Unfortunately, more and more people are fearful of the food they eat because of how they may feel after eating or because they are unsure if the food choice is compatible with their disease or condition. Food is meant to fuel and nourish our body. Food should be enjoyed, not feared. The theme for this year’s Nutrition Month is, “Take the Fight out of Food. Spot the problem. Get the Facts. Seek Support.” This Fight with food is all around us: it occurs within ourselves but also involves the information we receive each and every day. This is a great topic because people do not realize how much of a battlefield the topic of food has become.
Our relationship with food comes with many beliefs, views, thoughts and feelings. If you ask for a group of people’s opinion about what a healthy diet is you will probably get a dozen different responses. Some will be more passionate than others, but only a few are likely to be science-based. The internet has made it so easy for opinions to be shared as fact, and people can be considered an expert just by talking about it. In fact, the 2015 Tracking Nutrition Trends survey found that 49% of Canadians use the internet to try to find out what foods are best for their families and/or themselves to eat.
This is not the only reason for the confusion. The diet industry earns billions of dollars every year by confusing people with a kernel of scientific truth wrapped in potentially misleading marketing information. They promise easy-to-understand practical health information if you buy their book, DVD, or program. We are so desperate to be healthier that we will try anything in order to have a small amount of control at the grocery store or restaurant.
The food industry and media are no more helpful and the government only publishes limited dietary guidelines that take a long time to be updated. Yet there is plenty of research-based nutrition information available. However, most of this information is focused on the nutrients and not the food. Dietitians can interpret the information and provide people with actionable steps to meet their dietary needs. But there is more to it.
If you tell someone it is recommended they have 25-35 grams of fiber per day they may go out and buy a high-fiber cereal or a fiber supplement. Instead, we educate our clients about where fibre comes from (whole grains, beans, lentils, pulses, fruits, and vegetables), so they can meet the recommended daily dose through their normal diet by having 2 cups of vegetables at lunch and dinner, a piece of fruit at breakfast and one at snack, for instance. We encourage our clients to include whole grains and/or pulses in their meals. These actionable steps help to increase the micronutrition of our clients’ diets, and improve overall health by reducing risk of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancer and obesity. These actionable steps can be something they implement or work towards, but it’s about empowering our clients to make consistent changes.
It’s easy for people to feel left on their own to navigate the misinformation and strategic marketing to try and figure out how to build a balanced diet. Most people don’t have a good understanding of what a balanced diet means for themselves or their family. Our definition of a balanced diet is simple: draw up a plate that is ½ vegetables, ¼ protein, ¼ starch with a teaspoon of healthy fat. Then come up with ideas that fit this plate. Our goal is to empower and educate our clients with concepts like these so they can make healthier choices for the rest of their lives and take the fight out of food.
We cannot stop the overwhelming amount of misinformation our clients encounter each day, but we can educate and empower people to make better choices. We aim to help our clients to understand the following:
- Nutrition is very individual and what works for one person may not work for another.
- You deserve to feel your absolute best.
- Journaling and reflecting on your eating habits will help you to create your own unique diet.
- Eat whole foods that don’t come in a package. Look at the ingredients. If you can visualize the ingredient in your mind, ask yourself if you should be putting it in your body.
- Understand that the balance of what you eat is more important than the individual foods.
- Cook your own food as much as possible. If cooking is new to you, try one new recipe a week.
- Use your critical thinking skills, but trust your gut. If something sounds too good to be true then it probably is.
- Use a trusted source. As dietitians, we are here to help!
The information in this blog is probably nothing new. Keep it as simple as possible. Eat whole foods. Prepare your own meals and enjoy the food you eat. Take it one step and one meal at a time. The journey to a healthy relationship with food is a marathon, not a sprint. Remember, “Take the Fight Out of Food. Spot the problem. Get the Facts. Seek Support.” For more information about Nutrition Month or Dietitians Day, visit the Dietitians of Canada website: www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-Month/Nutrition-Month.aspx