I know you’ve lived a similar scenario at least one time: there you are relaxing in front of the television after a long day and you turn the news on to find out that what you are eating may be bad for your health! Or better yet, what you are feeding your kids could be slowly killing them! Of course, you stay up to watch the news piece and you frantically head to the kitchen and throw out that "poisonous food" that they talked about vowing to never buy it again. A week later, you read that a nutrition expert in a magazine recommends that very same food. Ugh! What to believe?!
It’s the question we get over and over again by people walking through our doors at Lemond Nutrition. Before I was formally educated, I was one of those people. People everywhere are so tired of reading conflicting information when it comes to food, nutrition and wellness.
Over the last several months, well-known health advocates have been called out for misleading their followers about their nutrition and health advice. Back in June of last year, Dr. Mehmet Oz was called before a Senate subcommittee hearing about the claims he was making about certain weight loss supplements on his television show. John Oliver, the late night talk show host, did an entire piece on Dr. Oz that tied in humor [rated R for language and adult humor, so careful watching with the kids] and very important points. If you didn’t follow it at the time, the video catches you up. John Oliver also makes very important points about supplements and their lack of regulation in the country. I recently spoke about this in a local TV interview earlier this year.
Flash forward to this year, more than 1,500 of his fellow physicians are asking Dr. Oz to resign from his academic position as a cardiothoracic surgeon at Columbia University due to all the health claims he has made on his show and website that lack medical evidence.
Ask any dietitian that sees patients in private practice (including me) how many times they have been asked about Vani Hari, aka The Food Babe. Vani shares of her personal story of self-healing with nutrition and how she wants to make it her life’s work to take everything that she deems unhealthy out of our U.S. food supply. If you go to her website, she has some pretty amazing recipes and her personal story is inspiring – even to me. But what I believe has made her so popular is her phenomenal way that she pulls people into her “Food Babe Army.” This tactic works every time – especially with parents trying to feed their kids the safest of foods – it’s to tell them that the food industry is pulling the wool over your eyes. It is to tell them that they only want to make a profit and it fine with them if that sacrifices your family’s safety. Wow! As a mom, I can understand the righteous anger some may have when Vani spins and twirls her logic into very well-written blog posts and videos. The problem is this – don’t you think that those same people that work in the food industry – don’t they have families, too? What foods do you think they are eating? I don’t know, maybe there is a secret and safe supply that the food industry kids can have access to exclusively. What do you think? “The secret stash.” No. They feed their families the same foods and, why? They do this because they are safe for their kids and for our kids.
I hate to admit it, but Vani and I have a couple things in common. We both want to help people live the healthiest lives through proper nutrition and we are both lovers of plant-based, whole food eating. I became a dietitian because I was so confused as a consumer trying to navigate my own healthy eating. And that was before the Internet! I got into nutrition media because I wanted to make food and nutrition easier to navigate for people. It’s hard enough trying to figure out what to eat for yourself and then you throw on top of that raising your children to be healthy eaters. Americans are dying for positive food and nutrition solutions that are easily adaptable into their hectic lives – and have them be something they feel good about.
That is why what Vani and Dr. Oz and all the others do goes against what I and many other science-based nutrition practitioners are doing everyday on the front lines. Talk about righteous anger! I have that for my patients, clients, families and for anyone doing a search on the Internet. There are way too many people giving nutrition advice without ever having taken so much as a biochemistry class. That is like getting legal advice from someone like me with no matching educational background. Just don't do it!!! Why don't people realize this with nutrition? Nutrition is a science, NOT an opinion.
Ms. Hari has no science background to lead her arguably well-intentioned charge, and she has spread a ton of fear and misinformation into family homes everywhere. Her claims finally started getting scientists out of their labs to take a stand. The one to get the most press recently was written up in Gawker by Yvette d’Entremont, aka the Sci Babe (yes, she started her moniker and blog after becoming extremely frustrated with Vani Hari’s blog posts). Since Yvette’s post went viral, consumers that have read it have thought deeper about the Food Babe Way. The article clearly delineates how Vani's information is contradicted, not consistent with basic science and proof that people that challenge her on her blog or social media sites get immediately blocked. [Warning: Once again, the Gawker article is not appropriate for children due to its strong language.]
