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October 8, 2016

Who To Trust For Nutrition Advice?

by Anne Paddock

Lifestyle choices are one of three aspects (the others being genetics and the environment) that greatly affect our health. We can’t pick our parents and environmental factors are not wholly within our control but we can focus on lifestyle choices that affect our health so who do we turn to for advice?

Everyone has an opinion about diet and nutrition which makes the amount of information to sift through a monumental and often overwhelming task that typically leads to confusion – which is just what the industries who are threatened by the power of nutrition want.

So, who do we trust and listen to with regards to nutrition? Doctors? Maybe, maybe not. As Kim Allen Williams, MD, the past president of the American College of Cardiology said: “There are two kinds of cardiologists: vegans and those who haven’t read the data.” That’s a pretty strong statement by one of the most respected cardiologists in the country.

Most doctors have not been educated in nutrition because medical school curriculums don’t emphasize nutrition over medication and surgery. For acute illnesses, modern medicine is excellent but for many chronic illnesses, doctors all too often treat the symptoms (i.e. high cholesterol, high sugar, high blood pressure, etc) instead of the cause (which is often related to lifestyle choices). And, then there is the fact that most doctors eat animal products. Consider watching a three minute video entitled “What Diet Should Physicians Recommend?” by Dr. Michael Greger, MD, founder of www.nutritionfacts.org.

How about Registered Dietitians (RD)? After all, RD’s have been educated in nutrition, right? Again, maybe; maybe not. If an RD is not promoting a whole grain plant-based diet low in oils and added sugar as the optimal diet, then you may want to ask why? Chances are the RD is eating the very foods we should be avoiding. How does he or she defend the consumption of these foods? What school did the RD attend and what was the curriculum? Who or what industries endowed that school? A vegan nutritionist once said that she took her professors to task for recommending that humans drink cow milk and was told “do you want to be right or do you want to graduate?” The dairy industry was affiliated with the school, which is a conflict of interest.

How about the USDA? Again, not necessarily. The USDA is a federal organization that has an inherent conflict of interest: promoting American agriculture and making dietary recommendations. How does an agency promote healthy eating and at the same time promote animal and dairy products or GMO corn and soybeans grown to feed livestock when a diet based on the consumption of animals products has not been shown to be better than a whole grain plant-based diet low in oil and added sugars?

Claims need to be backed up by the truth and this is where peer-reviewed scientific studies come in. Knowing that a claim is based on something else, you have to find out what that something else is.  So, ask for the scientific research to back up any nutrition claim made – especially from the food, pharmaceutical, and medical industry. These are billion dollar industries and as Dr. Michael Greger, MD says “Whenever that much money is at stake, it’s hard to trust anyone, so as always, stick to the science.”

Equally important is reading and understanding the scientific research, which is difficult and requires time and focus. Find out who sponsored or paid for the research. Knowing this information will help you understand the methodology. For example, if a scientific study reports that the consumption of eggs does not raise cholesterol levels, knowing that the American Egg Board sponsored the study using participants who already have high cholesterol (and are not on statins) is very important because this group generally does not experience a rise in cholesterol when eggs are added because adding cholesterol doesn’t have as much of an effect on an all already highly elevated level.  Contrast that outcome with studies that use a group of participants who have relatively low cholesterol (under 175) and who are also not taking statins. Adding eggs to this group’s diet will increase their cholesterol level. In other words, try to figure out the who, how, and why.

Dr. Michael Greger, MD wrote a short piece explaining how the meat and dairy industries try to confuse the consumer in an article entitled ‘How to Design Saturated Fat Studies to Hide the Truth,” which is worth reading.  The essence of the article is that these industries are using a cross-sectional observation of a large population to make broad claims  (which is not an accurate way to study cholesterol) when in fact, controlled feeding experiments show exactly what happens to participant’s cholesterol levels when saturated fat and/or cholesterol is increased in the diet: it rises.

And, finally if it doesn’t sound right, it probably isn’t. I still remember a friend telling me that his trainer at the gym told him not to eat carbs because they turn to fat on the waistline. Pondering that statement for a moment, I asked how the body knows to take carbs and turn them into fat on a specific part of the body? (Said the body to itself: “yo, Joe…there’s some whole grain pasta and meat coming down. Tack the pasta onto the waist as fat and convert the meat with all the saturated fat to muscle”). Are there any peer-reviewed scientific studies to support this claim?  That trainer, by the way died of a massive coronary before he was 40 years old and although I don’t know if his heart disease was due to his lack of carb intake, I can’t help but think his diet had something to do with it because most men don’t die of heart disease before they reach the age of 40. 60, 65, 70..yes but 40, no.

To understand the conflicting data out there, ask questions and question everything you have learned through cultural influences. With all we know about nutrition (that we didn’t know 20-30 years ago), there are bound to be industries that feel threatened and so they fund studies to cause confusion and use methodologies to support their products. As the 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said, “All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident.”

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