Consumer, inform thyself!

The following is my first article written for the inaugural issue of the "Healthy & Humane Observer," which is a local, free publication distributed throughout NE Ohio. You can access their website & online version here.

People often ask me what are my favorite ‘superfoods’ or nutritional supplements because they “saw something on Dr. Oz.” As a registered dietitian, these are fair questions. My simple reply is that I do not recommend any particular superfood because the addition of one single nutrient-rich food is not going to dramatically alter your nutrition status. You can eat kale by the bushel, but it does not compensate for the cheeseburgers you are regularly consuming.

Nutritional supplements will also typically throw me into a fit of eye rolling. Note that I am not referring to actual vitamin & mineral supplements, which I do think can be useful. I am talking about those supplements which make claims that sound too good to be true – and we all know what our mamas said about things like that. Within a day or two, my local grocer sells out of every shipment of green coffee bean extract, which is touted for its weight loss capabilities despite the science to support it. And often, these are consumers who have yet to change their consumption of what is known as the Standard American Diet, which is an eating pattern excessive in sugar, salt and saturated fat. Their grocery carts are overflowing with processed foods while without one fruit, vegetable, legume or whole grain in sight.  Have they considered that their money could be better spent speaking to a trained health professional specializing in whole foods, plant-based nutrition like myself than on an overpriced bottle of pills?    

I suppose I cannot blame people for their lack of understanding about basic nutrition. Our government, which issues dietary recommendations for the public, is deeply influenced by lobbyists for food and drug manufacturers as well as for trade organizations (cue Coca Cola, Pfizer, and the American Egg Board). Our health professionals receive little (if any!) nutrition education as part of their curriculum in school. This is upsetting when many people look to their physicians for guidance. Even my fellow dietitians, who are trained to be nutrition experts, fall prey to biased education material created by food lobbyists. Our food manufacturers are often deceptive in their product marketing & health claims, which only add to consumer confusion. Our media caters to health trends and buzzwords without regard to whether or not what they report is based on sound science.

Unfortunately, I cannot wave a wand and make the government, lobbyists, food manufacturers and the media have your best interests in mind. What I can do is make people aware they need to be their own advocates when it comes to their health, and when they have questions, seek out reputable sources. I have spent more than a decade sorting through nutrition information and trying to convey it to the masses. At the end of the day, my message remains simple: No superfood or a bottle of supplements can replace a whole foods, plant-based diet.