Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Are dietitians getting too sexy?

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A few years ago I wrote a blog post that really hit a nerve with other dietitians. It was about how dietitians just aren’t sexy. This was in the sense that we don’t hop on trends (unlike other unregulated professionals) and instead are moored in evidence-based practice. Unfortunately, I’m noticing a disturbing trend in dietetics and I’m concerned about the future of my profession.

There have always been some dietitians who believe in unproven practices such as detox, fad diets, and questionable supplements. It’s a shame to see others promoting such nonsense as I feel it reflects poorly on all of us but it’s always been the minority. It’s also been somewhat understandable because it can be a tough field in which to find a secure job. And we probably all have some beliefs that aren’t based in evidence. Experience is important in combination with scientific evidence. However, I feel like in this age of fake news where nothing means anything anymore, that this is infiltrating dietetics at a higher level.

Recently there’s been the introduction of “integrative functional nutrition” which sounds very scientific and pretty great, “A central theme of IFNA training is learning to identify “root causes” of disease in a methodical and systematic fashion rather than the mundane prescription of medical nutrition protocols based on a diagnosis”. Who doesn’t want to get to the root causes of illnesses? I think the main frustration with Western medicine is that there’s often a failure to dig deeper to find the root cause for ailments and simply a treating of symptoms. This is why so many people turn to unscientific alternative health practitioners for help. Unfortunately, “integrative functional nutrition/medicine” tends to be code for the smooshing together evidence-based practices and unproven unscientific practices. The creation of bodies of dietetics incorporating these practices lends false credibility to them.

Last week I attended a nutrition conference. It was generally a really great conference with presenters sharing a variety of perspectives and evidence. There were also presentations by people with lived experience. I think there’s a great deal of value in learning from people who have experience with various conditions, circumstances, illnesses, etc. However, the final presenter was by an individual who had “cured” a severe mental illness through nutrition and supplements with the aid of a Christian doctor in the US. I’m not in a position to question this person’s experience but the presentation made me extremely uncomfortable. I don’t doubt that nutrition plays an important role in supporting mental health. Although I do doubt that we can cure most cases of mental illness through nutrition.

As dietitians, we are always trying to promote ourselves as credible sources of nutrition information. Yet here we are, welcoming a presentation from an individual who was treated by a doctor whom would be dubbed as a quack by most. This guy readily fails Dietitians of Canada’s “Five tips to help you spot misinformation“.

1. Is the person or product promising a quick fix like fast weight-loss or a miracle cure? Check!

2. Are they trying to sell you products such as special foods or supplements? Check!

3. Do they provide information based on personal stories rather than on facts? Check!

4. Is their claim based on a single study or a few research studies? Not sure if the claims are based on any research so yeah, Check!

5. What are the person’s qualifications? Unfortunately, he’s a medical doctor which makes it sound like he’s a qualified professional. But we all know that doesn’t stop Dr Oz from operating outside of his scope of practice. Being a MD doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual is qualified to be providing nutrition services (most doctors receive very little nutrition education during medical school). As far as I can discern, he hasn’t received any specialized nutrition education so… CHECK!

Inviting people who are promoting such quackery to professional conferences undermines our credibility as nutrition professionals. It lends false credibility to their practices and allows these unproven beliefs to infiltrate dietetics. It makes it harder for us to present ourselves as credible nutrition professionals and undermines the ability of the public to trust us.

It’s discouraging to see people seeking out healthcare from unregulated professionals with questionable credentials and practices. But I don’t think the solution lies in taking the attitude that if you can’t beat them, join them. It’s important for us to continue to ground our advice in the best possible scientific evidence if we want to remain trusted healthcare professionals. Otherwise we may as well all burn our degrees and licences because they’ll become as meaningless as the credentials of all the self-styled nutrition gurus.

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Should dietitians use #eatclean on social media?

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A friend shared this article with me last month. For those of you who can’t be bothered to click links or belong to the TL;DR camp (of which, I’ll admit, I’m a frequent member) let me give you the briefest of synopses. It was about clean eating, why people got so sucked in by the notion, and why it won’t freaking die already.

Reading about all of the self-appointed “clean eating” wellness gurus got me thinking about how many of us who rail against fad diets are also inadvertently complicit in keeping them alive. I see lots of well-intentioned dietitians using hashtags like #cleaneating and #eatclean on their Instagram posts. Personally, I prefer the tag #eatdirty although I don’t think it garners me as many likes as it hasn’t quite caught on in the way that I had hoped. Anyhow… I’m not here to judge my fellow RDs. I’m not even sure how I feel about this myself.

