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Mixed messages, science and nutrition

Mixed messages, science and nutrition

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I feel as though I am being inundated lately with articles in popular media and emails full of scare tactics filling my newspapers and inbox about the evils of ‘food’ ( I am using this as a blanket term, because if I believed everything I read in these articles, then there would be nothing left for me to eat!)

For something which seemingly should not be that difficult, the statistics don’t lie; more than 63% of adults in Australia are considered to be overweight or obese. Most people obviously don’t want to be overweight. Some people also legitimately struggle to lose weight, even when they are doing everything they can. Why are people so confused?

Mixed messages:

Not a day goes by when there isn’t another fantastical diet being recommended, whether it has any scientific merit or not. People want a quick fix. It gets even more confusing when you break it down further to different food groups. Eggs, for example, have had their guidelines changed numerous times in relation to being healthy/unhealthy/healthy again, and how many is a safe number to eat.

Nutrition is an evolving science:

I remember when I went to uni. We were taught to recommend artificial sweeteners instead of sugar, and to always use margarine instead of butter. These days, there is plenty of evidence about the negative side effects, particularly in relation to weight, of artificial sweeteners, and there is evidence for and against both butter and margarine. Thus, I don’t particularly like recommending any of these! That’s two significant changes in just five years. I am certain there will be more, the more we learn.

Difficult to research:

One of the articles I was talking about above was published in the SMH this week, and discusses the gaps in some of the research, and the importance of being transparent. I absolutely agree, we need to make sure that the information we disseminate is coming from quality research. This means peer reviewed articles, in reputable journals. Not a ‘meta-analysis’ which only includes one study, with six people, that was funded by the company that would benefit from the research (for those of you unaware, this is definitely NOT what a meta-analysis is!). The advice myself and my colleagues give is based on what science currently says, however this may (and some of it probably will!) change over time.

My tips for staying ‘unconfused’

- Check where the advice is coming from? Is it a reputable source? Are studies peer reviewed and published in reputable journals? Is it high quality evidence? If statistics, is it the most recent ones?

- Use common sense. Being told to cut out an entire food group or nutrient for the long term is not going to help the majority of the population in the long term.

- Keep an open mind. Just because you were told something 10 years ago, does not necessarily mean that it will still ring true.

- If you have any questions, ask your dietitian. We are trained to read the literature and identify gaps in any studies which have been done before providing advice.

I’ve spent the last couple of days in Canberra at a Supplement Symposium run by the AIS and Sports Dietitians Australia… Stay tuned for next weeks post all about supplements!

Chloe McLeod is a dietitian at BJC Health.
This blog focuses on diet & nutrition generally and diet & nutrition in relation to the treatment of arthritis and arthritis-related diseases. Contact us if you'd like our help in managing diet-related health issues.

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