Have Dietitians totally screwed up mainstream dietary advice, doing more harm than good with our recommendations?
Many fad diet advocates like to target Dietitians and Government-produced nutrition guidelines as a major factor in the rise in obesity and chronic disease we’ve seen over the past several decades. They claim that our recommendations to eat a “high carb, low fat” diet, and to eat regularly spaced meals throughout the day is the complete opposite of what a healthy diet should look like. Our evidence is sneered at, called ‘outdated’ and ‘industry funded’ as if our ultimate goal is to make people less healthy, not more. These very passionate debates are more and more frequently taking place on social media platforms, allowing everyone and anyone to not only play spectator to the diet debate carnage (trust me, it gets UGLY), but to also share articles and follow people or companies that that might be spreading completely false information. Like we don’t have enough to worry about in a day, we’re being increasingly confused by the daily online battles taking place about what we should put in our mouths. With all of the anti-Dietitian dialogue out there you may begin to wonder – can Dietitians even be trusted?
As a Registered Dietitian (aka a nutrition and healthy eating expert), I was trained to be a critical thinker. In fact, I’ll never forget a biochemistry class in University where our professor told us that the reason we take these types of courses is so that we can separate fact from BS once we’re out navigating the real world. So that’s what I’m here to do. Sort through all of the ridiculous nutrition BS out there in the world and present you with the facts!
Naturally, attacks at me and my beloved profession get me pretty fired up. I am a huge advocate of Dietitians being the best, most trusted source of dietary information, but with that comes a huge responsibility to ensure that the advice I’m giving IS the most up-to-date and best for my clients. If there’s a new, better way to help people manage a chronic disease, or achieve their health goals, I want to know about it!
So, the statement that Dietitians push high-carb, low-fat diets, and our awful nutrition advice is the cause of our society’s increasing chronic disease and obesity rates is 100% absurd. Now let me explain why…
Who’s following the guidelines anyway?
Now, I don’t really use Canada’s Food Guide as a resource for clients in my practice, because I don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to my nutrition counseling, BUT it is a great starting point for looking at some healthy eating basics.
Raise your hand if you eat 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables every day
According to Statistics Canada data from 2015, 25% of Canadian men, and 38% of Canadian women are eating 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day. This number FELL from 2008, in which 37% of men and 50% of women reported the same statistic. What’s even worse is that the newest recommendations for fruit and vegetables consumption isn’t only 5 daily servings anymore, we’ve upped it to 7.
Can you guess the stats for children? 70% of them are not meeting the minimum recommendation of 5 servings per day.
Higher fruit and vegetable consumption is a good indicator of the overall quality of someone’s diet (so for example if they’re eating a high amount of fruits and vegetables per day, they’re probably an overall healthier eater than someone who eats less). We know that eating more produce equals better health in terms of chronic disease prevention and management. We also know that kids who grow up not eating fruits and vegetables are much less likely to eat them as adults.
So, when it comes to some of these simple nutrition guidelines, we obviously aren’t doing great. Dietitians have always been dedicated advocates of putting more fruits and vegetables on our plates, but it seems that advice is going unheeded.
Are most of the grains you consume in a day 100% whole grains? Do you choose only unprocessed meats? Do you limit foods high in salt and added sugar? …These are just a few of the other common Dietitian-endorsed messages that you’ll often hear. With our increasing reliance on quick, convenience foods, and our tendency to eat more away from home, the quality of our diets is certainly suffering. Food companies are definitely stepping up in recent years to offer healthier on-the-go options, but many products may not truly live up to those claims when you look at additives like sugar and salt.
So, when it comes to some of the basic nutrition recommendation that Dietitians provide, the problem isn’t bad advice, it’s that the good advice we give is just not happening for the majority of the population, kids and adults alike.
When it comes to basic recommendations that Dietitians provide, the problem isn’t bad advice, it’s that the good advice we give is not being followed
What about guidelines for exercise?
When it comes to the physical activity guidelines a minimum of 150 minutes of cardio exercise per week is recommended. Only 15% of Canadian adults are meeting these guidelines. Children are encouraged to get 60 minutes every day, and only 7% are reaching that target. So, not only are we not eating the recommended balanced diet, we’re also significantly less active than even the minimum requirements. Regular physical activity is another good indicator of health and plays a major role in chronic disease prevention.
The other major claim made by the Anti-Dietitian groups is that we promote a low-fat high carb diet, despite the copious amounts of evidence that it causes every single health condition from diabetes to arthritis to heart disease or cancer.
Let’s make one thing super duper absolutely crystal effing clear: There is no one best diet for everyone. All of the evidence we have on the different diet types (DASH, Mediterranean, High carb, Low Carb, High Fat, Low Fat, etc, etc, etc) points to the same conclusion- No single diet works better than any other in all people. We each have unique genetics, preferences, and lifestyles that make different diets better suited to different people. How to decide which one you should follow? Find a dietary pattern that you like, that makes you feel good, and that matches your values and lifestyle.
There is no one best diet for everyone. The best diet for you is the one that you like, will stick with, makes you feel good, and matches your personal values and lifestyle
But, do Dietitians promote high-carb, low-fat diets that make us sick?
The specific advice I give varies significantly based on the client sitting in front me and what their nutrition needs and goals are. The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for carbohydrates is 45-65% of our daily calories. For fat, that number is 20-35%. If your diet falls far outside of these guidelines, you can run the risk of not meeting vitamin and mineral needs, or having poor quality workouts due to lack of carbohydrates for energy. As for the above claims about carbohydrates causing disease? Not true, nor is disease prevention ever so simple and pin-pointed.
Where exactly along the AMDR a client might fall depends on their personal food preferences, and most importantly, their activity level. The more exercise a client does, the more carbohydrate they need to fuel those workouts. A very sedentary client needing to improve blood sugar control will likely benefit from consuming less carbohydrate. Not none, just less.
This is the beauty of personalized nutrition and working with a dietitian. The advice doesn’t come from a diet book or website, it’s tailored to YOU!
It’s important to stay flexible. Dietary recommendations can shift a bit over time, and for some consumers that can be very frustrating. But that’s just how science works! Nutrition in particular is a very new science, and we have much to learn about how the body responds and interacts with the nutrients we consume, and how they respond and interact with each other. As time goes on we have to change our guidelines to suit the newest evidence. But for the majority of people eating a diet as close to the farm as possible, limiting processed foods, and cooking more at home is the real key to good health. And regular exercise of course!
So, at the end of the day, Dietitians are still the best, most trusted source of legitimate, up to date nutrition information. We are able to personalize the advice we give to each unique, individual client, and have the critical thinking skills to sort through all of the nutrition BS out there. Have a nutrition question? Ask a Dietitian!
Here’s a list of simple things you can do to live healthier: Your Healthy Living Checklist: 5 Simple Things You Can Do To Achieve Good Health
Want to know some of the worst nutrition advice of this past year? Check out: The Dietitian Dirty Dozen: Worst Nutrition Trends of 2017
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