The simple truths about good nutrition are lost in the hype and sensationalism

Why Are Consumers Confused by Food, Nutrition & Diet Information?

This blog was written as a guest post for Yahoo! Shine. You can read the original here.

In my 30 years of practice as a registered dietitian I have never been discouraged by the challenge of educating people on how to make healthier food choices. It has been a rewarding process for me, whether done individually, in a classroom or over the airwaves.

The bigger challenge has been countering the effort by some health professionals and journalists to reduce important food and nutrition information to simple sound bites or catchy headlines. I have found that these proponents often infuse their messages with emotional language and unsupportable claims that leave consumers ill-equipped to make appropriate decisions in the rapidly expanding food and nutrition marketplace.

I choose not to contribute to this debilitating process. Instead, I want to empower people to make sensible choices for themselves. To support that effort I have prepared a list of New Year’s Resolutions for Better Food and Nutrition Communications in 2012. I hope others will join me and take the pledge to help Americans become better consumers by giving them all of the food and nutrition information they need – not just what fits a sexy headline.

I pledge to:

1. Never propose that a single “diet” – or combination of foods – is best for everyone. I will always ask you what you currently eat and what your food preferences are, then tailor a diet to suit you.

2. Never use the length of a food’s ingredient list as a simple measure of its nutritional value, or lack thereof. I will explain what the key ingredients are in different foods and how they can be enriched or fortified by other ingredients.

3. Never agree with banning or taxing foods or drinks as a way to change what people eat. Advocates say efforts like these will curb obesity, but research shows taxing sugary drinks like soda does not affect body mass index. Instead, I will show you how any food or drink can fit into your diet when you control the frequency and portion size.

4. Never dismiss foods that contain multisyllabic ingredients, words with scientific origins or words that are difficult to pronounce. Instead, I will teach you what those words mean and what their function is so you can make more informed decisions.

5. Never suggest that foods labeled as “all natural,” “organically grown” or “locally sourced” are superior to foods that do not carry these labels. I will show you how to use the Nutrition Facts on food labels so you can make appropriate comparisons based on nutrient content, cost and availability.

6. Never use inflammatory or provocative language when talking about food, such as “junk,” “garbage” or “toxic.” I will remain objective in my discourse so you can make objective decisions rather than emotional ones.

7. Never assume that most people can evaluate the integrity of scientific research studies or interpret their findings. I will assist you in your understanding of the scientific process by providing an explanation of how the new information fits in with the current body of knowledge on the subject.

8. Never support the notion that to “binge,” “splurge” or “cheat” when eating is compatible with good health. I will evaluate the underlying reasons for these potentially abusive eating behaviors and attitudes and help you establish a more balanced approach to making your food choices.

9. Never imply that losing weight can be quick, simple or effortless. I will remind you that eating is a complex behavior and we don’t understand all of the factors that influence it. Changing your eating habits and level of physical activity is a slow and difficult process, but with help it is possible to establish a healthier lifestyle.

10. Never profess that we know everything about our nutritional needs and how to best meet them. I will acknowledge that the science of human nutrition is young and still evolving and I remain open to new discoveries.

Please sign up below if you want to take the Pledge:

Posted in Diet and Disease, Dietitians, Eating Habits, Eating Right, Fad Diets, Food Groups, Food Selection, Healthy Lifestyle, Moderation, Nutritional Needs, Obesity, YAHOO! SHINE and tagged , , , , .

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