Nutrition Science, Not Nutrition Hype

I’m a very positive person (just ask anyone who knows me!).  But sometimes I get really frustrated by the snake oil salesmen out there trying to make a buck off of people’s desire to find the “easy” way to be healthy  There’s some variation on what makes up a healthy diet that can be adjusted just for this purpose – for instance, you can eat meat or not, enjoy dairy or choose an alternative, be hooked on seafood or skip it and still be healthy.  Various percentages of fat, protein, and carbs can all lead you

The study of nutrition and human health really IS a science!

The study of nutrition and human health really IS a science!

to weight loss and a vibrant life.  In short, there’s no ONE perfect diet for every person.  There are patterns – ways of eating and living – that lead to reduced risk for disease, increased vitality, and longer life.  We can respectfully pursue what works for each of us and I can work within almost anyone’s preferences.  I’m happy to help my clients incorporate the science to meet their preferred way of eating.

But… there’s a really important word in that last sentence.  Did you catch it?  SCIENCE!  (If you got it, you get 1,000 bonus points to be redeemed for your favorite imaginary prize.)  While people can certainly have any opinion they want about food and nutrition, they cannot suggest that their non-evidence based opinion is fact.  I get so frustrated with bad advice out there from quasi-health experts who promote crazy, pseudo-science to create bogus diets and sell products – services, books, supplements, and the like.  And personal experience is not science.  It’s interesting and can be inspiring, but it is not research, evidence that proves something is true.  This is where I get into so many heated discussions, lose friends, and alienate strangers.  I feel bad about it!  Seriously.  And at the same time, I can’t help myself.

Here’s the deal: It’s my professional and ethical responsibility to be honest and to tell people what

Simple and healthy meal.

Eating well should taste good; can be affordable; and relatively easy to prepare…not complicated.

the science says.  Sometimes there’s not good research.  Sometimes there are differing opinions among the experts.  A lot of the time, there is mutual agreement.  Nutrition science is an evolving science, but it’s still a science.  Just because someone eats, takes beautiful pictures of their perfect plates, has great marketing prowess and/or a loud platform does not make them a nutrition expert.  Nor does the fact that they may have an online “nutrition” certificate or training, completed a program to be a coach, or hang out their “shingle” calling themselves an expert.  This is a not a knock on all those sincere people who are working to inspire others toward a healthier life, yet don’t have a nutrition degree.  There are many amazing folks out there working hard to help people lose weight, get healthy, and live fitter lives.  By all means, get healthy eating inspiration wherever you can!  I love instagram and twitter and facebook for fun and easy recipes, lovely pics of pretty meals that I can make at home.  Many of my favorite food photogs are awesome at creating spectacular images that make my mouth water.  But, if your goal is to manage an existing medical condition (including obesity), reduce your risk for disease, and/or get the most out of every bite…

For the best nutrition advice and reliable guidance on what and how to eat for your personal health, registered dietitian nutritionists (RD/RDN) are the very best source.  I know, I’m biased because I am one.  Some medical docs and post docs are also great sources of nutrition advice because they’ve done the work to study the research – though most docs get very little nutrition education.  Compare for yourself!  Would you rather trust someone who has at least a bachelors of science degree in the nutrition from an accredited university; has completed more than 900 hours of supervised practice/internship; passed a rigorous national exam; is licensed (in most states); and must maintain annual continuing education… or someone who took a handful of (usually) online classes or who took a few nutrition classes to complement their [fill in the blank] certificate or degree?  I’m all for lifelong learning and love online learning for a variety of topics, but for someone who claims to be a health professional?  What’s more valuable than your health?  Do you want to trust it to just anyone?

Bottom line is that I want you to be really healthy.  Like, really. healthy.  I want you to avoid the pitfalls of believing the hype, wasting your money on things that don’t improve your health, and missing out on the simple nutrition choices that can lead you to your most energetic, nutritious, and joyful life.  It might not always seem as sexy, since you won’t hear wild promises about dramatic changes that happen overnight, but implementing evidence-based nutrition counseling leads to sustained weight loss, disease risk reduction, and a healthier life.  That’s pretty sexy to me.

{Stepping off my soapbox now…}

8 Comments

  1. Olivia

    I have the same thoughts regularly! And just fyi, after seeing a segment on the Today Show this morning with Biggest Loser’s Bob Harper touting fasting and no carbohydrates, I wrote them an email and referenced this blog. Hope you don’t mind!

    • Thanks, Olivia! It can be tough seeing so much bad and non-evidence based information out there. It’s especially difficult when those giving advice without any real education/expertise are treated as if their advice is somehow trustworthy. Let’s keep doing the right thing for our clients, patients, and for the health of Americans!

  2. Great post. This is an ongoing battle. People always seem to gravitate to a quick fix. As a dietitian. I try to remain true to science and focus on permanent lifestyle changes. Shakes and cleanses and detox programs come and go but concrete science based nutrition works!

  3. Ann

    Sherry, your blog hits the nail on the head as far as amateur nutritionists out there giving their own opinions or personal experience. However, I have been an RD for 30+ years and have recently become somwhat disillusioned with some “nutrition science”. I read the book “the Big Fat Surprise” and the author very meticulously lays out the lack of science associated with the low fat diets that we have been promoting for years for cardiac patients. It is very illuminating. All that is to say read and reread studies to check their data and methods and then look for confirming studies by other researchers because stats can be skewed to ones biases.

    • Ann, I agree! We have to always refer back to the science. We know that there are fats that are unquestionably healthy for us. I think the jury is still out on how much or if sat fats are of concern. I do think, however that there is still good evidence for low fat, in some specific instances – as evidence by Dr. Dean Ornish’s excellent success in reversing heart disease. The issue with his diet is that it’s so hard to maintain. But the research shows that it is effective. And there’s great research to support the Mediterranean Diet – a higher {good} fat diet for sure. At the end of the day, I think we can have some agreement one the things that make a healthier diet based on patterns of eating (for sure: higher in plant foods, including whole grains, seafood, good fats) and healthy behaviors (physical activity, not smoking, managing stress, moderate alcohol or none). Since most people don’t do these things, doesn’t it make sense to focus here – where we KNOW we can make a difference? All of the specific details are unfolding before us and we must remain flexible to change based on new research, yet unyielding on requiring evidence and following emerging science before running headlong after the latest diet fad or trusting anecdotes. That’s what differentiates us, right? That ability to discern the facts and make them practically applicable for the individual and the public. Don’t be disillusioned, Ann! The public needs us now more than ever. =)

  4. Sherry,
    Great blog!
    I’m sure many are swayed by the continual barrage of articles online and in print hyping the latest fads in eating. Everyone wants a quick fix failing to realize there is no such thing.

    • Marie, you’re absolutely right! A quick fix isn’t really long-lasting in any situation, is it? Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts.

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