Dr. Catherine Shanahan, a new family practice physician at Queen of the Valley Medical Associates, wants to help Napans start eating their way to better health.
Specializing in nutrition, weight control, sports medicine, metabolic health and more, Shanahan’s professional aims are twofold: treating patients and turning them on to some traditional, nutritious foods that might surprise you.
Shanahan comes most recently from Catholic Medical Center in Bedford, N.H., where she was a primary care physician in 2010 and created a medical nutritional system designed to prevent illness and control weight.
Her fascination with the link between food and overall health, however, started much earlier, after a run-in with her own joint-related problems as a college athlete, and later, while practicing medicine in Kalaheo, Hawaii from 1999 to 2009. Shanahan said patient health records at West Kauai Clinic, dating back to 1978, spoke volumes about the status quo of the American health care system.
“I would see people being put on medications more and more and never getting taken off (of them),” she said.
According to clinic records, patients overall were “not really feeling much different or better, and not necessarily staying out of the hospital, and so (that) just was unsatisfying professionally,” she said.
She decided something was missing. And tracking her healthiest patients’ everyday habits revealed something that didn’t surprise her: Patients with the most robust constitutions ate low-carbohydrate diets including fresh vegetables and traditional, nutritious foods like eggs, liver, bone broths and meats from locally raised animals.
Years earlier, while attending Rutgers University on a track and field scholarship, Shanahan experienced her own health challenge firsthand. Conditions like shin splints, tendonitis, pulled muscles and related problems were getting in the way of her athletic endeavors. Traditional medical advice, she said, didn’t help her problems, but changing her diet did.
“It was a very radical overhaul, because I had to get rid of everything I learned in medical school, almost,” she said, referring to traditional medical beliefs about what comprises a healthy diet. “You can’t just go from believing (eating) cholesterol is causing heart attacks … to saying you should eat eggs and butter — not canola oil.”
During her tenure in Kauai, Shanahan wrote two books with her husband, Luke Shanahan: “Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food” and “Food Rules: A Doctor’s Guide to Healthy Eating.” Also while practicing in Hawaii, Shanahan won the island People’s Choice Award for local physicians, according to Queen of the Valley Medical Associates.
After graduating from Rutgers, Shanahan studied molecular biology and genetics at Cornell University and graduated from Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in 1994. Also a member of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians and of the Nutrition and Metabolism Society, she said Napa’s scenic panoramas, active lifestyle and cuisine-centered culture drew her to the area, where she has spent many vacations with her husband.
Because of her focus on traditional fare, she added, Napa is “somewhere I ought to be — where there are people into cooking and good food and they know what I’m talking about when I (mention) a reduction sauce,” she said, smiling.
Looking ahead, Shanahan said she’s hoping to work with other local physicians on a nutritional and medical program designed to integrate nutritional guidance into patients’ medical plans. She and her husband also have another book in the works, which may be called “The Trim Solution,” and will focus on what dietary changes readers can make to lose weight and help prevent illnesses.
“What I really like is when people feel like they have more control over their health than they thought,” Shanahan said. “I can tell them that their family history is still a work in progress. You’re writing your family history right now, and you can start rewriting it by eating differently.”