I spend a lot of my time weeding through websites and books that have been brought up by our patients/clients that want us to review for legitimacy. Each time I am as delicate as possible when the science does not back up a diet or way of eating they have followed. I am very careful with people because you don’t want to invalidate them, and I thoroughly understand their desires to get answers. Internet searches are easy and there is a ton of information at your fingertips. But gone are the days of knowing you'll always get responsible journalism and writing. You cannot assume something that is written is factual – in fact, often times it is not only false but downright dangerous. If you want to know how crazy it’s gotten, read my recent write-up on infants and children following a Paleo Diet. Yes, no kidding! There was recently a nutrition book that almost got published which had a do-it-yourself infant formula concocted out of boiled animal bones. I tell ya, it’s the Wild Wild West in food and nutrition now that we have the age of the Internet and social media.
Here are my tips on vetting a health/nutrition book, website or article for validity:
Do they have science to back up their claims? I like this article that Dr. Alicia White writes on How To Read Health News. Remember that most journalists specialize in shock and awe, and eye-catching content because they need clicks and reads to measure their job performance. There is a ton of exaggeration in health articles that make the front page of news websites. Beware. They will use fear or misleading information to draw you in.
Is this source selling a product? I wouldn’t completely rule them out as being legitimate, but I would be very careful on that website and find other reliable websites that corroborate their information. You better believe Vani Hari is making a killing off of her blog (see her sponsors), books and speaking engagements. The reality is that everyone has an agenda, and money is what makes the world go around.
What are their credentials? Is the author of their topic credentialed in that topic? You might have a medical doctor who is extremely educated in say, cardiothoracic surgery (eh-hem), but they do not have any formal nutrition education. [I recently learned that it’s harder than ever to vet this out, as I read the other day of a person who earned a PhD from a “natural health college” taking a handful of classes and wrote a thesis the size of an average blog post!]
Are they respected in their industry? This is where I would let Google do some of your work, but again, stick to reliable websites (see below). See what others in their industry say about this person, website or blog.
Do they offer practical solutions? Advice, especially nutrition advice, must be sustainable. It needs to be realistic during times when you are eating socially or even traveling.
What is the psychological impact this food advice has on you and also importantly, your children? Some healthy diets can inadvertently turn into various forms of eating disorders.
What is the nutritional impact on this advice? Will it have negative unintended consequences? Many times they do.
Do gravitate towards the following sources:
- Reputable university, governmental and/or organizational websites. They are going to be the most reliable, accurate and peer-reviewed sources.
- Get your nutrition from registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) as your primary source. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website is a phenomenal source of food and nutrition information. If you ever want to know what an RDN’s stand is on a nutrition topic, look at their position papers listed by topic.
- There are hundreds of other health experts that are good resources on nutrition, but they are harder to evaluate. Even most medical doctors are alarmingly not educated in nutrition so they must get extra education on top of their medical license in order to become educated. A couple of my favorite physicians that speak on nutrition and stick to the evidence include Dr. David Katz and Dr. James Hamblin. I regularly read Dr. Katz’s posts on LinkedIn and Dr. Hamblin’s articles on The Atlantic magazine online. Some great non-RDN PhD nutrition researchers and writers include Mike Roussell and Jim Hill of the Anschutz Health & Wellness Center at the University of Colorado. I recently had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Rousell speak at a nutrition conference. Dr. Hill is the founder of the National Weight Control Registry who has studied what works for people when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off. We use a lot of Dr. Hill’s data here at Lemond Nutrition when writing wellness plan for our clients. These are just a small handful that are off the top of my head, but there are many more out there. Most of them will have a PhD in nutrition or biochemistry. Read carefully and don't allow fear to drive your decisioning.
Be very careful when you go on Google/Yahoo!/Bing and do health and nutrition searches. Seek your sources wisely. Once you do that, start the learning process and ask questions accordingly. You deserve correct, evidence-based information.