Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What Registered Dietitians Believe: AKA Don’t Trust Everything You Read

Processed, white bread, with sweet, unsalted butter. Yum!

Yes, that’s white bread—homemade by my bread machine, in fact (with my husband’s assistance)—and that indeed is real butter on top, added by yours truly. It was part of my lunch, together with my favorite lentil soup. And, a piece of salted almond dark chocolate, along with a cup of tea I’m still sipping on. A reality program of what RDs really eat? Not quite. Rather, I’m compelled to respond to an article that makes showing up at dinner parties with my real identity as a Registered Dietitian quite challenging!

I stumbled upon 9 Ingredients Nutritionists Won’t Touch as it was retweeted by some RDs on Twitter. Exaggerated statements about foods that dietitians wouldn’t dare eat plastered the article, so I thought I'd clear the air for the sake of people like Brian (not his real name), a blog follower struggling with an eating disorder. He saw this Dietitian's response, which read “An irresponsible piece overgeneralizing about RDs and what is healthy! No soy protein? Only 100% whole grain bread? Really?” He responded “I used to assume all nutrition 'experts' were this rigid - & triggering. Hence I've never consulted any”.

So let me set you straight. This article certainly doesn't represent all dietitians. The hype suggesting we should never eat these 9 ingredients is crazy. No single ingredient moderately consumed is poison. Although I will admit that eating a hotdog every day will greatly increase your risk of cancer. And certainly no one food or ingredient causes weight gain. (Or weight loss. Sorry to disappoint you.) The reason why I'm taking the time to address this is because the last thing you need is more food rules—especially senseless ones.

Since I honestly have never been concerned enough to avoid at all costs the ingredients purported to be avoided by nutritionists, I needed to do a bit of research on these food concerns. With a little bit of digging, here’s what I conclude:

Corn oil and omega 6 fatty acids (FAs)

Sure, I'd recommend an increase in omega three fats from fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna (in moderation if you are in your childbearing years), flax and walnuts, to benefit from their role in reducing inflammation and lowering cardiac risk. But to set a rule that products with ingredients such as corn oil should be banned is unwarranted. Omega 6 FAs also have their benefits, and a focus on the ratio of omega-6 to omega 3s is apparently misguided. Read the experts' review

The cancer causing additive potassium benzoate and benzene

Here’s an excerpt from the 2009 FDA paper addressing concerns about benzene levels found in beverages: How many and what products were found to have excessive levels of benzene?:
To date, FDA has tested almost 200 soft drink and other beverages in the CFSAN survey. Benzene above 5 ppb was found in a total of ten products. Benzene above 5 ppb was found in nine of the beverage products that contain both added benzoate salts and ascorbic acid. FDA also found benzene above 5 ppb in one cranberry juice beverage with added ascorbic acid but no added benzoates (cranberries contain natural benzoates). The manufacturers have reformulated products, if still manufactured, which were identified in the survey as containing greater than 5 ppb benzene. CFSAN tested samples of these reformulated products and found that benzene levels were less than 1.5 ppb. See also Data on Benzene in Soft Drinks and Other Beverages, including product names and benzene levels.
Don't trust the FDA? Here's a balanced, unbiased piece from Livestrong, June 2011 which references additional sources, too.

Even though benzene levels are not an issue, I’d vote for moderate intake, at best, of sodas.

Soy is poison? This one I had to look up because I was clueless!

In the article on the nine ingredients we supposedly avoid like the plague, Nunez, the  author quotes Valerie Berkowitz RD, saying "Soy protein, soy isolate, and soy oil are present in about 60 percent of the foods on the market and have been shown to impair fertility and affect estrogen in women, lower sex drive, and trigger puberty early in children," she says. "Soy can also add to the imbalance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids."  Unfortunately, the evidence simply isn’t there to support Berkowitz’s claim.

For a balanced review of the pros and cons of soy, check out this Huff Post piece, which, rather than sensationalizing food ingredients, cites the research from peer-reviewed journals that are considered state-of-the-art.

If you are still concerned about the unproven risks of GMO soy, that shouldn't stop you from choosing organic which eliminates this possible risk. Apparently organic soy is stated to be free not only of pesticides but of genetic modification.

