When it comes to the topic of nutrition, everyone seems to be an expert. I have been studying the subject in-depth ever since I switched majors from Elementary Education to Dietetics in 1993. Even with those 18 years of education and experience, I still don’t feel comfortable calling myself an expert. And, while I may tend to be a bit of a “know-it-all” when actually asked my opinion, for the most part I keep my mouth shut when the subject of the latest diet or nutrition news comes up. We all eat on a daily basis, so in some regards, we are in fact all experts in our own right. I respect that. However, there are definitely times when I can’t keep my mouth shut, like when the following issues come up:
Avoiding Healthy Foods
I was recently discussing weight loss basics with a friend. I mentioned fruit as a good choice as a dessert at a party. She said, “yah, that’s what I thought, but my mother-in-law said it has too much sugar.” That notion makes me want to scream. The dessert options at most parties include cake, cookies, and brownies. Let’s get real – does anyone really believe that fruit has more sugar than those options? It is almost as though some people just want to argue against healthy foods. We’ve all heard the lament “I can’t eat anything or I gain weight!” That is definitely a defeatist attitude. And, I suspect that mother-in-laws who shun fruit are the same ones who load their own plate with cake and cookies, because “I might as well since everything is going to kill me anyway.” If you have forgotten the basics from you elementary school nutrition class – that fruits and vegetables are some of the most nutritious foods with the lowest concentration of calories – then that’s your business, but please don’t go preaching to others on the topic. If you are really worried about sugar, foods that come out of the ground are not the ones to fear.
Eating 1 Miracle Food
I was telling a friend I was worried about her calcium intake because she smoked and didn’t eat any dairy or calcium-fortified products which put her at risk for osteoporosis. I recommended she take a calcium supplement, and she said, “I eat broccoli, so I get enough calcium.” I was floored. I tried to explain that she would need to eat a good 10 cups a day to get enough calcium from that source, but she just shrugged and turned away. A varied diet is the only way to get all of the nutrients we need every day. To think that you eat a veggie every once in a while, or drink a glass of red wine with dinner and your good to go is quite frankly delusional. I do believe that there are many “super foods” such as broccoli, tea, garlic, blueberries, walnuts, and more. However, none of those foods or drinks can impart health on their own. They must be consumed along with a wide variety of other foods in the right quantities. Getting optimal nutrition is really hard work and it requires a true dedication to the effort, along with an open mind to new suggestions. I realize that some people aren’t up for the task, but I just hope they can admit that to themselves vs. holding onto flawed thinking.
Dieting to Detriment
I have another friend who is ALWAYS on a diet. Her mission is generally to avoid carbs. Yet, every time I see her she is saying, “I have been good, so I am going to treat myself” as she loads her plate with a double portion of macaroni salad. I have gently reminded her that eating a moderate amount of carbs might help her feel more satisfied so that she doesn’t need to “splurge.” Again, my advice is lost on her. In fact, since I have known her the more she diets the more she gains. And, yet she is constantly telling others that they need to watch their carbohydrate intake and other misguided nutrition expertise. Dieting is a trap. I will never fully understand why people seek out diets. It is as though we are all looking for some form of punishment, which is exactly what a diet is. Why do you need to have someone else tell you what to eat? Why must you follow a regimented set of rules and restrictions when you can make your own plan by choosing the healthiest foods that you enjoy and eating them in moderation? One rule and one rule alone will always hold true – if you burn more calories than you consume you will lose weight. Sure, a diet can help to that end, but if it is too restrictive it will never work as a long term solution.
The bottom line for me is that I went through 5 years of schooling to call myself a dietitian, and one of the most important lessons I learned during that time is to always do your research. Nutrition as a science is always evolving. We learn new information, and refine previous recommendations. But, what most dietitians concede is that there is rarely one answer that is right for everyone. That, I believe, is the mark of a true expert in any field.