Food for Thought

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Getting savvy about nutrition in the news.
Dietitian Nicole Senior has just published Food Myths, a collection of food myths she has ‘busted’ in GI News … and more (many more). In the introduction (reproduced with permission) she asks us to think about a more serious side to these myths, puts forward some thoughts on why there are so many about diets and weight loss and provides pointers on how we can get savvy about nutrition in the news.

Food myths are prevalent in societies where food is abundant and choices are practically endless. In stark and distressing contrast, people in poor countries struggle to get enough food to survive. Are we fussy with our diets and vulnerable to food myths because we’re too well fed? By following fad diets, are we desperately clutching at ideas to narrow down our food options because they are now overwhelming? Are we looking to fix our broader unease with our hectic modern lifestyles? Has our food supply become so far removed from its source that we are reacting against it? These are deep questions that probably deserve book all on their own but I’d ask you to consider them when understanding why food myths persist. A bit of perspective is always good.

When I was putting my food myths book together, I couldn’t actually cover all the myths about diet and weight loss. I’ve often wondered why bad ‘diets’ seem to do so well. How can a diet that doesn’t work (in the long term) be so popular? How can a product that is unsubstantiated become a bestseller? It’s a tribute to good marketing but it also indicates the number of people struggling with excess weight, and the lengths they will go to in order to lose it. Unfortunately for many, the moderation message is boring and unappealing: instead, it seems as if we need to be shaken out of our old ways and shocked into submission. Perhaps moderation is far too sensible and we have a craving for risk? Perhaps we are just too impatient? Perhaps we latch on to the first person or company who seems to understand our difficulties? Who knows? The situation isn’t helped by the diet industry, which knows the moderation message doesn’t sell. It comes up with all manner of trumped-up benefits and half-baked theories about why their diets will actually work when all they are doing is selling creative ways to eat fewer kilojoules/calories.

To lose weight we must reconcile the – boring – fact that we must eat less and exercise more WITH ensuring we eat quality foods to meet our nutritional needs … and eat foods we like … and be able to afford them … and please all the family … and prepare food quickly. You can appreciate the challenges. Blacklisting particular nutrients such as carbs or fats, as many fad diets do, is not helpful. It’s a pity there are so many myths about weight loss and dieting to choose from. It’s also a great shame that so many people have wasted so much money and experienced so much heartache and disappointment at the hands of myth-spinners. I say: don’t get mad or get even—get savvy instead. Here are some organisations with scientific experts who review the evidence behind nutrition in the news.

  • American Heart Association
  • National Heart Foundation
  • Glycemic Index Foundation
  • Harvard University School of Public Health
  • NHS Choices ‘Behind the Headlines’

Food Myths

Available from bookshops and online. You can download a sample chapter HERE.