Why Is Nutrition So Complicated?
Why Is Nutrition So Complicated?
Well, first things first.. Nutrition is a new science. Scientists started studying nutrition as recently as the 1940s, when there was a need to make sure the food we were sending our soldiers during the Second World War was nutritious enough to sustain them for days of combat.
So today, there is still a lot of work to be done, and there is still a lot to learn. With new studies and findings reported seemingly every week, the landscape of the food industry is constantly changing. Fun new ways to cut corners and save costs are announced all the time - think the low fat cookie craze – but is the science proven or are we experimenting, without fully knowing the effects, at the expense of the consumer. Given this background, how does anyone really make sense of what’s going on in the world of nutrition? Is organic food really better for you than non organic food? Is soy ok to eat or are there problems with it? (Actually, according to a 6,500-participant Duke study, soy doesn’t have any harmful effects, even if you have an estrogen-based cancer… so that’s good..at least that's the most recent finding).
And that’s before we even get to diets! As a Registered Dietitian, I’ve heard about them all: Whole
30, Paleo, Keto – one woman even told me she was only drinking diet coke and eating lentils
because that’s what models do! Quick PSA – do NOT do this. Her hair was falling out and she was
super anemic because her only source of protein were those lentils.
So how did this happen? She had heard that lentils have a lot of protein, and they do, but they can’t be your only protein source. I’m not exaggerating, it wasn’t like she had an occasional piece of chicken, her diet literally consisted of lentils, diet coke, orange juice, and Oreos. And to top it all, she couldn’t understand why she wasn’t losing any weight! A question I often pose to patients like her is “if you have enough discipline to drink maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and lemon juice three times a day for 30 days, or not have any sugar for 30 days, or to follow the rules of induction for Atkins, or Keto, or even to eat lentils and drink diet coke exclusively… then why not just try to control your portions?”
Controlling your portions will allow you to eat a varied diet, and enjoy an occasional sweet, or glass of wine. And while it is true that you will not lose 40 lbs in one month, the truth is that reaching your goals on these fad diets often leads to putting the weight back on. And wouldn’t you want to see your goal weight on the scale for longer than three minutes.
It’s strange to me, as someone who has studied nutrition extensively, that people believe so
passionately in a diet plan based on rules and exclusions, but not in the science behind it. For
example, the girl with the lentils? She believed in her lentil/diet coke diet so deeply that, even though she had sought out a Dietitian because it wasn’t working, she sat in my office trying to convince me it would work. She thought that she must be doing something else wrong because it couldn’t be the diet!
Don’t get me wrong, everyone wants to look good, everyone wants to look - dare I say it – “thin”. I mean, for the love of God, I would love to look like J Lo, so I get it! But even Miss Lopez works at it. She doesn’t drink alcohol, or eat rice (which I think is kind of a nightmare), but she’s J. Lo, she’s rich, beautiful and talented, so let’s not worry too much about her. So, how do you get to reach your goals if diets are not the answer?
Science. Because, even with the caveats above, science still knows so much about food and how to eat. And the answers are often pretty simple. So, instead of counting calories or following depressing rules, a good Dietitian will help you understand what you can eat and build a plan that works for you. Wouldn’t you prefer to learn about food and metabolism, rather than spiral into an over-obsessed, unpleasant shrew who has to let her friends know the fat grams of every food item that anyone puts into their mouth in a 5-mile radius while on that Ketogenic diet.
And since we’re on the subject of the ketogenic diet, and it’s currently all the rage, I will briefly
comment. The Ketogenic diet elicits weight loss by increasing the amount of fat you’re eating so you don’t feel hungry. You are using the fat/ketones as energy, which is not great for your heart at all. There is also a problem with communication - if you tell someone that avocado is a good fat, they will eat one a day when the serving size is only a half or a quarter of an avocado. If you tell someone it’s ok to have almonds, they’ll eat 1000 calories worth in one sitting, because they don’t understand that the serving size is only 15 almonds. My point here is that people will overdo it if they hear “it’s healthy”. Anything after that point is lost in their burning desire to drown themselves in a sea of guacamole and rice cakes since Tostitos can’t possibly be allowed. We also know that you can only safely survive on ketosis, and ketones as an energy source for 6-8 weeks. It’s not what the diet tells you, but it’s what we know from science.
Here’s what I’ll say about it all. Let’s stick to appropriate serving sizes, increase the amount of lean proteins for fullness and leave the fat portion as is. Meaning if you are 180lb M, I would advise 8-10 ounces of protein at dinner, together with one serving of fat, such as an avocado, and lots of green vegetables. Why? Because it will keep you full. You will be more full from the protein and the vegetables than the fat, and keep your triglycerides at a level your cardiologist could actually live with. See? No shaming, no gimmicks, just some actionable scientific tips on how to navigate through this fad diet craze. Because, let’s be real, you’re going to end up doing what you want to do anyway, so I might as well help you through it with some solid science.