Friday, November 2, 2007

Nutrition--My Way

I am admittedly the worst dietitian ever. I think chocolate is my favorite food group. We rarely eat three servings of vegetables each day. My husband believes that Jolly Ranchers and Starburst count as a fruit serving. My children have super-sonic hearing and always catch me sneaking the Cheetos or cookies in the pantry. All of that aside, I am a registered dietitian. I do make an effort to consume healthy foods along with all the treats and I've tried to expose my kids to a variety of healthy foods, on occasion (today!) I make healthy foods like whole wheat pizza crust, but still, I'm the worst dietitian ever.

I still haven't quite figured out what drew me to the profession, but I somehow managed to get through school, complete the 2,000 internship hours, and pass the exam given by the ADA to get the letters RD behind my name. In order to keep my certification current if I ever decide to go back to work, I need to attend workshops and talks for continuing education hours. Yesterday I was lucky to attend one sponsored by the Dairy Council of Utah. Each year they hold a Breakfast and Briefing at the Grand America hotel--and who wouldn't want to have a yummy breakfast in the name of continuing education? They are great opportunities to learn more and schmooze it up with potential employers so they know my name and face in the event I find myself needing a job.

I was reminded yestereday that one of the things that attracted me to this field was the science of it all and the opportunity to help people make their lives better. Science is exact and can be proven--but often we get lost in its interpretation. There are so many ideas and theories out there when it comes to nutrition, which is a relatively young science and thus still evolving. Many consumers hear conflicting messages about certain foods and diets. Our speaker yesterday reminded us to always question the source of the information. What is their agenda? If they are trying to sell some product or idea with their information (supplement bars, vegan diets, books, etc.) either for your actual money or just to convert you to their cause, they have a strong motive to get you to believe them. It's always good to make sure there is good solid science behind their claims. It's also good to see if reputable, well-known scientific groups endorse or agree with the ideas. Some of these include (but of course aren't limited to): American Dietetic Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, US Breastfeeding Committee, American Medical Association, USDA, World Health Organization, American Academy of Family Physicians, etc.

Even studies and recommendations from them you may need to take with a grain of salt and look at the data and research methods behind them. One example of this is that the AAP and Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends strongly against co-sleeping. Their recommendations are based on studies that included all co-sleeping arrangements, including parents who smoke or were under the influence of alcohol and drugs or were co-sleeping on a couch or water bed. Other studies from reputable sources have shown that mothers who breastfeed their children lower the risk for SIDS by co-sleeping.

Recent buzz about dropping dairy and gluten from your diet to "cure" illnesses from insulin resistance to autism and ADHD are all around--I am often asked about issues such as these, to which I always respond with the disclaimer, "I am the worst dietitian ever" and then I tell them my standard answer. There haven't been any solid studies to prove that it does or does not work. Many parents and patients are looking for alternative therapies to treat their illnesses, but until there is strong, evidence-based research that shows improvement by avoiding certain foods or whole food groups, I am very hesitant to suggest it. You may even find evidence to the contrary, as is the case with dairy foods and insulin resistance--one study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that increased consumption of low-fat dairy products can actually improve insulin resistance.

When it comes down to it, try to eat a good variety of foods in reasonable amounts, move around as much as you can, and think very hard before dropping any food group from your diet because it's sure to be a miracle cure. That, and eat lots and lots of chocolate.