We've all had the moment – you're sharing a meal or having a chat with a friend, relative or workmate. Everything is going along nicely, when your companion casually makes a statement about food and nutrition that you either believe to be wrong, or completely disagree with.
You argue your case; they argue theirs. It never ends well, because you both vehemently believe you are right and the other person is wrong. When it comes to food and nutrition, everyone believes they are an expert. But why are so many people so distrustful of the actual experts? And why are we so passionate about our food beliefs and attitudes – and so quick to attack others when we believe they are wrong?
Recently, I came across an article on a mainstream news website that set out to ‘bust’ some common nutritional myths and misconceptions. The article in question was written by a highly renowned dietitian (disclaimer: who is also a regular contributor to our magazine) who has published a number of books.
While the article itself was very interesting, what really got my attention was the torrent of negative, personal and sometimes deeply offensive comments posted by readers in response to some of the views – and facts – put forward by the author. The flood of conspiracy theories, insults and very 'interesting' interpretations of nutritional research and advice led me to question a few things.
Why do so many people insist they are experts when it comes to health and food, and why are they so quick to believe the actual experts (accredited practising dietitians) are either incorrect or have some personal agenda to provide misleading information? Most people will (begrudgingly) accept what a mechanic or solicitor or dentist tells them, yet when it comes to health, they are sceptical of these qualified experts in the field who have studied the science behind nutrition for years and whose job it is to keep abreast of the latest nutritional research.
I believe a lot of the conflict and distrust that accompanies many nutritional topics is a basic human desire for simple answers to complex issues. We so badly want to believe that one food is ‘better’ than another; that you should ‘always’ or ‘never’ eat a particular food; or that diseases and health problems can be avoided or 'fixed' with certain 'miracle' or 'poison' foods. We don’t necessarily have the time or patience (or training and understanding) to look into the context surrounding nutritional advice or claims. We don't like the idea that nutrition and health are a complex interplay of many, many variables.
Of course, there are some basic golden rules of healthy eating. But they're not particularly exciting, and they don't tend to change very much over the years, which makes them less 'interesting' than the latest fad diet or miracle superfood. Whenever I get confused or overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information out there (and yes, I do - even with the benefit of working at HFG!) I try to abide by the old saying – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Another common gripe about nutritional advice is that it's always changing. Yes, nutritional advice is updated over the years – as is much medical and other scientific advice. Thanks to ever-improving research techniques and a growing body of evidence and knowledge, we will continue to learn more and more about how our bodies work and how what we eat can influence our health. Surely we should look at continual improvement as a good thing? We do in so many other areas of life. As long as we have experts we can trust to update and guide us, we will continue to benefit from research from all over the world.
At the end of the day, I believe the issue really boils down to a few key factors: trust; credibility; and context. And that’s what we aim to provide you with at HFG. We try to strip the emotion from our relationship with food and health and present you with the most up-to-date research and expert advice – all placed within the context of everyday life, and all the pressures it brings – such as getting the kids to eat vegies; or being pushed for time to put any kind of dinner on the table, let alone a healthy one! Of course, we can’t be 100% perfect or please everyone 100% of the time (largely due to the reasons listed above), but you can always feel assured that we’ve triple-checked our facts and are not relying on the myths and fables.
Speaking of which: I'd love to hear your favourites. What are the biggest health and nutrition myths you've heard? Comment below or email me at email@example.com.
Until next month,