Over the years, I’ve hopefully gone someway to debunk the tirade of nutrition nonsense that has spread like Japanese knotweed into the nooks and crannies of our daily lives. I’ve swayed from being contentious to angry, understanding to out right incensed at the dangerous rise of nutrition gurus with their alternative messages. I’ve taken apart the alkaline diet, the (no doubt well meaning) self styled nutrition instagrammers, the food intolerance machines and all the other nonsense I hear on a daily basis. It could be quite humorous I guess if it weren’t for the fact that it is peoples lives, health and money that are on the line here. I’ve slated detoxing, rolled my eyes northward over the wonders of the healing crisis and the pandemic levels of so called “candida” and other crazy terms that quite frankly have no place in our homes. I’d love to tell you that everyone has got the message, but sadly we are a long way away from that. It’s still a powerful movement that entices the most sick and vulnerable with it’s promises of weight loss and health cures.
If I can write this sentence without everyone erupting into seizures we might be getting somewhere; there are loads of people who don’t live on kale smoothies and coffee enemas and live a long healthy life. When I first started my career the world wide web was a wink in the eye of some IT guy who hadn’t yet discovered silicon valley. Times have changed. When people ask me for my advice on where to get good nutrition information from, I firstly tell them where not to get it from; to disengage with social media and stay away from trigger phrases that tell you everything you need to know like “all diseases start in the gut” (quite a few diseases start in the gut but not all of them). I’ve been following the rise of these crackpot notions for the last ten years and it is now stratospheric in its propaganda and not, by the way, getting any less frustrating to read.
Much of my time in clinics is now spent getting people off restrictive diets. What still shocks me is the fear people have of eating even a tiny piece of bread or a bit of cheese. (If you are coeliac or lactose intolerant fair enough, these ingredients are not good for you). Dequacking people from whatever well meaning therapist they have been to see is a tough job. “You don’t understand” they say, “I felt so much better“. “How do you feel now I ask“? “ If you are well why are you here“? After these targeted questions unmask the truth, the whole sorry story starts to fall apart. Of course they might have felt better for a bit, cleaning up the diet does that, but they are still ill, riddled with symptoms, living a joyless life in their gluten free, dairy free, yeast free, life free, world. It’s a rarity when I convince people to try these foods again that there is any problem at all. However, I don’t blame the patients or clients at all. They don’t feel well, and when you don’t feel well you are vulnerable to people telling you what will make you well and this is done with certainty and authority and can be very believable.
Food is wonderful. The role of nutrition in health is exciting and ever-changing and there is no doubt good nutrition can go a long way to extending your life and preventing disease. Where it gets complicated, and believe me it is highly complicated, is when you look through piles of differing research on a particular subject – let’s start with high cholesterol. Is it a high fat diet, or a high sugar diet that causes a build up of cholesterol in our arteries? The answer is complicated and probably it’s a mixture of both (although I lean slightly towards the sugar theory) but any lay person (unless they have oodles of time on their hands) will not be so inclined to look at this research and will just end up confused. My nutrition heroes can often be found on either sides of an argument. Several of my past patients have had triple bypasses having had long term low cholesterol, but some have had high cholesterol, some had good diets, some poor, some low homocysteine, some high and on it goes.
Somehow somewhere though you need to throw your hat in the ring and say, right I’m getting behind such and such theory. Bad health warrants structure, discipline and control. You need some kind of blueprint to follow. I’ve thrown my hat into the Mediterranean diet ring for a long time now. I’ve studied and researched this fully and come to my own conclusions. That does not mean I am right, it’s my opinion and based on the evidence it seems to tick a lot more boxes than other ways of eating.
The recent Netflix documentary ‘What the Health’ gave rise to more confusion recently when it hinted that sugar really was not the evil everyone said but meat and fat were the cause of western diseases. I had some very distressed people contacting me and saying please tell me this is wrong, I am now so confused that I have no idea what to eat. ‘What the Health’ has some sound evidence to back up vegan eating and it’s certainly much kinder to the planet. In fact can you imagine a world where we didn’t eat animals – how that might impact on the future of the planet and environment? From what I know the producers and people that backed the film are all vegans so the bias would be towards that. I have no problems with vegans or the way they eat. The problem I have is that everyone is so sure they are right. This film would go entirely against meat eaters who also claim to live very healthy lives if the meat is organic or grass fed. However this is not about vegans, carnivores, vegetarians, pescatarians or those who follow the many other ways of eating. It’s about belief and what you think is right.
The American nutritionist Adelle Davis, despite getting a degree in dietetics from Berkeley California and a Masters degree in Biochemistry from UCLA in the 1920s, came under intense criticism for her beliefs about the American diet. She talked about pesticides and growth hormones and how “the great American hamburger has done tremendous harm to health” way back in the 1940’s. Lets Eat right to Keep Fit (1954) and Lets Get Well (1965) were huge best sellers talking about the benefits of low sugar, fresh vegetables and whole grains, the avoidance of packaged and processed foods and how pregnant mothers needed to eat well before anyone knew anything about nutrition in pregnancy. She was very well qualified to talk and write about nutrition, and yet despite this she was labelled as giving out dangerous advice. I’d love to say we’ve come a long way since then but in terms of who to believe it feels the same. Elizabeth David the cookery writer was almost entirely responsible for changing our views on the Mediterranean diet and getting us to eat garlic and olive oil. No nutrition qualifications and yet she has had a huge impact on how we eat, and hopefully for the better. (Just an aside – you might be interested, to know for those that don’t already, that her father Rupert Sackville Gwynne was Conservative MP for Eastbourne).
Everyone’s differing opinion leaves us frustrated and exhausted and it’s at this point that I think things need to be simplified. Do the best you can is my first rule. Difficult to evaluate sure, and if I feel people’s “best” is rather pathetic I will crack the whip to a certain extent.
The 80/20 rule is another good rule to stick by, eat well for 80% of the time and 20% go have a slice of cake and enjoy yourself. Yes, I hear you say but what’s eating well Kate? Well by my reckoning, and this is only my opinion, somewhere on the Mediterranean spectrum would be a wise choice.
Making sure your gut isn’t biased towards the kind of bad bacteria which will flourish on refined foods helps as well. I’m pescatarian myself, so eat loads of raw salads, vegetables, fruit, pulses, tofu, fish, olive oil, lemons, herbs etc and drink rose wine and champagne. In terms of sugar I’m lucky as I have a savoury tooth so I’m much happier with olives and a packet of plain crisps than a Dunkin’ Donut. I’m also political, so don’t eat in food chains except Leon, give my money to local food growers where possible and I’d rather buy fish and chips from a local company who gets the fish from Hastings than walk into the golden arches (I’ve still never been in). I think it works for me but of course I might be wrong. I hope in the longer term I deliver common sense in the advice I give out to people who come to see me together with checking and rechecking and attempting to reduce as many risk factors for ill health as is humanly possible. If we are looking for blueprints to follow we are looking to people who live the longest and stay the most healthy and try to emulate what they are doing.
There is no sure fire way to do this though. Health is complicated. Nutrition is complicated. Somewhere in the middle of most of the research and the two differing viewpoints in almost every health topic are nuggets of truth. It’s my job to find those nuggets of truth but also to allow for differentials, coincidence, correlation, causation, genetics and sometimes just bad luck.
If you would like to make an appointment for a consultation with Kate please contact her on 01323 310532/737814 or at katenut @aol.com or katearnoldnutrition.co.uk