As for palm oil? And processed foods?

My breakfast of smoked fish (with nitrites), enriched white
bread, and saturated-fat containing foods--in moderation, of course.
Sure, I'm not big on palm oil, a saturated fat, but again, it's about the bigger picture. How much are you consuming? Too much saturated fat will increase your LDL or “bad” cholesterol, as it's commonly known. But even those needing to follow a diet low in saturated fat to lower their high blood cholesterol levels can consume up to 7% of their total calories from saturated fat. Certainly that leaves room for the occasional product that has a bit of palm oil as an ingredient.

Nitrates and nitrites have long been acknowledged to be carcinogenic, leading to cancer. So no, I wouldn't recommend frequent intake of hot dogs and bacon. But an occasional dog at a picnic? Be my guest.

The statement about avoiding enriched flour? That one tops the list as the most absurd recommendation, and the mere suggestion that this represents what dietitian's believe would certainly keep me from seeing one! So I'm with you, Brian. What they are suggesting is that enriched is code for refined—because the only foods that need enrichment are those that have been stripped of their original nutrients. That said, all foods do not need to be nutrient powerhouses; refined (unenriched bread) isn't poison, as part of a balanced diet. And of course enriched bread would only bring additional B vitamins to the meal. So what's the problem? Must we always choose the most fiber filled, nutrient-rich food items? Can't we include vegetables for some of the fiber and vitamins and minerals, and simply enjoy the French bread—enriched or otherwise?

Articles like 9 Ingredients perpetuate misinformation about food and nutrition and about dietitians. While it does refer to the nutrition professional as a nutritionist, a general term having no qualifications attached to it, they quoted from many a Registered Dietitian throughout the article.

If you're trying to improve your relationship with food and you visit with a Registered Dietitian whose messages match up with the 9 Ingredients hyped article, do run the other way! But please don't assume that we are all like that. I know I'm not alone in my approach to eating. Registered Dietitians with a focus on behavior change and those with extensive experience treating individuals with eating disorders are most likely to share my approach.

So Brian, hopefully now you’ll reconsider a visit to a dietitian—just find one with a sensible, balanced approach to eating.

Thanks for reading.


  1. Thank heavens there are people like you, Lori, who tell things honestly. There are so many different stories about what is the best way to eat healthy, what to eat, what to avoid, what will help one lose weight or gain weight that it is very confusing. I have even received a spam email recently about a product (to buy, of course) with Dr. Oz's photo right next to it that guarantees success. It was not until I came to you that I began to understand that food is only bad when not eaten in moderation. Isn't it sad that publications and manufacturers use these scare tactics for their own benefit to "inform" people who are seriously trying to improve their health!
    Thank you for being so helpful.

  2. Thank you so much for this post!! I think there is a bit of one-ups-manship in the "healthy eating community." As in, one person says, "I only eat whole grains!" and the other says,"Well, I *never* touch anything with BHA!" It can spiral out of control pretty quickly.

  3. Great post. Any thoughts on coconut oil? I heard it's great for your and I've heard quite the opposite. I bought some a few weeks ago, but so far I've only been using it ON my body, not in my food/body.

  4. I actually agree with most of the 9 ingredients, based on my own research, not because nutritionists said so. But I don't believe the saturated fat hype,the nitrites hype ( although I rarely eat preserved meats), nor do I believe whole grains are healthy for everyone. When it comes to grains it's about digestibility for me, and I can't do whole grains. So yes I eat white bread too, bakery or homemade fresh. Great post, btw.

  5. I can across your blog for the first time tonight. I am also a registered dietitian specializing in eating disorder treatment and I also have the same view on food as you do. I am so happy to hear other dietitians spreading the same message as I am. ALL foods are certainly a-ok if incorporated into a balanced and varied intake. I could talk all day about how moderation is the key. Thanks again!

  6. I live in asia and if Soy truly is poison, how come this is one of the most populated places on earth... Stuff like this is what makes dieting a pain as no one knows what to believe anymore

  7. A great post. Thank you

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