• Why You Need to Learn How to Wade Through Nutrition Misinformation

    by Danica Cowan, MS, RD
    on Apr 12th, 2018

Nutrition misinformation is a common form of health fraud in the United States right now. Owing to a variety of factors, there is a prevalence of nutritional misinformation among the general population. Reasons for this misinformation include:

This misinformation about nutrition causes very real medical problems.

Everything from fad diets, lavish promises of natural medical treatments, and even well-meant misrepresentations of real advice can have lasting consequences. They can lead to excesses or deficiencies in one’s diet and they can impede one from seeking real medical treatment for illness. In some cases they can be deadly. At the very least, they lead to wholly unnecessary stress, spending, and attention paid to all the wrong aspects of diet.

So, with all that said, we’re here to set the record straight, and to help you learn how to wade through this rampant nutrition misinformation and to make healthy and well-considered dietary choices going forward for you and your family.

Avoid the “Don’ts”

As with anything, most people can consume most foods in moderation. Refined sugar for instance isn’t always the best choice, but sugar in general is not at fault. At a chemical level, starches are broken down into sugar by the body, and metabolized accordingly. Sugar provides the base unit of energy for cellular metabolism. It keeps the body alive. A diabetic has more to worry about from a baked potato than a hard candy.

Broadly speaking, the best diet is one in which a wider variety of foods are consumed in relative moderation, with an emphasis on fresh vegetables and legumes. Beyond that, anyone who tells you to avoid a particular food without a full medical consultation is selling something.

This is why it is best to speak to a qualified nutritionist who can examine your unique dietary needs and then recommend a plan for you based on a holistic approach.

Skip the Miracle Cures

Desperate people are more likely to buy a quick fix. Anything that promises rapid, easy weight loss, for instance, will target and prey on a very vulnerable segment of the population.  It usually is based on some kernel of nutritional science buried under a mountain of spin and misdirection. People suffering from chronic pain are also common victims to this sort of marketing. It’s tempting to try just about anything which will give a person instant pain relief.

Many foods can have legitimate healing or palliative benefits. Plenty of medicines are originally sourced or adapted from a natural plant-based source. For example, cloves and turmeric can relieve pain from arthritis. Cinnamon and cayenne can help with fatigue or lethargy. Thyme can relieve muscle cramps.  The list goes on.

If a product making lofty medicinal claims, always check with an integrative functional physician or nutritionist first, before making such serious decisions about your health.

Be Critical of Generalizations

No particular diet or food will be right for everyone. Different bodies, different habits, different blood types, different gut flora, or even different locations might have a meaningful impact on what would constitute the “right” diet for a particular person. No single answer will fit each case, so it’s generally correct to treat any sweeping generalization as exaggerative. Generalizations serve a manufacturer’s interests more than a consumer’s. That brings us to our next point:

Don’t Listen to the Manufacturers

If a manufacturer is making any sort of health claim, it’s almost certainly suspect. Aside from the snake oil salesmen of the 19th century, just about the earliest example of a misplaced health claim can be found in the famous bacon example.

As the story goes, the pork industry wanted to sell more bacon. They asked a number of physicians a leading question, and went wild with the results. In the early twentieth century, most people would eat a piece of toast, if anything at all, for breakfast, and wouldn’t have a proper meal until lunch at midday. Doctors were asked whether it would be healthier to have a larger breakfast, like eggs, bacon, and so on. Of course, the doctors replied in the affirmative, that a larger breakfast of any kind would be preferable to going so much of the day without eating a proper meal.

However, in the ensuing publication of the results, the pork industry doubled down on the fact that, in effect, doctors had confirmed the health benefits of bacon and eggs for breakfast, and so the meal was cemented in North American culture as standard breakfast fare. Even today, the image persists, despite the unusually high sodium, cholesterol, and saturated fat content of bacon in particular.

When a dietary recommendation comes from the manufacturer, it’s always right to treat it with suspicion and to probe for the full story before making any nutritional choices.

What about Supplements?

Yes, supplements can be a very useful nutritional aid, under the right circumstances. However, as we hope we have been making clear, no supplement will be right for every person all of the time. Take zinc, for instance. Zinc is used by the body in the production of testosterone, and as a result many men especially in middle age use it to enhance virility. But the nutritional science is much more nuanced. The standard American already consumes more zinc than is strictly necessary, and supplements, used without medical supervision, can have a deleterious impact on health. Over-consumption of any mineral is risky, and best avoided except in cases of ongoing deficiency.

An integrative physician and nutritionist can offer proper advice and guidance when it comes to supplements and what is right for your body and needs.

The Bottom Line on Nutritional Misinformation

It all comes down to this. There is no miracle cure, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to diet. The particular food habits that will be best for you will depend on your body and your lifestyle. Dietary changes can have a profound and lasting impact on health and wellness, but those changes should always be guided by the information and medical training of an integrative functional physician or dietitian.

If you’re considering making changes to your own dietary habits, get in touch with Advanced Health and book a consultation with Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D., Danica Cowan MS., RD, or Nicole Bianchi, N.C. They collaborate together to help you make the best choice for your health.

Author Danica Cowan, MS, RD Danica Cowan, MS, RD is a Holistic Nutritionist located in Pacific Heights, San Francisco.

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