Consumers are inundated daily with the latest nutrition findings popping up in their newsfeed or in advertisements touting the benefits of the latest food trend. Yet, in a recent magazine cover story, “Why Everything You Know About Nutrition is Wrong”, the takeaway is that the science behind dietary guidelines is not an exact one and can lead to confusion for the general public regarding topics such as the use of vitamins, eating wholegrain foods, low-saturated fat, and low-carb foods, for example.
“Nutrition science, and the interpretation of it, is not without its flaws,” says Rebecca Shenkman, MPH, RDN, LDN, director of the MacDonald Center for Obesity Prevention and Education at Villanova University’s M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing. “While we would like to believe that eating healthy is a straightforward concept, it is far from it.” Many variables affect nutrition science – both the fundamental research and then consequently how it is communicated to the public – which is different from other forms of science, says Shenkman.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports that about half of all American adults have one or more preventable, diet-related chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. The HHS’ 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines are recommendations to combine healthy foods from all four food groups while paying attention to calorie limits.
Nutrition science is relatively new, and while vitamin and mineral deficiencies were discovered starting in the mid-1800s, it was not until the 1970s that research began linking diet and specific elements of the diet (i.e., cholesterol) to health risks and chronic disease. “The nutrition field is a young and evolving science,” Shenkman says. “And without the field’s advancements, we would not see longer life spans or fewer public health concerns related to nutrient deficiencies.”
Eating a healthful diet can mean something different for each person, and it is important to find the right food balance that works best for one’s body, lifestyle, and emotional well-being. While there is evidence to support a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and limited red meat to promote health and prevent diet-related chronic diseases, (e.g., type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and obesity), many variables go into food choices, and it is necessary for healthcare providers, governmental agencies, and the public health community to help make the healthy choice the easy choice.
Shenkman offers these simple tips:
- Focus on the quality of food, not on the amount of food. And try to slow down and eat with purpose.
- Eat food such as fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. These non-processed foods are found on the perimeter of most supermarkets.
- Try not to skimp on sleep. Proper sleep, in combination with other healthy lifestyle habits, helps promote a healthy metabolism.
To speak with Shenkman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 610-519-5152.
Rebecca Shenkman Director of the MacDonald Center for Obesity Prevention and Education | M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing
Rebecca Shenkman, MPH, RD, LDN, is an expert in nutrition, weight management, and using food to help prevent and control disease