problems and working to achieve their health and wellness goals. Take a peek at our Q&A with Dr. Cicerone below and let us know your thoughts via instagram @lunagrill!

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hi, my name’s Dr. Aliza Cicerone. I’m a naturopathic doctor and I’m the owner and medical director of Spark Health in Solana Beach, California.

Tell us about Naturopathic Medicine and what you do.

Naturopathic Medicine is what a lot of people refer to as “Integrative Medicine.” It’s combining the best of natural remedies with conventional, modern medicine. We use evidence based natural medicine in conjunction with what people would think of as mainstream medicine.

Naturopathic doctors are trained in conventional medicine practices as well as nutrition, botanical medicine and hands on physical manipulations. In short, we have a lot of tools in our toolbox to help address patients’ core needs. Our goal is to look at preventive and lifestyle measures as opposed to just disease and symptom management. While we do that we are using prescription medications, lifestyle recommendations, natural supplements, really the whole gamut to help patients become well for the long term.

Why do you love what you do?

I pretty much have my dream job. Honestly, I get to help people become well everyday. I think a lot of people look to medicine to try to find something that is missing and put those missing pieces back together. Unfortunately, a lot of times in the conventional medical world there’s just not enough time to do that. Patients don’t feel like they have that time or connection with their doctor; they feel like they’re not always heard with what their needs are. Naturopathic medicine really allows the doctor and the patient to form a strong relationship. I’m able to not only be my patients’ doctor but also be their friend and their guide to help them reach their goals in life with health and wellness. I get to be their coach in a way and to see them flourish. I make the recommendations, but  they are the ones that are putting in the hard work. It’s really cool to be able to be a part of that process and to watch them evolve and grow as they take a proactive stance in their health and wellness for the rest of their life.

What is your go-to piece of advice for your patients?

My piece of advice for my patients is also my piece of advice for myself. When I’m talking to my patients, I recognize that I need to say this to myself in the mirror too…

Are you happy? Is what you are doing in your everyday life making you happy? Try making a list of all of the things in your life that make you happy, things that in any context bring you joy. Then, look at your schedule for the day and your day to day. Is there overlap? If there is no overlap and I’m not doing something that makes me happy and brings me joy everyday, then I need to reconfigure what those days look like for myself.

What types of lifestyle changes do you recommend to your patients who want to live a more heart healthy life? What steps can someone take right now to make progress?

I think the biggest thing that people can do for heart health and cardiovascular health is to move. It doesn’t have to be a gym membership or a triathlon club. It can just be getting out and simply walking. Get your blood circulating, get your heart pumping, get everything flowing. That’s the #1 thing that people can do that we often times think we do not have time for. I always tell my patients that everybody has 10 minutes a day. Again, it doesn’t have to be that you are going outside for an hour-long walk, just walk outside for 10 minutes. Over time the 10 minutes turns to 15, the 15 turns to 20, and 20 turns into 30. You are getting your blood flowing, you are breathing in fresh air, and you are getting that movement that our bodies really crave and desire to be healthy. Our hearts and circulatory systems are supposed to be moving and pumping blood so that’s what that movement will help your body do. It doesn’t have to be something that is really time consuming and intense.

What types of food choices do you recommend for your patients? You likely recommend different options for different individuals, however, are there any foods that you always recommend? On the other hand, are there any foods you suggest clients stay away from?

My #1 food tip is to eat real food and stay away from processed foods. It’s funny, people always come in and they have carton egg whites, fat free milk or fat free yogurt and I always say jokingly, “Do chickens lay egg whites?” or “Do cows produce fat free milk?” No, they don’t. So, the more we can eat our foods in their real form as they were meant to be consumed the better off we are. Everyone is so individual with what works for them so there’s not a one size fits all plan. The goal is to eat real foods that feel good in our bodies. If we can pull out those foods that we know don’t work well for us we end up having a much higher level of health and wellness in general. So, in short, steering clear of processed foods and foods that might cause inflammation in the body.

That said, it’s hard to know what those things are for each individual person. A good way to find that out is to check your food sensitives. They are not allergies like an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts or something, it’s longer term chronic exposure that can lead to inflammation and disharmony in the digestion track. If each person can see what those foods are for their specific body, then they know what they can pull out so their bodies can function better and utilize those nutrients more optimally.

As much as the Mediterranean diet is about healthy food and lifestyle choices, it is also about mind body wellness. Sleep, enjoying time with others and disconnecting from life’s stressors are very important. Do you have any recommendations that you typically pass along to your clients to achieve mind body wellness?

I think it’s really important that people have a balanced life which is really hard to do in today’s day and age. As a doctor and as a business owner I know that it’s hard to find that balance. The Mediterranean lifestyle, and I say this as an Italian Jew, is all about family, celebration, finding joy with food and finding joy in your surroundings. I think that having a meal with the people that you love where you are really enjoying it is the best way to do this. You are cooking together, spending time together, maybe having a glass of red wine as you make dinner. It’s not just about cooking food to consume it and eat, it’s about cooking to enjoy that time together with our loved ones.

A big part of this is that it helps people relax and unwind, which is really important while we are eating. We want our bodies to be able to take in the food that we are preparing and break it down so that we can utilize the nutrients. When we rush through our meals our body goes into an alarm state, or “fight or flight” mode. We’re supposed to be relaxing, digesting, chewing; that’s what makes our body actually able to break down the food we are eating and utilize those nutrients on a cellular level.

What do you do in your practice to assist patients with destressing and enhancing their mindset/mood?

Aside from general lifestyle counseling about healthy sleep and eating habits, I think it is really important to look at our brain chemistry to see where that balance is. We make all of these brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Some neurotransmitters keep us relaxed and calm while others are more uplifting and give us energy. It’s important that we have balance between the two sides of the coin which is actually something that you can test. There are easy tests that can look at the levels of all of the brain chemicals and neurotransmitters to see what might be out of balance. It’s not just taking something that is low and making it high or vise versa, it’s finding a balance among all of the neurotransmitters so that you feel calm, happy, uplifted and energetic but in a balanced way.

What are the best foods to fuel a healthy and active lifestyle and why?

First, I recommend looking at what’s available and what’s in season. The other thing I like to look at is the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15. I use this as a source all the time for helping patients pick what fruits and veggies they can get away with buying conventionally grown with lower levels of pesticides versus those that you want to make sure you are buying organically.

I don’t like to say people can’t have a certain thing but the foods that I would say more to avoid would be foods that are starchier and heavy which means they are hard for your body to digest. I think it’s important to look at fruits and veggies that are low glycemic. Try getting as many colors of the rainbow as possible during the day so that you can get all of that antioxidant support which helps protect your cell from damage for long term health.

It’s also about what people like; what each person’s palate drifts towards. There are always ways to make things taste delicious, whether it’s throwing a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper when roasting vegetables or having a really great fresh fruit bowl.

How do you stay active?

I think with activity it’s really important to find something that you love to do. For me it’s Pilates, Barre and walking my dogs outside. I’m not somebody who goes to the gym, I used to do that for hours a day and I realized that it wasn’t making me happy or bringing me joy. For me it’s getting outdoors, taking in the fresh air, or going for a walk along the beach because we live in San Diego and we’re so lucky that we can do that everyday. I think for patients it’s about finding what feels good to you, not what you feel forced to do or you’ll feel guilty about if you don’t do it. What makes your body, your mind and your spirit feel good?

Loved what you read? Check out Spark Health in Solana Beach, CA or learn more about Dr. Cicerone here.