There’s a part of me that thinks it’s good for dietitians to be appropriating the “eat clean” hashtag. By doing so, perhaps they’re reaching people who are all-in on the trendy diet train but who might benefit from seeing sensible nutrition and food suggestions from a nutrition professional. On the other hand, is using these hashtags on Instagram lending legitimacy to them? Isn’t it possible that by using the hashtags, no matter the content, it’s implying that the RD posting supports the notion of clean eating? And for all I know, maybe they do, not all of us are on the same page. But let’s assume that they’re using it, not because they believe in “eating clean” (which means nothing by the way), and not because they’re just trying to get more likes (I know, terribly cynical of me), but because they want to show people who are into “clean eating” a more balanced way of approaching food. Is it cool for dietitians to be using the hashtags for this purpose? Even if it means that it lends an air of legitimacy to a silly fad diet. Does the end justify the means? Or would it be better if we risked only preaching to the choir by using hashtags that truly represent our personal philosophies toward food and our professional opinions?


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Buzz off with having a personal trainer “debunk” nutrition myths buzzfeed

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What the hell, buzzfeed??? Why would you choose a personal trainer to debunk “diet and nutrition myths”? Sure, not everything he said was inaccurate but his training does not lend itself to providing evidence-informed nutrition information. As a celebrity trainer, it’s his job to help people lose weight and get buff. The advice given to people in that circumstance is likely quite different from the nutrition advice given to people with other health and nutrition concerns. Diets are not one-size-fits-all. What works (i.e. a way of eating that they are happy and healthy consuming for life) for one person will not work for another. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a quick look at some of the “myths” that this trainer “debunked”.

1. Full cream milk is actually a better choice over its skim and low-fat counterparts.

This is dangerous advice, in my opinion. When I used to work at a coffee shop I had one customer who would regularly order 20-oz lattes made from heavy cream. That’s just shy of 1600 calories and 88 grams of fat (135% of the maximum recommended daily intake for fat). While the research on milk products and nutrition is mixed, there is little doubt that full-fat dairy products contribute more calories to a person’s diet than reduced-fat products. While a glass of whole milk may be perfectly healthy for many people, a glass of 1% may be a better choice for others. A little cream in one coffee a day is unlikely to have a negative impact on anyone’s health. However, there are very very few people for whom a glass of heavy cream would be a good choice.

2. And be wary of products labelled “low-fat”.

Ostensibly because these products are often higher in sugar. This may be true in some cases. I certainly think that we went overboard with the fear of fat in the ’80s. However, best to read the label before judging a product based on any front-of-package nutrition claims.

3. No, coconut oil isn’t THAT bad for you.

“The recent stuff around coconut oil is categorically wrong. It’s a natural fat, and fat doesn’t make you fat. It will be disproven in the near future, I promise you!”

Well, my thoughts on fats and oils are that we shouldn’t but all of our eggs in one basket. It’s best to use a variety and use them all sparingly. Of course, people with specific health concerns may have different needs and should work with a registered dietitian to determine the best choices for them.

4. Skipping breakfast may not completely “ruin” your metabolism, but it will make you prone to eating worse for the rest of the day.

Getting that first meal in does kickstart your metabolism, and the benefits of eating breakfast definitely outweigh not eating it.

I have mixed feeling about this one. I’m personally a big fan of breakfast, and it can be difficult to meet your nutrient needs if you skip it, but evidence has shown that it doesn’t actually impact your metabolism (whether you eat it or not) and you’re not necessarily going to make poor food choices throughout the day if you’re not a breakfast person.

5. And you definitely are damaging your metabolism with fad diets and juice cleanses.

I’m glad to see he’s opposed to fad diets and juice cleanses. I’m not sure that damaged metabolism is the best of reasons to oppose them but there are plenty of other good reasons.

6. Buying organic is technically better for you – but as long as you’re eating non-processed foods, you’re on the right track.

Yes, organic products are more often than not slightly better for us. There’s less human interference, less chemicals, and less pesticides. But as long as you’re eating ‘real’ food and not processed food, that’s the most important thing. The kind of rules you should go by are if you’re in a supermarket and a product has more than five ingredients, then be wary.

Actually, there’s no evidence to show that eating organic is any healthier than conventional. There are pesticides used on organic crops and plenty of chemicals on (and in) both. There may be other reasons to choose organic (environmental and biodiversity, for example) but health and nutrition is not one of them.

Processing can actually enhance the nutrients in some foods (e.g. tomato sauce) and make other foods edible (e.g. legumes). It’s ultra-processed ready-to-eat foods that we need to reduce our consumption of.

That five ingredients rule is ridiculous. Plain potato chips only have 3 ingredients.

7. Many store-bought protein drinks aren’t actually that great for you.

I’d go a step further and say that most people don’t need any protein supplementation.

