Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Doctors don’t know about nutrition but who could possibly teach them?

hand-wringing-intensifies

I came across this journal article in an email digest last week and I discovered that I do have enough fire left in my belly to keep blogging because holy shit y’all was it ever enraging!

The article title and abstract indicate that nutrition education is missing from the education of doctors and that doctors need this education due to the important impact of diet and nutrition on health and in many disease states. No argument here. However, they then go on to say, “Without properly trained trainers, we have no one to train the doctors of tomorrow. This is a “catch 22.” Okay, they must be planning to talk about how dietitians, you know that entire profession devoted to the study of nutrition, can play a role in the full text. I mean, it seems like a pretty obvious solution. But… I find the full text and there is nary a mention of dietitians in the entire article. It was then that my blood began to boil.

Is there some sort of rule that I’m unaware of that only medical doctors are qualified to teach medical students? Have the authors never heard of dietitians? The entire article is quite frankly baffling. I’m honestly appalled that the authors, one of whom appears to be a medical doctor, are incapable of such basic research as to be able to discover that there is in fact an entire regulated allied health profession devoted entirely to the study of nutrition. They’re worried that doctors don’t know about nutrition? Well, I’m worried that doctors can completed medical school without basic research skills. I’m also a little amazed that it was accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal devoted to “advances in nutrition” and no one thought “hey, hang on a sec… this is not actually a problem. Dietitians and nutrition scientists can teach these students. Maybe we can just tell them this and save them the embarrassment of publishing this drivel.” But no, apparently everyone was like, “yes. Very serious problem. Doctors need to know about nutrition but doctors don’t know enough about nutrition to teach medical students so future doctors will all continue to graduate without the foggiest understanding of human nutrition and women will continue to suffer from anemia.”

Good news: there are plenty of dietitians and nutrition scientists (not all nutrition researchers have the RD credential) who teach dietetic students who could also teach medical students about nutrition. While they’re at it they can also let them know that doctors don’t have to be experts in every area and they can in fact refer patients to dietitians when they require nutrition support.


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If children are the future we may be in trouble

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After coming across a few teacher resources I’ve started to wonder about what lessons we’re really teaching children in schools.

The first example was actually a list of nutrition curriculum supports for teachers compiled by dietitians. Most of them were great but a few that really stood out to me were ones produced by companies whose m.o. is to sell products, not to educate. I found it concerning that nutrition professionals would consider promoting self-esteem resources from Dove and videos about farming from companies like Kashi to students would be appropriate. Considering the clear lack of media literacy and nutrition literacy in our society, I think it’s vital that as nutrition professionals we do our utmost to promote credible, unbiased (or at least as unbiased as possible) sources of nutrition information to the public and particularly to children and youth.

So, there was that. Then I came across a (US-based) website of “food resources” for teachers with a number of activities featuring candy to teach kids lessons about various subjects such as math and science. For example, we have: gummy bear genetics, gummy worm measurements, the history of marshmallows, math with candies, and chocolate and solvents. Why exactly do we need to use sugary treats to teach children in school? Is this the norm? Is the prevailing perception that children need to be bribed to learn anything in school?

There’s lesson plans on the website including things like “Juice Nutrition 101” which one might reasonably assume would be about the pros and cons of juice. If so, you would be incorrect. It’s actually only about the alleged benefits of juice and was (get this) used with permission from Ocean Spray Cranberries, inc. I shit you not.

What kind of lessons do these sorts of things actually teach children? Not critical thinking, I’m sure. Nor do they teach children accurate unbiased nutrition information. They also normalize and encourage the regular consumption of candy and treats that should really be “sometimes” foods. We need to have more dietitians involved with the development of educational resources. We need to ensure that teachers are nutrition and media literate so that they don’t use resources such as those mentioned above in their classrooms. If children are the future we need to do better at equipping them with the skills to navigate and emerge from this “post truth” era.


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Six by Sixteen: Education or marketing?

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Image by Rob on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence

Six by Sixteen is a “new” initiative by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture to get kids cooking. The idea is that all children should be able to cook at least six things by the time that they’re sixteen.

It was much lauded when it was announced last year. Then their website sat as a placeholder for some time. Last week it was finally populated. There are some videos, links to where to find local food, and a section on healthy eating (which just takes you to links on where to find local foods, what local foods are in season, and Canada’s Food Guide). Essentially the website is a repository of links to pre-existing sites and materials.

I’d like to be excited about this. I think that food skills are very much lacking in our society. I want to applaud any effort to increase the profile of food literacy. I hope that OFA is successful in doing that with this site. However, I think that this initiative could be so much more than it is.

As this is an initiative to promote food literacy I think that more than producers should be involved. There should be dietitians and chefs involved, at the very least. Healthy eating is so much more than knowing where to find local food and having a copy of Canada’s Food Guide. Food literacy is about so much more than being able to boil an egg.

I really hope that OFA will start working with other groups to expand the content and reach of this initiative because it could be really great. As it stands, it’s underwhelming and seems to be more of a marketing tool for its partners than as a truly educational resource.


