The 'Dietitians are spoon fed by the food industry' Rebuttal
Ok, enough is enough.
Let's talk about the great divide occurring in the health industry. Dietitians and "old-school advice" VS popular media spokespeople who enjoy the fame and attention they get from slandering well-trained health professionals as being spoon fed by the food industry.
On one side, we have Dietitians in community and public health sectors working their asses off trying to get the government to change and develop new policies so we can stop having so much crap served up to our kids at school, which includes reducing sugar content, and processed fats and other foods. We have Dietitians working in mental health, and in critically ill sections of the hospital who do their absolute best to give the sick and the needy any form of nutrition that they could possibly stomach at a time when food is the last thing on their mind, and most often than not makes them physically ill. We have Dietitians working with social workers, in community centres, in corporate areas and in the food industry to make our food the healthiest possible. If you're going to slam people for the poor health status of most people in our country - slam those driven by making a profit off those foods and the individual for continuing to opt to buy them. You've got the wrong target!
For years we've only ever promoted a healthy balanced diet. It's not that these nutrition guidelines don't work - it's that hardly anyone follows them! Only 6.8% of Australian adults are eating adequate vegetables a day. Yet nowhere on the guidelines do we say 'don't worry about vegetables, a packet of chips or take away dinner will be fine'. Never. But boring regular healthy food advice doesn't sell as well as 'quit this', 'cut that' and 'rapid weight loss'.
On the other side, we have media personalities promoting their new books, diets, programs, gadgets and endorsed food products that put money directly into their pockets. I'm all for a healthy cookbook collection, I love kitchen gadgets, and I am always interested in the latest research, diet trends and health advice being discovered and promoted. But if we are funded and spoon fed by the industries that bring you 'naughty', unhealthy food, then why don't they appear in our guidelines? Like say a certain brand of sweetener whose sales have soared since a very popular blog and way of eating came around.
When was the last time you looked at the guidelines? Have you ever actually read them? Let me introduce you to……
The Australian Dietary Guidelines:
To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and choose amounts of nutritious food and drinks to meet your energy needs.
Pretty standard. Don't see any industry influence here…Let's look at the next one..
Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five food groups every day:
- Plenty of vegetables of different types and colours, and legumes/beans
- Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
- Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat
- And drink plenty of water.
No junk food or anything heavily processed there…But I bet you saw the 'reduced fat'. Let's sit with this a minute. Most reduced fat things have more sugar and few other bits and pieces in it to get that same texture and enjoyment from the full fat type. If you're obese and need to lose weight drastically, then reduced fat foods help you to get your weight down a little quicker, as per gram, fat contains the most calories/energy. Health-wise, its much of a muchness because you're replacing fat with sugar. If you're a healthy weight individual whose active, and eats a nice balanced diet as it is, then by all means, go for the full fat dairy, if you even include it in your diet. (Hello to my vegan and paleo readers!) You need to remember, that these are 1 - guidelines, and 2 - nutrition advice condensed into 5 tiny sentences to help guide an entireeeee nation. How many different people with different dietary needs do you know of in your own circle of people? I'm sure there's a gluten free, maybe a paleo, a lactose intolerance, someone with IBS, someone with heart disease, cancer, and maybe even someone whose an athlete. Everyone requires similar, but different dietary needs. These are purely a guide - no big company attached.
Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol.
- a. Limit intake of foods high in saturated fat such as many biscuits, cakes, pastries, pies, processed meats, commercial burgers, pizza, fried foods, potato chips, crisps and other savoury snacks. Replace high fat foods which contain predominately saturated fats such as butter, cream, cooking margarine, coconut and palm oil with foods which contain predominately polyunsaturated and mononsaturated fats such as oils, spreads, nut butters/pastes and avocado.
b. Limit intake of foods and drinks containing added salt. Read labels to choose lower sodium options among similar foods. Do not add salt to foods in cooking or at the table.
c. Limit intake of foods and drinks containing added sugars such as confectionery, sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials, fruit drinks, vitamin waters, energy and sports drinks.
d. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit intake. For women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is the safest option.
I've been waiting for this one. If your diet is wholefoods based and contains a variety of fats from foods mentioned above and you like a little saturated fat from butter and coconut oil on occasion - then hell, you're doing better than most of us! This guideline does say to limit saturated fat, yes, and added salt, and added sugar. But guess where we get the bulk of all three of these from? ….Oh heyyy junk food manufacturers and big industry companies……Nice of you to make an appearance! Against popular belief though, us Dietitian's aren't actually endorsing you. We're telling people to cut back on you! Ouch - truth hurts doesn't it? It's not you, its us. We just want to be healthy and your options just don't cut it. See - told you we're not 'spoon fed by industry'.
As for alcohol - you're fun to play with, but it's like playing with fire. Alcohol is strongly linked with number of cancers, even with a couple of glasses a week. Do your skin, your liver and your gut a favour and keep it to a minimum.
Oh and side note - other popular nutrition guides and media influencers cut these processed foods out too - and surprise surprise, you get results. I wonder where they got that idea from….
Encourage, support and promote breastfeeding.
Care for your food; prepare and store it safely.
Know what you're eating; take pride in what you nourish your body with, and please, store it safely - nobody wants a case of the gastro.
There is no fight. Dietitians aren't 'fighting back' in full force not because we are ashamed or hiding. But because we are busy fighting for the same good health for people as you are. We didn't enter a health profession to make people sicker - we do our jobs because we are passionate about making people healthier. There shouldn't be this bizarre divide between university trained health professionals and others trying to promote health too.
All Dietitians have set guidelines and a code of ethics to follow, which most importantly covers: 'first do no harm'. We worked our butts off at uni for 4 or more years. And no, it wasn't taking down notes handed to us from Kellogg, Monsanto, and McDonalds. We spent years examining the body, how it works from simply the mechanisms of how we eat, right down to how the tiniest of our cells function. We study biomedical science, chemistry, human molecular science, and some of us anatomy and physics too. We study food science and chronic diseases; the nutrients in food; our nervous system, our hormone system, our digestive system and how food impacts these. We study how food and society is linked - how when one thing changes, it creates a ripple effect. How sometimes in some circumstances, its incredibly difficult to make change happen in regards to food because there is so much policy, procedure and ethical considerations that need to be considered. Or there simply is no access to healthy food and we help people make do with what's available and what they can afford. We are taught to think big, think global, but also how to help one-on-one, and focus on the individuals circumstances. Never once in my entire degree did we have food industry representatives come to the university and discuss how wonderful their food is for our health and how we should always recommend it.
Dietitians have our own brains. Critical thinking brains that have been taught how to pick apart research papers to determine if the study outcomes are even valid. We have a duty to our patients, our clients, and our readers to utilise top level evidence to provide the best care. Hence the reason why we can be hesitant to take on new research. This doesn't mean we dismiss it.
The misguided view of what a Dietitian recommends is so old, and so stereotypical that media influencers need to take a closer look at what we do and what we offer before they keep lumping us into one whole pool of incapable, brainwashed fools. I honestly wish we weren't funded by certain food companies, but despite it not doing much for our credibility, it does nothing to influence how I offer up my nutrition advice, and I believe does nothing to influence the majority of other Accredited Practising Dietitian's work either.
How about instead of making misguided, misleading statements insinuating all Dietitians are useless, we actually do what we all do best, and work together to promote good health through nutritious, whole food based diets suiting the individual's needs, and cut the crap?