Nutrition’s Biggest Problem: Conflicting Advice is Everywhere

Too much protein causes cancer. Don’t eat saturated fat. Well sometimes saturated fat is okay. Eggs cause hypertension. Eggs are actually a good source of protein and vitamins. Dairy is bad for you. Pescatarianism is better than vegetarianism. Fish has high levels of mercury, definitely don’t eat it.

If you were to believe everything the internet said, you would have a hard time justifying your health and nutrition decision. Why? Because the nutritional advice that exists is extremely conflicting. Just last fall, the WHO says red meat probably causes cancer, but then we read articles preaching about how you shouldn’t give up read meat all together. This is simply one example, but the list goes on. To date, there are over 700 different ‘diets’, many of them advising exact opposite guidelines, and a lot of them are simply money machines that claim to be the best, the only, the healthiest way to lose weight.

An Amazon alone, there are more than 24,000 books in the nutrition category. Search the word diet in Google, and more than 100 million results appear instantaneously.

Confused? Join the club.

A 2014 study on 631 adults in the US examined the effects of conflicting media information about red wine, fish, coffee, and vitamins/supplements. Fooducate summarized the findings this way:

1. The more information people were exposed to, the higher the level of confusion they reported.
2. Greater confusion was associated with greater nutrition backlash.
3. The confusion and backlash were negatively associated with intentions to engage in healthy behaviors.

In other words, the more exposure to conflicting information, the less likely people are to be healthy. The plethora or nutrition articles and studies posted on the internet, the majority of which claim their main goal is to help the public become healthier and make smart nutrition choices, are actually doing the opposite. Why and how have we gotten this far?

There’s money in it. 

Marketdata Enterprises reported that in 2013, the weight-loss industry was valued at 60.5 billion dollars. Americans are quick to buy DVDs, books, diet plans, and subscriptions that claim to provide great results in a short period of time. Jenny Craig offered a 20 pounds for 20 dollars a few years ago, and Atkins even dedicates a blog post to how to save money and lose weight at the same time. Many of these diets and weight loss programs claim conflicting methods for losing weight, confusing us even more. Which ones actually work? How are we to know? Do any of them work? Why should I choose one method over the other for my own body?

The weight-loss industry saw a giant market opportunity – a growing obese population that seeks practical health information yet also real results. The overload of these fad diets – the 700 diet programs we mentioned earlier – make it difficult for us to determine which ones are the right ones for us.

Large corporations are getting involved – and not in a good way 

Many major corporations have dieticians, doctors, health specialists, as well as bloggers and media contacts on their payroll. Coca-Cola for example, paid promoters to write sponsored articles that included mini-Coke as a heart-healthy snack. They also run the Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness that claims to be a ‘A Resource for Health Professionals on the Science of Beverages, Hydration & Active Healthy Living.’ The institute claims that no and low calorie sweeteners, like aspartame and stevia, are beneficial for managing caloric intake. While these sweeteners are low in calories, calories are in no way the be all end all of health and weight loss. Second, they ignore the fact that artificial sweeteners can be addictive. According to Harvard Health, people who consume them may be more likely to consume other foods high in calories or sugar because “they’re drinking a diet soda” or “using a low-cal sweetener.” They continue to say that “people who routinely use artificial sweeteners may start to find less intensely sweet foods, such as fruit, less appealing and unsweet foods, such as vegetables, downright unpalatable.”

The conflicting information set forth by major corporations, who in many ways have society’s trust, and the information from other organisations (both unbiased and biased) are simply further contributing to our confusion in the world of nutrition.

Nutrition studies aren’t perfect. 

Vox asked 8 researchers why the field of nutrition is so complicated. Conflicting nutrition advice isn’t entirely the fault of the weight loss or food industry. Many times, in fact, it’s because the science surrounding nutrition is also extremely confusing. In the Vox article, researchers explain that it isn’t alway practical to run randomised trails for most big nutrition questions, and instead researchers are left to rely on observational studies. The article continues to talk about how many nutrition studies rely on food surveys – that means people being honest about their lifestyle and what they ate. While I love to believe in the honesty of humankind, we would have to put a ridiculous amount of trust in people to use their food surveys and diaries as scientific fact. In addition to the dishonesty, we’re often times relying on people’s memory of what they ate. And many people cannot remember exactly what they ate, how much they ate, and when they ate it.

People and food aren’t the same. 

Not everything you eat is perfect for your friend, brother, neighbour, teacher, or anyone else. Diet and nutrition often times is extremely personalized. Food is also extremely diverse. An apple picked from your local orchard may be nutritiously different than the ones pre sliced and sold in packages. And the same goes for many other foods.

According to the Vox article, a group of diverse researchers agreed on the following about food and health:

A healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meats; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.

So what do you do? 

The first thing you can do is take the advice above – follow a generally accepted healthy diet. If you plan on following a special diet, we always recommend you consult with your physician or dietician.

Nutrino can also help you get healthy meal recommendations that are tailored to meet your personal needs and goals. We get that nutrition is confusing (for all of the reasons above and more), and we want to help you decide what’s right for you.  We help you take the confusion out of eating healthy. Download it here and be your own healthy.