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Guys, we had it all wrong. This man has solved food insecurity!

Image from Pixabay

Image from Pixabay

You would think that I’d have had my fill of ranting about food insecurity and food bank-type “challenges”. Apparently not.

I came across another article last week in which the author bragged about how easy it was for them to follow the SNAP challenge. You know, the one that Gwyneth Paltrow made waves with her purchase of 7 limes on her meagre budget.

The author of the current article took exception to a couple of the rules; i.e. not using food purchased prior to the start of the challenge and not accepting free food. He complained that because of this rule he wasted three eggs and half a pound of spinach. I understand the frustration with wasting food but surely those could have been given to someone, consumed before beginning the challenge, or the spinach could have been frozen for use after the challenge. As for not accepting free food, I assume that’s to make it a level playing field as participants could have friends buy them lunch or have access to free food at meetings and events that people living in poverty would not have the opportunity to take advantage of. Yes, there is free food available to people in poverty through meal programs and food banks but how wrong would it be for someone playing poor for a month to use these services, thereby literally taking food from the people who need it the most.

Okay, to the point. Our author brags about how easy it was to make inexpensive nutritious meals. While he does make a good point that fast food isn’t as cheap as many people believe, he also fails to note that for someone who has a small amount of time and money (and perhaps limited cooking facilities and cooking skills) bulk purchases of nutritious foods may not be possible and quick and easy calories from McDonald’s might be the solution.

What really got my blood boiling was this:

“It’s about mindset, not money

I believe food insecurity is due to a combination of issues, but after living a month on such a strict budget I don’t believe money is one of them…

SNAP provides more than enough for a month’s worth of food, and that food insecurity is more of an education issue than a money issue.”

Such willful ignorance. To have the gall to accuse people who are living in poverty that it’s their “mindset” turns my stomach. Such an unfortunate conclusion to reach at the end of a challenge which is intended to help a person better relate to others, not proselytize to them. While there are many factors that contribute to food insecurity, income is number one. There’s also: time, knowledge, skill, confidence, access to food, access to cooking tools and facilities, space to store food, having a stove or a refrigerator, having recipes… Certainly, education can be a factor in helping people who are experiencing food insecurity but if it were the true problem then we’d see a lot more people with all incomes suffering from food insecurity. You can teach people how to cook and that soup is a great nutritious meal to make all you want but if they can’t read recipes, don’t have a large pot, a decent knife, ability to get to a store with affordable produce then they’re not going to be making soup.


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Get a haircut and get an unpaid job

Image from Pink Elephant

Image from Pink Elephant

I had a post percolating when the Bank of Canada Governor made the remark that students should work for free in order to gain experience. No. No. No.

In order to become a registered dietitian I had to complete three, 16 week unpaid internship placements. Not only were they unpaid, I actually paid tuition to my university to complete them. We were not supposed to work during our placements as they were essentially full time jobs (plus homework and documentation for the internship program). However, I had to pay rent, and eat, and all of those other annoying necessities of life, so I worked at a part time job on the evenings and weekends. While I’m a little bit resentful about the process, it wasn’t intended to be regular work. As interns we were meant to be learning from other dietitians in the field. We were not supposed to be completing work that should be completed by a paid employee. In some cases, this was how it went. In other cases, unfortunately, it doesn’t. In one of my placements the person who should have been my supervisor had left so I essentially did that job as well as assisting in finding their replacement. This was atypical and not intentional. However, I know of other internship placements at which organizations “save-up” work that should be done by a dietitian for the months in which they’ll have a dietetic intern.

Yes, we all gain invaluable experience as interns. However, we do still have expenses and it’s unreasonable to expect people to work at an unpaid internship without a source of income. It also doesn’t actually help when it comes time to finding a job. Trust me. Nearly every dietitian I know is working several part time jobs, is looking for work, is working in a position only vaguely related to our educational background, or some combination of these three. You can give students all the unpaid experience in the world but if there are no paid jobs after they graduate then it’s not going to help them.

I’m not sure how much this relates to other fields, but in nutrition I also find that because we are so hungry for experience and opportunities that many people and businesses expect us to give away our expertise for free. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to give talks to groups without being offered any compensation. This just leads to a vicious cycle of dietitians working for free.

This is not a case of students needing to spend time volunteering. In order to be accepted to the dietetic internship program we had to have volunteer experience. More than one was the norm. I think that this is the case for many students. On top of full time course loads, and part time jobs, are memberships on committees and volunteer positions.

Even many people who are employed full time should take heed. While there are many wonderful employers out there there are also others who will milk employees for all that they can. I know a lot of people whose salaries would almost certainly be less than minimum wage if they calculated all of the unpaid overtime and lunch breaks they worked through. I think that the trend of judging how hard a person works by the number of hours they put in is dangerous and ridiculous. In most cases, work should be completed during working hours and if extra time is necessary, employees should be compensated. I know that my personal work motto aligns closely with that in the image above.

Everyone should be appropriately compensated for work. Forcing young people (and even not so young people) to work for free isn’t going to solve the problem. The problem is that there are just not enough good jobs.