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An enlightening dietitian sorts the science from science fiction

A dietitian addresses misinformation in the media.

RosieHS.JPGRosie Schwartz is a consulting dietitian and author of The Enlightened Eater's Whole Foods Guide. Her passion for enlightening her clients with real evidence-based information led to her series of Enlightened Eater books. Rosie has been writing about enlightened eating for more than 20 years and is currently a columnist for Parents Canada and Diabetes Dialogue magazines. She is also a frequent contributor to the Medical Post newspaper. Visit her website rosieschwartz.com, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

  

Enlightened eating can indeed be a daunting task. We are constantly bombarded with confusing nutrition messages. Studies about nutritional issues are often reported in the media without any context and consequently, can add to the confusion. Sorting the science from the science fiction has become increasingly difficult. My blog, Enlightened Eater, allows me to address these issues head on and engage with my readers and clients directly. 

I recently addressed an interview of Nina Teicholz, the author of The Big Fat Surprise, on CBC's The Current. It was something my Facebook followers and clients were asking me about. Canadian print journalists have also been wooed by the arguments made by Ms. Teicholz (see my other post).

I am happy to share this post as an example of speaking out against misinformation and demonstrating that dietitians are providers of credible, evidenced based information.
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The Big Fat Surprise – Science or science fiction?

“I just heard science journalist Nina Teicholz on CBC’s The Current talking about her book The Big Fat Surprise. She says the low fat craze over the last few decades is what has made the population fat & unhealthy, and that we should all eat more fat, including saturated. Are you familiar with her book, and what is your opinion? It’s frustrating watching the pendulum swing back and forth while trying to feed one’s family correctly for best health!” asks an Enlightened Eater Facebook fan.

I am indeed familiar with Nina Teicholz, who now calls herself a science journalist but was previously called an investigative journalist. Apparently she, like many others who have read but not actually been trained in the area of nutrition, has become an expert.

In a Huffington Post piece entitled Opinion Stew, Dr. David L. Katz, the founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center and Editor-in-Chief of the journal Childhood Obesity, talks about the abundance of so-called nutrition experts. He points out that he doesn’t think someone who has been a passenger on a plane is automatically a credible source about how to fly one, or anyone who has driven over a suspension bridge necessarily knows how best to build one.

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When it comes to food and health, he states, “For now, anyone who shares opinions about nutrition or weight loudly and often enough — or cleverly enough — is embraced as an authority with no one generally even asking what, if any, training they’ve had. … It is the least substantiated, most uninformed opinions about how to eat that will come at you with the greatest conviction. That’s your first clue that something is awry, because true expertise always allows for doubt.”

Enter so-called nutrition expert, Nina Teicholz. In her interview on CBC, she certainly sounds as though she is an authority. Despite this, it seems that she has interspersed science with science fiction. She states that meat has been “the centrepiece of meals for millennia.”

Huh?

Millennia? I don’t know where she is getting those facts from but having large portions of meat on a regular basis is a relatively new phenomenon – a product of an affluent society. Paleo (caveman) diet advocates (which Ms. Teicholz is) believe otherwise and promote unlimited consumption of meat as a route to good health.

There are a number of issues when you talk about the Paleo diet. At the recent Whole Grains: Breaking Barriers conference in Boston, sponsored by the food think tank Oldways and the Whole Grains Council, Dr. Katz addressed the gathering with his presentation, “What did Paleo Man really eat, anyway?”

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Firstly, Dr. Katz pointed out that the meat-centred diet was consumed by those whose lifespan was only about 40 years. Plus, they only ate lots of meat occasionally as they first had to hunt the animal. Daily meat consumption was not on the menu. (I’ll have more on his presentation in a future post.)

However, you don’t have to go back to the caveman times, Ms. Teicholz says meat consumption was high 150 years ago as well. The life expectancy at that time ranged between 38 and 44 years. Our current life span is about eight decades – twice those previously mentioned.

Ms. Teicholz began researching her book when many nutrition experts were advocating low fat diets. The bounty of evidence on the Mediterranean diet, though, blew low fat diets out of the water. This traditional eating pattern is based on consuming healthy fats, a foundation of plant foods and using animal proteins only as a garnish.

The Mediterranean diet is still vital, however, do keep in mind that nutrition is an evolving science. Having an open mind is key. On the other hand, critical thinking is also a key part of the process that experts use to sort through the nonsense.

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Nonsense is certainly what Ms. Teicholz intersperses with her facts. In her book, she explains why following the Mediterranean Diet is not the healthiest choice. Never mind that thousands of studies point to its benefits. She blames Ancel Keys, the scientist who first discovered the health perks of the Mediterranean diet, for the food industry bringing fat-free products such as cookies and snack foods to the market. He promoted whole foods, not the refined and sugar-laden carb options that many people chose when avoiding fatty fare.

Instead, she now focuses on a recent study that compared low carbohydrate diets to low fat diets. She concluded that saturated fat was harmless. Dr. Katz, among other scholarly experts, states, “The recent Annals paper did not show that saturated fat is harmless, and it certainly didn’t show that it is beneficial.”

She also talks about needing the fat to absorb minerals. Again, statements such as this baffle me. Simply put this claim is wrong. Yes, you do need fat to absorb fat-soluble vitamins but that is not the case with minerals.

I have no problem with the subtitle of the book, Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. Yes, they can absolutely fit in a nutritious eating plan. However, to make them the centrepiece ignores the holistic approach. Healthy eating is about defending against a variety of diseases, not just heart disease.

Ms. Teicholz proudly states her family’s eating pattern: “We all eat eggs, bacon and sausage for breakfast.”

I have no problem with including high protein foods at breakfast and in fact, I have been advocating them for decades. But having bacon and sausage on anything more than an occasional basis – as a treat if a person decides it’s to their liking – is certainly a wiser approach.

I’m guessing Ms. Teicholz hasn’t gotten around to researching the dietary guidelines for prevention of diseases such as cancer and diabetes yet.

The power of advocacy

My first Enlightened Eater print column was syndicated by the Ottawa Citizen (often carried across Canada), where I played a significant role in blocking the fake fat Olestra from being introduced to Canada. In my Enlightened Eater column in the National Post, I uncovered the well-hidden fact that whole wheat in Canada is not a whole grain. I also had the opportunity to enlighten viewers, for three years, with a weekly appearance on CBC.

I started blogging about three years ago and I continue to provide real, evidenced-based information via this platform. Advocacy by dietitians does work – speak up, be heard and advocate for what you believe in!


Editor’s note: Want to read more amazing blog posts by RD bloggers like Rosie? Check out the DC member blogs list here. Make sure you also follow the DC members twitter list to easily keep up with all the thought and wisdom DC members are sharing! Want to be added to this list? Just send @DietitiansCAN a tweet.

Have you read The Big Fat Surprise or listened to Ms. Teicholz’s interview on The Current? Let’s keep the discussion going! Please share thoughts and comments below.
  1. Thank you all so much for your comments - they truly inspire me! Anisha, as a group of talented and dedicated health professionals with unique talents, we all need to continue to advocate and we will keep the momentum going.
  2. Thank you, Ms. Schwartz! This is a great read- very well written and inspiring! Really hoping to see advocacy for credible/evidence based information amidst the sea of mis-information gain momentum further.

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