Thursday, June 5, 2014

This is why you find nutrition advice confusing

Earlier in the week, my colleague Elisa Zied emailed asking for my definition of “real food”, she also posted the question on Facebook. Many of her dietitian friends weighed in.  Some had eloquent explanations. You can read the article here but to summarize many said real food was “minimally processed” or “food you can grow yourself”, the way Mother Nature intended us to eat. Makes sense, right?
I was at my son’s soccer practice reading the post and rattled off a reply. I have noticed many parents feed their children what I would consider real food. Clients who I cannot convince to purchase organic anything are suddenly filling their kitchens with organic milk, eggs and fruit once they have children. Noting a disparity I will sometimes ask, "do you give your children artificial sweeteners or soda?" and they’ll quickly assure me “NEVER”. I also added that real foods aren’t generally packaged and that real foods don’t require factories. Again, I wasn’t writing a research article I was giving a quick opinion. However, it’s a statement I stand by and might tell a client or friend if they asked.
Not a minute later someone replied to my comment. I wasn’t aware opinions could be incorrect but I was told I was WRONG! By my definition hummus and yogurt weren’t real. I resisted the urge to get in a Facebook fight and said I’d stand by a diet of unpackaged food over packaged and processed food any time. Whatever.
This same person was quoted in the article saying, “terms like real food and clean eating are elitist.” Another dietitian felt the descriptor like “real food” is full of judgment. Here’s the thing, when it comes to food I’d rather be elitist than underachieving any day. The reason Michael Pollan, who is quoted at the start of the article, has such a platform is that he wasn’t afraid to hurt the public’s feelings by saying we need to eat plants, we need to eat foods with few ingredients and we need to cook. He also wasn't afraid to make waves with food companies (something many dietitians worry about especially if they are working with them).
I’ve written about the fact that the words thin and skinny are suddenly taboo. I’ve discussed  everything in moderation” which I’ve seen RDs use to include soda and cheez-its and things that aren’t even moderately good. If it’s judgmental to point out that we all can benefit from more greens, more fish and less sugar, food dyes and processed food I’m judgmental and I’m fine with it. Off to sip my snobbish green juice and “eat clean”.
What would be your definition of real food? What do you think of the term? Is it elitist?


17 comments:

  1. Melinda FriedmanJune 5, 2014 at 5:19 AM

    Love this Lauren!!! Totally agree with you!!! Especially after tuning into a Webinar with Dr. Mark Hyman last night!!

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  2. "real food" is tough, I agree. I tend to stick to "if it goes off in a week" as a general rule of thumb (exceptions such as rice protein, chia seeds etc. occur, but generally speaking it holds)..


    great article, as always

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  3. I have noticed that many RDs and the AND are scared to get behind anything mainstream.They have to poo-poo anything that isn't backed by piles and piles of research. As if this is the only way to quantify what we should be eating. And then when research comes out that says oh, maybe we were wrong all along (ie, saturated fat) they are quick to point out the flaws in the study. I came across this a lot writing my book on juicing. It seems everyone is on board to the benefits of juicing, except dietitians. Forget that people have lost weight that they never could lose before, feel better than they have their whole life, and are eating more vegetables than they ever would otherwise...that's not as important as what's in the research. I have witnessed hundreds of my clients lives change from "eating clean" and they are not elitist. They shop at Trader Joe's and Target, even Walmart, as much as they do Whole Foods.

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  4. tell me more about the webinar Melinda, thanks for stopping by

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  5. thanks Lauren. Yes- food should be perishable (and yes there are exceptions comment police I realize my quinoa has a long shelf life). Thanks Lauren!

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  6. There are so many things I want to say...but sometimes I feel the need to hold my tongue on this stuff (or else I'll get too fired up). But I will say this - I agree with you completely.

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  7. I hear you and have received emails from more than a few RDs today saying "I saw that Facebook exchange" or "I don't want to post but.." I will say what i said to them. I have no issue with anyone disagreeing with me if it's an intelligent debate. But for whatever reason the HFCS isn't so bad people have a big voice. Otherwise why could we have HFCS, Pepsi etc at our NUTRITION conferences. So people like you and me and Danielle and Carolyn Brown and Joanna Li and Ashley Koff who are vocal about real food, gluten, organics or whatever things make us "elitist" need to comment/post/defend etc. And I can get worked up too but at the end of the day I can sleep at night knowing what I endorse is "real"

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  8. I think you're generally right and while some people might think it's elitist, it's really not. You don't have to shop at Whole Foods to eat real food. Regular grocery stores carry real food. If you stick mostly to produce, milk, dairy, and a little meat if that's you're thing, you really can't go wrong. It's great if that stuff can be organic but if it's not, you'll still be way healthier if you're not ingesting a whole lot of processed foods full of chemicals and who knows what.

