Health vs. Habit: Nutritionists Trading Facts for Convenience and Cravings
What happens when sound health advice is trumped by flashy titles and the fight for commercial success? Today with so many places to advertise selling media, especially articles, can be a difficult task. The result in the health world is often selling “quick, fast, easy, health”. This often plays a big role in providing well-meaning readers with misleading advice.
I am a big reader of Well+Being from the Washingtonian. I have a friend who writes for the column and I am always drawn by their catchy headlines and the articles seldom disappoint.
That being said, there is one series of articles that is an exception to this rule called, "Healthiest (And Scariest)". These articles analyze menus at fast food chains to show which items are most and least healthy. They also include nutritionists interviews and quotes in the article, giving a sense of legitimacy to the posts. Nothing wrong with that. The problem lies in experts making unhealthy food appear healthy for the sake of their client’s convenience and cravings. A quote from a recent Healthiest (and Scariest) analyzing the Arby’s menu quotes a nutritionist saying "A healthy eater probably could eat here," our expert says. "Just not every day."
So what does that even mean? Every other day? Only on the weekends? And what constitutes a “healthy eater” if they are eating at Arby’s a few times a week?
This recent post on Arby’s raised a question: Should nutritionists give bad advice for the sake of their client’s love of unhealthy food and convenience? Or should they try to set an example of what a good diet should be and find delicious healthy alternatives?
I happen to think the latter is a better method.
Articles like these give people who are trying to eat healthier, but don’t really want to give up their comfort food a scapegoat to order a Beef-n-Chedder with "440 calories, 1,290 milligrams of sodium, and 18 grams of fat." (This was the article’s "better" alternative)
These expert scapegoats let their readers feel like they are making a fairly healthy decision when they actually are not. The 1,290mgs of sodium alone is enough to put this sandwich on the “Do Not Eat” list. But the article further justifies this sodium issue saying, "It has only half a gram of trans fat, so I’m happy with that, but it has a lot of sodium. It’s not great, but it’s not extremely bad as long as the person doesn’t have high blood pressure,"
…How do you think a person GETS high blood pressure? It’s not by eating carrots.
One of the most important goals of a nutritionist should be preventative health. When nutritionists put their names behind circumstantial half truths, they are doing a disservice to the people they are supposed to be helping. Of course, this nutritionist nor this article is the only one of it’s kind. You can easily see questionable nutrition advice on morning talk shows, blogs, and other media outlets. I have even seen nutritionist on popular shows like Good Morning America encouraging their viewers to eat a diet that resembles anorexia. Avoiding as many calories as possible being their main goal with no apparent consideration for health and nutrients.
I do understand why these nutritionists give these scapegoats. Most people are not willing to give up Arby’s or McDonalds, even I won’t give up my Taco Bell Bean Burrito every once in a while. This leads nutritionist to try to fit a (fatty, artery clogging) square into a circular hole. By giving their clients the scapegoat of “moderation” they give them a guilt-free pass to eat unhealthfully. The fact is, even some of the healthiest eaters will indulge in a Taco Bell Bean Burrito without needing someone to falsely reassure them it’s actually healthy.
We will eat food we know is unhealthy no matter what. We shouldn’t have nutritionists telling us it’s an okay or even good decision, when it isn’t. Processed foods that are packed with preservatives and cooked at super high heats are not good for you. Period.
Be aware when you see the words “doctor recommended” or “expert nutritionists” and read health advice carefully and analytically. Always remember that newspapers, magazines, and TV shows have one primary goal, to make money.
Sometimes basic facts get lost for the sake of a catchy headline.