Monday, June 6, 2011

Confessions of a Doubtful Dietitian

First off, let it be known that I respect Canada's Food Guide and its creators. I know if by heart and agree with its messaging. In fact, when I reach for a snack, I do a mental tally of all of my food group servings that I've had so far in order to decide which food groups will make up my snack. Yes, I am, admittedly, a total nutrition nerd. But, you already knew that.

What I am here to confess, however, is that while I respect the food guide and use it myself, I don't think it is a great tool for the general public (gasp!). Sure, I use it as a point of conversation with clients, and I have a stack available to offer, but it is not, by any means, my flagship communication tool.

I would love to tell you why (and I will), but first I must explain what provoked this post.

Usually I like to keep opinions like this to myself. Not because I'm not comfortable with my opinion, but because I have a fear of offending other dietitians (or of making them think I'm some crackpot dietitian that doesn't have a clue). However, this morning I read a blog post by Dr. Arya Sharma about the new US food guide. Yes, he, too, blogged about the new MyPlate that I talked about just last week. However, the title of his post was: "Plate or Pyramid - Why Nobody Really Cares About Nutrition Guides." I have to admit that when I saw the subject line in my inbox, I thought "Whoa! That's a bold statement!" And it is! But then I read the post and watched the accompanying video, and all I could think was "Finally! Someone else agrees with me!"

It's not that food guides are a bad idea. They just aren't the solution to the core problem of why people don't eat healthfully. It's not that people think the foods listed in the guides are bad, it's just that the food guides don't make it any easier to eat well. Food guides are sort of akin to flossing. We all know we should floss daily, but how many people do? (Yes, some of us do, but not that many of us!) Yep, we all know we should have so many servings of this, this, and that, but how many of us ACTUALLY do?

I think one of the biggest issues with the food guides is (as Dr. Sharma notes in the video) that dietitians often don't see the design flaws of the food guides. Why? Because we're nutrition nerds! It seems logical to us to tally our servings, because that's what we're trained to do! THAT IS NOT NORMAL!!!! Lovely if it were, but it just isn't!

The solution? I wish I had it. Perhaps what we really need is to have a non-"nutrition nerd" create a "food guide," and to have some liberal dietitians proofread it. Maybe we need a food psychologist to help. I don't know, but I do know that current food guides just aren't fresh and sexy enough to get people to pay attention.

So, assuming you don't have a food guide hanging on your fridge, here's my best advice to you:
Eat fresh foods. The fresher the better; the closer to the farm, the better.


  1. I like Pollan's 7 word mantra: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

    Sadly, I think you're right about the food guide. It seems like the only people who track servings are people on a diet (and you food nerds :P). I eat healthily, but I don't think in terms of what I've already eaten that day when I look for a snack - usually just follow my cravings, and use the 'in moderation' principle with sweets.

  2. Yes, I highly recommend Michael Pollan's Food Rules. It's a quick read with some excellent common sense tips that we all know (deep down inside) to be true.