Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD - SPIN: The Misinformation of Sound Bite Nutrition
Stone Hearth Newsletters leads with a story titled, “We have no idea what, or how much, we are eating: new study” Click on the link and you are sent to a story in MedPage Today titled “Recipe for Healthy Eating Not Easy to Stick To” I would have never guessed they are reporting on the same story.
While Stone Heart’s title is basically sensationalistic and misleading, I find fault with both leads. Med Page today pretends that it’s author’s version of healthy eating is the only one. In addition, Med Page quotes a senior Consumer Reports Health editor who is obviously confused. Since when is dieting the same thing as healthy eating?
Nancy Metcalf, senior editor at Consumer Reports Health (CRH) said, “We were surprised to find that very few Americans weigh themselves and count calories, two strategies that can help dieters stay on track.” I wonder why editors at CRH think that people need to weight themselves or count calories to be healthy eaters.
COUNTING CALORIES, WEIGHING SELF NOT NECESSARILY HEALTHY BEHAVIORS
In over 25 years of private practice I have learned that restrained eaters and chronic dieters often count calories and weigh themselves every day. Most of my clients with eating disorders count calories and weigh themselves at least once a day. Neither behavior is necessarily a marker of health.
The researchers also asked people about other food behaviors. How many servings of fruit and vegetables was probably on of the more reliable indicators. About 58% report getting five or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day. That’s actually impressive. Years ago the average intake was 1.2 servings a day.
WHAT FOOD BEHAVIORS ARE HEALTHY?
The rest of the report summary takes an interesting spin. The report states that about half of the population isn’t careful about limiting unhealthy foods. The language of article is negative, disparaging that more people don’t follow a fairly narrow definition of healthy eating.
The MedPage article states “Just 54% of people surveyed said they watch how many sweets they eat every day or on most days, while 51% said they limit fats (my italics). Is that really so bad?
HOW MUCH SWEET IS TOO MUCH?
Sweets are not necessarily taboo. Eating a square of chocolate or cookie after a meal doesn’t negate the healthfulness of the meal. Without some sense of quantity and frequency, comments like this lead people to believe the goal is to eat no sweets. This kind of thinking is a sure fire set up for “what the hell effect.” Someone trying to be healthy may feel like they “blow it” by eating one cookie, only to give up in frustration and eat the entire box.
This is the difficult thing about trying to ascertain the nature of a healthy diet. Some people eat well while they continue to consume a variety of foods with added sugar each day. Others can’t get away with even a small sweet once a day. It is virtually impossible to set a “reasonable” limit that works for everyone without being unnecessarily restrictive for some and overly generous for others.
WHAT ABOUT DIETARY FAT?
Both the amount and types of dietary fat recommended to consumers are debated these days. Scientists, researchers, and clinicians alike are questioning the 40 year old mantra to reduce fat intake. Both Walter Willet, PhD of Harvard and Andrew Weil, MD currently question the decades old advice. In fact, both have stated that fats are not the problem here. They believe real issue is excessive sugar and refined starches.
In December, 2010, Gary Taubes published “Why We Get Fat”. It also refutes the low fat mantra, explaining how a high carbohydrate, low fat diet can increase the risk of obesity as well as incidence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other inflammatory states.
There is plenty of evidence that there is not one right or healthy way to eat. The sooner public health advocates, consumer groups, researchers and clinicians come to recognize the need for more sophisticated nutrition advice, the better. In the meantime, the world of soundbite nutrition continues to polarize and confuse consumers.
Someone moved the cheese. We can no longer be preoccupied with yesterday’s problem, trying to determine the specific nutrient parameters of a healthy diet. We need to move on to the challenges we face today. How can we help individual consumers figure out an approach to food that is right (healthy) for themselves? That is a much different, and a much more challenging, puzzle to solve.