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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Science is not my religion

After I wrote about the study that supposedly showed that consumption of vegetables and fruit has no bearing on cancer development someone commented on facebook that I was undermining “real science” and supporting pseudo-science hacks. I think this raises an important issue when it comes to science and faith.

You see, while I am a supporter of science and detractor of pseudo-science, science is not my religion. I think that holding blind faith in anything is dangerous. Scientific research is hugely important but that doesn’t mean that every piece of research should be taken as gospel. Scientific studies can be flawed, they can be weak, they can be biased, and they can just plain be wrong. That doesn’t mean that we should ignore all scientific studies. It means that we should look at research critically. Whenever possible, we should look at larger bodies of research, rather than single studies, to draw stronger conclusions. We should look at research critically in order to base our decisions, beliefs, and advice on the best possible evidence.

Science is not infallible. That doesn’t mean that we ignore it. It just means that we need to examine it closely before deciding whether or not we accept results and conclusions drawn. Always question things. Be skeptical.

Rather than thinking that being critical of any piece of scientific research is on-par with supporting pseudo-science and quackery, we should think of blindly accepting the results of every piece of scientific research as being on-par with blindly accepting the advice of celebs and self-styled wellness gurus.


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Can you cure cancer by cutting sugar?

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After a conversation with a reader about ludicrous nutrition advice he was given after receiving a cancer diagnosis I felt the need to address the issue. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by people that cancer cells feed on sugar so people with cancer shouldn’t eat sugar. There are so many things wrong with this.

Sure, cancer cells use sugar in the same way that ALL cells in your body do. Sugar, in the form of glucose, is the energy source for all of your cells. If you have cancer and eat sugar you are not “feeding” the cancer. Conversely, if you stop eating sugar, you’re not going to be able to starve your cancer to death. You get glucose from more sources than table sugar and sugary snacks and if you’re not consuming enough glucose to fuel your body it will start making it for you.

I’m sure that most people who believe that consuming sugar helps cancer grow are simply well-meaning misguided individuals. Unfortunately, there’s a whole industry built on preying on people’s desperation. When someone is diagnosed with cancer, in many cases they’ll turn to whatever cure or treatment they can. As food is “natural” it’s not surprising that people would want to look for dietary treatments. That’s where the predatory wellness warriors come in telling people to cut all sugar from their diets amongst other nutritional “cures’ with absolutely no scientific basis.

A google search for “food cure for cancer” yielded the following results:

Vegetables Juices. The RAW vegetables you should focus on are carrots, cabbage, green asparagus, broccoli, red beets (i.e. beetroot), beet tops, cauliflower and related vegetables. Peppers also have cancer-fighting substances. The spice turmeric can be added as well.

Brussels sprouts, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower all contain sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinols (I3Cs), two potent anticancer molecules. These molecules help the body detoxify certain carcinogenic substances and can help prevent precancerous cells from developing into malignant tumors.

6 Cancer-Fighting Superfoods

A change of diet cured my cancer

How I used the raw vegan diet to beat cancer naturally

Heal all cancer with this diet

It’s all bullshit. If cancer could be miraculously cured by eating “superfoods” or “raw food” or having intravenous mega-doses of vitamins no one would be dying of cancer anymore. Scientists would have stopped researching cancer cures years ago.

Nutrition and your overall diet certainly play a role in cancer risk but it’s not the only risk factor. If you have cancer, I recommend working with a dietitian who specializes in nutrition for cancer patients to optimize your nutrition while you undergo appropriate treatment overseen by an oncologist.


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Follow Friday: @rooted_project

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I’ve been neglecting follow Friday posts. I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about how most of what I blog about is tearing things apart. Granted, they all deserve our derision… That being said, after ranting a few times about how there’s so much in-fighting in dietetics I thought that maybe in an effort to counterbalance some of that, that I would start devoting my Follow Friday posts to promoting blogs, websites, and initiatives of my fellow RDs.

Since The Rooted Project held their first public event this past week I thought they’d be a great project to start this new positive series off.

The Rooted Project is the brainchild of British dietitians Rosie Saunt and Helen West. Both of whom I’ve mentioned on my blog before. Their aim is to bring evidence-based nutrition to the masses through public panels and events. If you’re in London I recommend keeping an eye on what they have in the works. If you’re not, like me, I recommend following them on twitter.


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Eating to change your eye colour

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I recently came across a post by David Wolfe (yeah, that guy) about the ability of a raw food diet to change your eye colour.

Apparently this is a thing ever since some raw food guru nutritionista chick made the claim that after changing from an unhealthy diet she cleared-up her constipation and her brown eyes became hazel/green.

Naturally I was skeptical. Even David Wolfe was. Yet, he somehow came to the conclusion that it was possible based on this article. The thing is, the article doesn’t actually support the claim that a raw food diet can change a person’s eye colour. It says that eye colour can change as we age, but this is generally referring to children, not adults and is unrelated to diet. It then carries on to state that significant changes in eye colour may be the result of a disease and anyone experiencing such changes should see an eye doctor. No mention of diet.

I did a little googling and found some other articles. None of which were written by anyone with any medical knowledge of eyes. Wolfe and this Vice article both mention “iridologists” which is pretty ridiculous. Iridologists are to optometry what phrenologists are to neurology. Essentially a great source of perhaps entertaining information but otherwise quackery. To be fair, even these iridologists seemed to think the notion of changing ones eye colour via diet was farfetched. Everything I could find through the googles was anecdotal.

I feel the need to voice my disappointment in seeing a dietitian’s name continually come-up in connection with this raw food eye colour change business. As dietitians we are obligated to provide evidence-based dietary advice. Neither advising people to choose a diet to change their eye colour, nor advocating for raw food diets for all are ethical for a member of our profession.

Next I turned to google scholar. Again, nothing. There is absolutely no scientific evidence of a relationship between diet and eye colour. Of course, it’s possible that, that research just hasn’t been done. And I will be happy to revise this post if a study is ever published showing that eye colour can be changed by switching to a raw food diet.

Even if eye colour can be changed by diet, who cares?! I mean, seriously. Having brown eyes does not mean that you eat unhealthily and are constipated. Having blue eyes doesn’t mean that you’re healthy and having regular bowel movements. Are we now judging a person’s health and habits based on eye colour? Could we get anymore superficial? Why would we want to go on an extreme diet just for the purpose of changing the colour of our eyes? A raw diet is not necessarily the healthiest choice. There are many reasons that we cook our food: to kill toxins and microorganisms, to increase absorption of nutrients, to improve palatability. Personally, I would rather keep my grey/blue eyes and enjoy my food.