8. And be wary of the protein bars too.

True, many of these are like candy bars. And again, most of us don’t need protein supplements.

9. Some superfoods aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

“Tumeric is a really good ‘superfood’ because it has anti-inflammatory qualities, and is great for bloating and if you don’t sleep well. I think kale is a bit overrated! I don’t think it’s that much difference to just having spinach, you know? I think the key message there is just because a food is ‘in vogue’ doesn’t necessarily make it any better or more magical than similar foods in the same family.”

There is no such thing as a “superfood”. Actually, it’s turmeric and research has shown that it does not live up to the hype. It’s still great in curries and lovely with ginger in a tea. Kale is great. Spinach is great. Don’t buy the hype is a good message about any food. No one food is going to make or break your diet.

10. You can actually train your body to need less food.

That is, if you’re currently consuming more calories than you need. Most of us are definitely out of touch with our innate hunger and satiety cues and could benefit from following some mindful eating principles.

11. Eating pasta for dinner (occasionally) won’t necessarily set you back.

If you have pasta for dinner, and that’s in balance with a high-protein and low-carb breakfast and lunch, then it’s probably going to be fine.

Yes, pasta is fine and delicious. Yes, it’s all about balance (and portion sizes). I don’t think you need to go so far as to go low-carb at lunch if you’re having pasta for supper though. Just make sure you’re plate is half veg and you’ve got some protein there too and you’ll survive regular pasta meals.

12. Don’t believe any myths about eggs being bad for you.

Yep, eggs are good. On this we can agree.

13. There’s no real thing as a “calorie negative” food.

Man, two in a row!

14. It’s not a choice between choosing a healthy diet, or choosing to workout – the most effective way to lose weight or stay healthy is by doing BOTH.

Again, true. Although what you eat is more likely to affect a person’s weight than their level of activity. Both are important for health and weight is not necessarily a good measure of health.

15. And it can be good for your mental health to have a piece or two of chocolate!

Again, agreed. Deprivation is probably the top reason why people don’t maintain healthy dietary habits.

I’m glad we could end on a positive note but I’d like to reiterate that personal trainers are not nutrition experts. If you want accurate evidence-informed nutrition information, trust a dietitian. If you want a new workout routine, visit a personal trainer.

 

 

 

 


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Follow Friday: @CaraAnselmo

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In the wake of the election results I feel like we could all use a little ray of sunshine in our lives. Cara is always a ray of sunshine in my twitter feed. Even when she’s having a bad day, she always manages to find the positive. It makes sense that she’s a member of Earthathon‘s Runshine team and is always dedicating her miles to her tweeps.

As an RDN, Cara specializes in oncology nutrition and has blogged about related topics on her website. She’s also a certified yoga instructor which may be of interest to those of you in NY.


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Follow Friday: @AndyThaRD

For today’s Follow Friday I suggest that you follow fellow RD Andy DeSantis whose goofy antics on social media have fast earned him a number of devoted followers. He tweets at @AndyThaRD but where he really shines is on Instagram. He has his fair share of the obligatory food pics and selfies but he also started a challenge a little while ago asking people to post photos of themselves striking yoga poses with vegetables.

Andy's Vegan Yoga Challenge – You must post a picture of yourself doing a yoga pose that includes a vegan food in a humorous way. Tag me and I will re-post the one I that think is the funniest. FYI I am far from a legit yoga practitioner but that did not stop me from putting a bag of avocados in my mouth and whipping out a poorly executed pose that I learned from P90X. All skill levels welcome 😂😂😂 #yogachallenge #yogagram #yogisofinstagram #veganeats #plantbaseddiet #dietitian #rd2be #nutritionist #yogainspiration #trianglepose #vinyasa #eattherainbow #foodiegram #torontofoodie #yogapose #hippies #yogapants #meditate #spiritualgangster #instavegan #instayoga #vegansofinstagram #plantpower #fitfoodie #healthspo #eatcleantrainmean #onewithnature #ashtanga #forkyeah #instafoodie

A post shared by Andy De Santis RD MPH (@andytherd) on

It needed to be seen to be believed, right? ;)

Andy is serious about supporting new RDs and promoting a healthy lifestyle; he just knows that you can’t take anything (including yourself) too seriously in this business (life?). He recently began featuring blog posts from dietetic students on his blog. The most recent post features a recipe for vegan minestrone from Rachel Asbury, perfect for the cooler temps that are about to hit.

Another recent initiative of his is a YouTube channel “Dudes Talk Nutrition” in partnership with Aussie RD @hearty_nut (aka Joel Feren). Want to know if carrots cause cellulite? Watch their latest video to catch them combatting nutrition myths: