Many of my clients ask a variety of questions about nutrition hoping to find out what is the “right” thing to eat. Bombarded by so much conflicting information from various sources, it seems increasingly confusing for people to figure out what or whom to believe about nutrition. So, how do you know what the “truth” is about the latest trends with gluten, sugar, carbs, dairy, fat, supplements, etc.?
Something I learned early on in my nutrition studies was that nutrition is a science. You may be thinking, “duh, I knew that!” But, what’s important here is accepting what that really means. Science is a body of knowledge based on systematic study that is continually evolving. Believing that science is “the truth” can be misleading because the progress of science is marked by the development of a continuously changing picture of reality. Many folks struggle with that concept because it demands that you are able to adjust constantly to integrate new information.
A great example of this fact was when I learned that the structure of ribosomal subunits of tRNA (important in protein synthesis) changed from the 1988 biochemistry textbook I first learned this information to when I was learning about this again in 2005 – and my old textbook was out dated! Who would ever think scientists didn’t have this completely figured out? That was crazy to me – something that I took for granted for “truth” actually was still unfolding –and probably still is.
I see this happen over and over again in the field of nutrition. For example, once we thought that people who wanted to avoid heart disease should reduce their saturated fat intake and increase their polyunsaturated fat intake to reduce blood cholesterol levels. Many dietary guidelines and sound nutrition advice was based on this “fact”. Then, it was to decrease total fat intake to reduce blood cholesterol (finding polyunsaturated fats were not “good” for you); and, then again today we have new information challenging what we believe about the relationship between fat and heart disease. These treasured “facts” about fat continue to change – and I see many people feeling uncomfortable and even resent trying to figure out what is “right”?
I have always loved learning about science, and especially nutrition. It is what I love about my job as a dietitian which continues to be about helping individuals navigate this evolving science of nutrition information. My training and experience has taught me that remaining open-minded toward other points of view is critical when discerning the recommendations scientists make about what we “should” and “shouldn’t” eat. In fact, I’ve discovered that it is quite common for scientists to have different ideas of reality even when interpreting the same findings.
So, how do you decide what recommendations are appropriate for you? That depends on you – your needs and your history with food, weight, and activity. Being curious and open about new ideas is always important, while remaining cautious when someone declares “absolutes” regarding science may also be helpful. Remember, YOU know yourself better than any scientist or proclaimed nutrition “expert” and finding someone who can help you explore what is ideal for YOU will likely be your best formula for success.