Sunday, June 17, 2012

New Knowledge Is Nutritious

I am pursuing a career in dietetics with the full knowledge that I have major concerns with how the field is practiced. Human nutrition seems to be fairly poorly understood when it comes to the specifics and minutiae, and many practitioners seem to be very reluctant to consider research that contradicts their understanding from when they went to school and/or "how it's always been." It's frustrating, and it's daunting to think that I may find myself in a position where my job requires me to give advice that I don't agree with and don't find well supported. But I suppose I'd rather feel that way than lodge myself firmly in the "how it's always been" camp.

A while ago, we - the dietetics field - determined that saturated fats are bad. All of them. Animal fats, plant fats - saturated is bad. I attended a meeting a few months ago where one of the dietitians in attendance asked the dietitian holding the meeting about coconut oil, prompted by an introduction to coconut yogurt (which is delicious by the way, but totally not worth the cost). Her response essentially boiled down to, "Well, it's getting more popular, and some people seem to think it might be a good thing, but it's full of saturated fats, and I'll certainly never recommend it." Most of that is a paraphrase, but the last clause is nearly a direct quote: she will never recommend it. That kind of resolution in a field with so many unanswered questions isn't just disappointing. It's alarming. Especially given that there is research out there strongly indicating that saturated fats are not all the same, and those in coconut oil may indeed be - gasp - healthy.

In the same vein, the AND has a trade magazine that publishes a few book reviews in each issue. The last issue had two reviews, a glowing one of Marion Nestle's new book, and an utterly sarcastic one about Richard Nikoley's book on the Paleo diet. Now, first and foremost, I do have to say I have major issues with the Paleo diet. Though I think it's absolutely possible to have a healthy, balanced diet based on its guidelines, I also think that it's financially unfeasible for a large percentage of the population, it's environmentally irresponsible, and it encourages the alarming practices of factory farming and overfishing. Furthermore, I strongly disagree with the rationale used to justify the elimination of most of the forbidden foods. But I'd like to think that if I were to write a review of a book about it, I'd be able to do so without the dripping derision present in this particular review. It seems clear that the review author already had his/her mind made up long before reading the book. It reminds me of those "Letters to the Editor" you'll occasionally see where it seems the entire purpose of publishing the letter was to publicly shame its author (at least, I hope that's the reason for some of those publications).

There will always be disagreements in dietetics; I understand that. But it pains me to see so many of my future colleagues make such absolute statements about issues we know are still uncertainties.

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