When Nutrition Advice is Controversial, Who Should You Believe?

laptopThe plethora of weight loss and nutrition information found on the internet  can be confusing and contradictory, leading one to ask “Who should I trust?”

Off the top of my head, here are just a few controversial subjects on nutrition where you have two opposing sides:  Veganism vs. Paleolithic Diet; whether soy is a nutritious food or dangerous food, and whether skipping breakfast promotes weight loss or weight  gain.  What usually happens is that the person looking for a weight loss approach online reads through a bunch of these claims and settles on the one that appeals to him/her the most.

But the question remains, when it comes to nutrition and weight loss information, “Who should you trust?”

I offer these guidelines when analyzing any nutrition-related claim or statement:

1.  Is there a major interest (corporate or other) behind the claim or statement?

If there is one, it doesn’t automatically mean that the claim is false.  Just realize that there is a financial incentive involved, and factor it into your decision-making.   A recent issue where this came into play was  California’s Proposition 37 (2012), which proposed mandatory labeling of food that contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  The proponents believe that the verdict isn’t out yet on the safety of eating GMO foods; some believe that it is downright harmful.  Yet, as logical a request as it may sound (Wouldn’t it be nice for mom to know if the food she is feeding her baby has GMOs?), the measure failed to pass.   Proponents attributed its failure to the massive ad spending by Prop 37′s opponents; more than 5x that of supporters of the measure.  And who are these entities who don’t want consumers to know what’s in their food?  Here’s a partial list:

  • Monsanto
  • Dupont
  • Council for Biotechnology Information
  • Grocery Manufacturers Association
  • PepsiCo
  • Coca-Cola
  • Kraft Foods
  • Kellogg Company

As you can see, these are corporations with deep pockets  and industry advocates who have a financial interest in defeating Prop 37.   It is more likely than not that their motivation is not based on the concern for human health, but rather their costs and profit margin.

2.  Do the claims promise a slim/healthier body, with minimal effort on your part?

Usually this type of claim is marketing at work.  The entity making such a claim knows that the weight loss market is super-saturated, so they try to stand out by claiming the outrageous.  Yes, it does get attention, because it is human nature to avoid pain, discomfort and sacrifice.   If there is an easy way out, we want it.   Sometimes it’s true that the easy way is the best way, but if you are 30 or more pounds overweight, in order to shed those pounds you need to burn all that stored energy in your fat cells and there is no “easy” way around it.  You’ll need to exert more energy every day (exercise) and/or reduce your caloric intake below your baseline caloric expenditure in order to lose the weight.

3.  Is the diet plan far out from the norm?

Like #2, such claims are usually an attempt to “out-do” the previous diet fad by linking itself to some kind of exotic ingredient that promises to be the silver bullet of losing weight.  Generally, any diet or eating strategy that can help one lose weight safely will feature portion control, caloric reduction and have a balance of protein, carbohydrates and good fats.   The good plans will have their different version of the above factors.  But when you get an eating plan that features one ingredient (Grapefruit diet, Cabbage diet, etc.), or are told that all you have to do is take a supplement like Garcinia cambogia,  it’s not worth your time and money; don’t fall for it.

4.  Does the product labeling have “health” buzz words?

First of all, if you are picking a food item that has a label sticker, that’s the first red flag.  Anything that is bagged or boxed, in a jar or can is processed.  If the packaging claims “Fat-Free,” “Zero Trans-Fats,” “Rich in Calcium,” “Heart Healthy” or other health buzz word, then put it back where you found it.  Instead, get something that is an unadulterated part of an animal or plant.

The short of it is that losing fat weight is conceptually simple, but shrouded with complex issues.  Be aware that much of your success in reaching a healthy weight and achieving optimal health is dependent on your mindset.   There are a lot of good resources on healthy eating, and it doesn’t take long to grasp the concept– eating moderately/ being mindful of your body’s minimal caloric needs, choosing natural, nutrient-dense food; restricting your sugar intake, getting enough rest, and drinking enough water in the day.  But where people fail is eliminating habits detrimental to long-term health and developing and executing the behaviors that are conducive to optimal health.   So if you really want to lose weight and live a long, healthy life, the bulk of your efforts should focus on reshaping your mindset.  Do that, and every thing else will fall into place naturally, and permanently.

I have created a system that helps people lose unwanted weight and keep it off– permanently.  It consists of educational videos on the many drivers of obesity and contains a daily checklist system designed to cultivate healthy behaviors.  Follow the checklists, and it is impossible to fail.  The system is part of  the Optimal Body System series.


 This article originally appeared in my prior site, Weight Loss Mavens.

Posted in Nutrition.