Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dietary Confusion

Meat will kill you, milk gives you cancer, all sugar is bad, bread is evil, fruit is nature's candy, carbohydrates make you obese, and any dietary fat will give you a heart attack. What do you get when you add all of these so-called truths together? You get a diet of exclusively non-starchy vegetables. I don't know about you, but that makes me feel hungry and frail just thinking about it.

Throughout my career I have encountered hundreds people who fully believe one of the dietary comments listed above. There are hundreds of books written by doctors (medical doctors and doctors of philosophy) who swear that you must cut one of these food categories out of your diet in order to save yourself from disease and obesity. Many times when I try to discuss one of these "dietary truths" with someone who is a firm believer in their respective "truth", I get the "You just don't know anything. ____ will kill you and you obviously just believe in all of that crazy stuff you learned in school" comment.

I find it humorous when I get a comment like that because they may be a person totally against all carbohydrates and they believe that eating plenty of meat will keep them healthy. Later in the day I might encounter someone else who is a firm believer in a fat-free diet and eats many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; however, neglects heart-healthy fats in their diet. They may give me the same comment. So, you see, I am constantly encountering people who believe that my advise, which is based on scientific evidence, is wrong, yet everyone's "dietary truth" conflicts with each other.

All of that brings me back to the simple idea that I always try to convey to my patients and anyone who will listen. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Each food category offers its own unique set of health benefits. Eating too much of any one food category could cause its own unique problems and avoiding any particular food category could cause health problems. That advise, my friends, is rooted in decades of scientific evidence.

When you read or hear about the latest "sure thing" in nutrition, I beg you to remember these things:

1. Anyone can write an article or book. Check the credentials of the author. If the author has none, move on. Even if the article or book is written by a professional who is an expert on the subject matter, the unfortunate truth is that you still have to look at it with a critical eye. Books, magazines, newspapers, and web articles are not peer-reviewed like scientific journals. Therefore, you may be reading some ideas that really aren't proven facts; or the author may have manipulated research by only presenting the part of the story that supports their ideas.

2. Medical professionals who make nutrition recommendations under the USDA, American Heart Association, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and other reputable organizations do so based on scientific evidence. I have noticed that there is a lack of trust in these organizations from a number of people. Please remember that the professionals who make up these organizations have studied this information for years. Not only can they look at research with a critical eye due to their background knowledge, but they are also better able to see the big picture of nutrition as it relates to health because they have been trained in this fashion.

3. Have you ever wondered why nutrition advise is constantly changing? Surprise! It really isn't changing very much at all! Fad diets change all the time. Writers who misrepresent facts give Americans the impression that recommendations are changing. If you look at recommendations that are released by reputable organizations, there is never much of any change going on. Sometimes the way the recommendations are reported to the public may change a little bit. Over time, research uncovers better ways to reach the public and so the way in which information is conveyed may change. Recommendations are also more specific than they used to be. This is partly because research has uncovered more details and party because we already knew it, but realized that we need to do a better job of teaching the public about nutritional details. For instance, it is very recent that public health officials started giving details about the need for eating different colored vegetables due to their variety of nutritional offerings.

3. Nothing is perfect about our food supply, but it is pretty darn good. Would it be best to eat all whole foods and nothing processed? Yes! However, keep things in perspective. Preservatives make our food supply safe and we are living longer lives due to technology that keeps harmful bacteria out of our food. I am not saying that you should live on a diet of Oreo cookies; however, I am saying that a bowl of Cheerios isn't going to hurt you.

Thanks for reading! Please post questions or comments if you have them!


  1. I can't thank you enough for this post! I am going to print it out, highlight the main points, and keep it on my desk as a quick reference for articulating these things when I get the same questions. I too, have noticed the distrust of anything that is .gov. Thanks, and I just want to say How Refreshing!

  2. What you said reminded me of a post over at Dr Grumpy's blog, about "milk being evil" basically. This is the post .

    My mother-in-law sends me articles on all these various "new" health claims, and what's bad is she believes them.

  3. Wow, Diane, that blog made me laugh! Thank you!