Don’t Put Your Eggs all in One Basket – There’s More than One Way to a Healthy Diet and Nutrition Counseling is Key

There seems to be a bit of a turf war going on – who should you trust to give you nutrition advice? A newscaster? A doctor? A scientist? A magazine? An herbalist? A babe or some other self-proclaimed nutrition expert? 

People generally believe what they want to believe, but I believe in science-based nutrition recommendations, and also the fact that eating should be a nourishing and enjoyable activity. I also happen to be a registered dietitian. Dietitians certainly aren’t the only ones who are qualified to provide accurate diet and nutrition information (key word is qualified – I’d expect at least an undergraduate degree in nutrition, and the RDN credential indicates just that, plus field experience and credentialing). Yet why do you see so many television shows featuring “nutrition expert” panels, that are void of the RDN? These television panels or interviews include MDs, activists, or policy makers, but not the input of the most widely recognized nutrition professional? To me this is unfairly balanced. Sure, seek an “alternative opinion”, but that opinion should also be weighed against that of the credentialed RD who represents a huge portion of the nutrition science profession.

Every week the media prints something about the new “evil food” or “poisonous ingredient” that will destroy your body. On the other hand, you’ll also hear about the “healthiest superfood you can eat!”.  I’d like to know what the authors of these columns really have in their refrigerators and pantry cabinets, and why they may feel that an RDN has nothing to add to the conversation.

While I do firmly believe that a plant-based diet is important (along with regular physical activity) – and science supports a basic healthy diet “framework” – I don’t believe that everyone has to eat the same foods. Some may choose a vegetarian lifestyle, others may avoid alcohol, some may avoid sweets, but others may include meat, alcohol and sugar among those plant products in their diet, and not have long-term health consequences from it.

If some of you feel that there’s only one set of foods and beverages that can result in health, you are missing the boat to improving public health. Or perhaps you don’t understand how different people are. There are too many different types of people, from different backgrounds, with different means, living in different areas for a “single diet prescription” to work.

Our food system has become a political issue, with some feeling that processed foods have no place in a healthy diet, or that only a plant-based, “whole food”, or vegan diet can result in health. Or, that if you just eliminate sugar for ten days, you’ll be home free to a healthy life and healthy weight and your eating habits will suddenly reach nirvana. Why so judgey (and funny, some people judging aren’t real nutrition experts)?

In addition, it seems that so many people are getting into activism. This isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes it’s misplaced. Chefs are using their celebrity clout to make statements about everything from food to water (caring about safe water is one thing, a chef claiming to have any expert knowledge of geoscience is absurd). Political activism may have its place to get food policy changed (such as labeling guidelines, or school lunch guidelines, or food safety guidelines), but using politics to try to change individual eating behaviors, or to control well educated nutrition professionals, or to micromanage the manufacture and delivery of food in every school, institution, grocery store or home in America? That is counterproductive and will backfire.

Trust me, as someone who has actually spoken to thousands of people about what they eat – they don’t want to be told what to eat! They want guided. They want options. They want to make their own decisions, and the opportunity to meet with a registered dietitian can help them do just that.

The fact is, everyone can’t eat the same thing. I’ve been a dietitian for 28 years. While I still do some nutrition coaching, I now primarily work as a nutrition communications writer and author. The 10 of my first 28 years of experience however included counseling and entering food record data for research studies. I’ve seen and listened to many people from many walks of life tell me about what they eat on a daily basis. Real life is usually not the way you read about it in the media.

I’ve counseled moms who worked full time and had 3 kids; dads who worked 15 hour days or the night shift; young women who struggled with eating disorders; pregnant women who smoked and ate chips and a cola for lunch; people who skipped breakfast daily, ate fast food for lunch, and a bowl of cereal for dinner; 380 pound men with diabetes who drank 4 liters of soda daily; 40 year old women who ate oatmeal, fish, and carrots by the pound (orthorexia); 50 year old obese women who have been dieting all their lives.

Do you think each of these people could follow the same dietary advice? No, I individualized their advice. I met them halfway when necessary. I understood their complex medical and social history. I got them started on the right track.

Somehow, we have to get people to understand that they have some control over their own wellness, and that feeding yourself well is your number one priority. Somehow we also need insurance companies to also cover nutrition counseling from qualified counselors, but we also need people to feel it’s important to invest in this help as well.

Many would rather argue that there is no amount of toaster strudels or fast food that can fit into a healthy diet, in lieu of getting these people referred to a registered dietitian-nutritionist for counseling. An RDN can teach a busy mother of 2 how to plan 3 healthy meals each day. The healthy food you eat in addition to the proverbial toaster strudel is far more important, as is the manner in which you eat.

Do you want to feed your family better? Then seek help from a qualified nutrition professional.

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