My Responses, Part II

I hope everyone is enjoying reading my thoughts on these issues.  Again, as a dietitian, I become frustrated when people focus on one thing and do not look at the big picture.  They take one sound byte from a media outlet and cling to this like it is the key to life.  In reality, most of what is put out there in print, tv and food packaging, will be misleading in some way.  The idea is to step back, look at the big picture and critically evaluate what you are being told.  Now, back to my questions.  I will answer the next two and then leave the final two for my next post.

3) organic=healthy

This drives me nuts.  I have had parents tell me their kids are healthy because they shop at Whole Foods and eat organic.  Can Whole Foods and organic foods be healthy?  YES! But is this a guarantee for healthy? NO!  Eating organic chicken nuggets, french fries, cakes, cookies, ice cream, pizza an chips, among others, is not healthy.  Fruits and Veggies, yes, but you can get nutritious non-organic foods too. 

More than anything, organic is good for the environment.  But, I still have some issues with this.  Those highly processed organic foods, like pizzas and other frozen foods, are transported, sometimes far distances, meaning more automobile emmisions.  To me, this is counter productive.  Most of the time, I tell people to stick with local if you want to go green.  Many of those selling items on a small scale in a community are also using organic methods.  Not all, but some follow these guidelines. 

Until I see clear evidence that organic contains 100% more nutrition or that other produce contains 0% of anything we expect to find in it, I will not encourage my clients or patients, who are your average Americans, to go out of their way to eat organic.  It comes back to those overgeneralizations.  If someone is told by a person that conventional produce is not healthy like organic, it can be perceived as an all or nothing thing.  If someone thinks the other produce is not considered healthy, they may less inclined to purchase these.  I have had people tell me they don't eat produce because it is too expensive, only to find out they were only considering organic.  For the AVERAGE American, the ones who are suffering from obesity and chronic disease, organic should be the least of their concerns.  Now, down the road, once they have developed healthier eating habits, making the switch to organic foods may be beneficial.  But, even with organic foods, the labels need to be read as they can still be high in fat and sodium. 

Those of us who are alread healthy eaters and enjoy are produce, that demographic is not what I am talking about here.  We have those habits that allow us to have treated our bodies well and now we can move on to the environment.  Speaking of the environment, I also want to comment on the word natural.  Some people, maybe even you, believe that natural equals healthy.  I am again concerned with this overgeneralization, because not all things that are natural are good.  Last time I checked, lead and arsenic were natural too, and well, not so healthy.  This is another nice marketing ploy.  Since we often equate natural with healthy, this advertising on a label will draw a consumer in.  Chances are they will never even read the nutrition facts panel.  It works to sell products, but it does not ensure we are eating anything truly healthy.

4) Vitamin and mineral supplements are necessary?   

This topic always comes up with my students.  My vague wording was done on purpose.  Are the necessary for everyone? NO.  For some? YES.

Here is why.  I personally think that instead of spending money on a supplement when actual food can be purchased instead is a waste of money.  Buying food of the dollar menu and using a multivitamin as a back up plan for a poor diet is not acceptable.  Your body prefers to get these from foods.  If for some reason you have tried and can't get adequate amounts from foods, then we look to supplementation.  There is a risk for over doing it on some of these and therefore taking multiple supplements when you might be getting enough in the diet can do more harm than good.

My other major concern is the lack of regualtion.  This is not to say all vitamin and mineral supplements are not of good quality, but there are some out there, and the consumer may never know.  If there is truly a difficiency and they are consuming foods rich in whatever it may be, and they do need a supplement, I recommend a prescription.  In this case, the vitamin or mineral is being used as therapuetic agent or treatment for a disease, and should be treated like this.  I know many of you may be anti-medicine, but if it ensures the person will get exactly what they need, then I think it should come in this form.  This is the only way at this time to know for sure the person will get exactly what they need.  This is of course in those cases of a confirmed deficiency.

If your diet may be lacking, will a multivitamin be harmful?  Chances are no, but if you start taking too many supplements there is the rick of toxicity.  I often tell people if they want to do the multivitamin, as almost like an insurance policy, this probably won't hurt.  We can't say for sure if it will help, and in most cases, it will (meaning that there is the correct dosage in each pill as listed on the label). 

I really recommend working on your dietary habits before resorting to artificially prividing this in a pill form.  There are tons of fortified foods out there.  Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and many people consume cereal.  It is no surprise these cereals (no discussion of sugar here) are fortified.  Kids eat cereals, even the pickiest, so it is not surprising these are fortified.  Eating 3 meals a day, maybe some snacks too, is a good way to make sure all those nutrients from our foods are used by the body.  So little will be stored, so taking in too much in supplement form may result in some very expensive urine.

My other concern is the supplement store.  I have had people tell me they were told they needed to take a certain supplement to help with something because the store clerk said they needed it.  Wow, that is really impressive!  It takes me at least 15 minutes of chart review and patient interview to get an idea of their medical history and dietary intake, but the store clerk can do this on a quick glance.  I am guessing some of these employees also work on commission so getting you to buy something you don't need directly benefits them.  Plus, these are expensive and often need to be refilled monthly, meaning you go back often and chances are the same employee will help you out.  I have asked clerks for evidence and journal articles explaining why these are necessary and they usually have no idea what I am asking.  Ok, I admit I can be a little harsh on vitamin and supplement store employees, but they are passing along false information (ok, here I go overgeneralizing...not all, but some) to consumers.  This leads to more confusion, and of course, why I am frustrated.

That about does it for me.  I will stop the ranting for today.  Let me know your thoughts.  More to come.


Beth said...

I'm enjoying your rant ;-) Really! I agree with everything you've said, and I wish Americans as a whole would just try to eat better!

kristen (swanky dietitian) said...

I completely agree! I hate when people think just cause it is organic, it is healthy.
Keep the discussions/rants coming!

FoodFitnessFreshair said...

I agree with a lot of what you say about organics. I'm a huge fan of advocating local produce. Especially for instance, feeding kids local apples rather than "organic" chicken nuggets = CRAP. However, I still do promote eating organic to people as much as possible because it is so much better for the environment. But, local always takes precedence over organic in my diet because it too is better for the environment, and taste good as well. I definitiely enjoyed your input!

Andrea@WellnessNotes said...

I agree, organic does not necessarily equal healthy. I also agree that buying local is important if we want to do something good for the environment and that is often overlooked.

I think making people aware of where their food comes from goes a long way. If we question where our food comes from, we are more likely to buy local produce and go to local markets. It's a long journey for some, but it's doable. A neighbor of mine has lost 80 pounds over the last year and went from eating nothing but processed foods to biking to all the different Farmers' Markets in the area. She now eats mostly fresh fruits and vegetables. It's a true transformation. She didn't do it over night, but it was a process.

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