    The issues of yogurt and hummus are tricky, but I've heard rules like "don't buy any foods that a somewhat skilled cook couldn't realistically make in a home kitchen with the proper tools and a little time." If I had enough time I could probably make my own yogurt and certainly can make hummus. I choose to outsource things like that and I'm ok with it.

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  9. Agreed Jen- definitions are tricky but I still think we can line up 10 people and pick out the "real" yogurt from the chemical fest, right? And I'm all for outsourcing good quality items.

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  10. I agree with you, I feel like eating "real food" and "eating clean" are about getting back to the basics in the food world. I noticed the terms are being used more often on blogs and in social media hashtags like on instagram. People are using them to describe their food values and a growing movement towards choosing minimally processed foods, which is great!

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  11. Lauren, I love your courageous statement and relate strongly to the common sense in Michael Pollan's advice. However, I find it really depressing that the food industry managed to confuse people so much that it becomes difficult to say whether/what yogurt is "real food"...

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  12. Johanne- I think people are trying to get it. I know my office is in NYC but I see fewer fat phobic clients, fewer who think sweeteners are ok. I am hopeful that industry will have to respond to demand for better ingredients, lower sugar etc. In the meantime support siggis or anitas or other companies who produce amazing "real" foods.

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  13. It is a movement Sharon, I see it don't. I don't find it snobby I think it's amazing. Thanks for stopping by.

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  14. I am so tired of people playing the elitist card. And quite frankly I'm starting to think it's a cheap attack by lazy people who wish to remain in denial about their diets because healthy eating takes work. My fiancĂ© does it all the time—I'll refuse to cook with anything but real butter and he doesn't understand why. When I explain that food created by chemists wearing white coats in a lab can't be better than something natural that has been made by hand for centuries, he quickly replies that I'm an elitist. Here's what I found ironic about that: Processed foods started as a status symbol for the middle class. I remember growing up in the late 80's and early 90's constantly asking my parents to purchase gushers, sugary cereals, etc., and they would not because they flat could not afford them. Meanwhile, when my friends' parents would visit for school lunch they would laugh at my lunch of fruits, veggies, and chicken/tuna—seems to me that healthy unprocessed foods used to be anything but elitist. Lastly, why does being selective about the food one puts in their bodies make them elitist? We don't call women who are selective about who they let in their lives (ha, and their bodies) elitist. Why is food different? They're both person choices about health, well being, and lifestyle.

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  15. Whitney- you're so right I begged my mother for capri sun, lipton soup and all the other junk I had at friends' houses. While my mother would let a Yodel in here or there she made soup and squeezed oranges and took me to the cheese shop instead of the candy shop. The best line of yours was this "We don't call women who are selective about who they let in their lives (ha, and their bodies) elitist. Why is food different? They're both person choices about health, well being, and lifestyle."

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  16. Of course it's elitist: eating non-processed, healthy foods is BETTER (for you and the earth), WISER, and MORE DISCIPLINED. It's hard work, but it pays off. My great-grandmother died of natural causes at age 104. She lived to this age in her home without medical devices and myriad prescription drugs. Her remedy was home-grown vegetables, home-made wine, locally farm raised eggs, chicken, milk, and an abundance of fish. She canned her own foods, made homemade sausage, and in a way, ate everything in moderation. Everything, that is, except processed foods. My grandparents are in their 80s, replicating this lifestyle and are free from disease. Eating from our earth works, plain and simple.

    Those who are threatened by this reality feel the need to call healthy living/real food/clean eating supporters elitist as the only defense for their food preferences. Whether it be from upbringing, habit, choice, or ignorance, they deflect the facts to avoid guilt as they desperately cling to their chemically and convenience-laced comforts.

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  17. You are right, of course, but sometimes I get worn out with it all. It's something worth standing up for though, so I will. But I won't get tangled up in the "bait" that is so often thrown out there.

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