The Silicon Valley Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Book Club met this month to discuss Diet Cults: The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of Us by Matt Fitzgerald, a certified sports nutritionist.
The book explores the histories of popular diets of the modern age and an anthropological look at the evolution of mankind’s diet. The book's thesis is there is no “One True Way” for us to eat. From Paleo, to low-carb, to raw food diets, the author suggests that individuals are not just following a diet but forming an identity within an exclusive community. While each diet “cult” has its own rules, they all have one common claim: their way of eating is superior to all others.
The author advocates for an inclusive, “agnostic” eating pattern that fits within an individual’s lifestyle and is consistent with mainstream nutrition science guidelines, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs).
While Fitzgerald is not a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, our group felt that the book was well researched and did not make any unsupported claims. The book references many well-known nutritional studies, including the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) which collects data from successful weight losers and maintainers.
The book highlights the three key behaviors NWCR participants have in common:
While we believe these can be useful tips for weight loss, we particularly agreed with another claim the author makes: motivation is the key to successful weight loss. As dietitians, we understand there are countless different lifestyle changes individuals can make to meet their weight loss goals, but it is necessary they have the motivation, and more often than not a trigger to their motivation, to modify their behaviors.
For the author’s own recommendations of an agnostic eating pattern he categorizes foods into a hierarchy of ten food categories (i.e. vegetables, fruits, dairy) in which we should aim to eat more of the foods at the top of the hierarchy and less of the foods on the bottom. This is more or less in line with the DGAs and our group agreed that they are sound recommendations that are inclusive and fit into most healthy lifestyles.
While we agree conceptually with the main themes in the book, we feel some people may be offended by the word “cult,” a strong word with negative connotations. Those who identify with certain diets, such as vegans or Paleo, may find this book to be a criticism of their lifestyle. Some people choose to immerse themselves in these communities of similar dieters where they can find support and inspiration. However, classifying all those who identify with a particular diet with an extreme label such as “cult” may be offensive to some.
Another caution, the book’s recommendations may not be enough for readers with specific weight loss goals or those with chronic diseases such as diabetes or heart disease. From our experience, many of these individuals need more structured guidance when trying to improve their health. Those needing to make positive changes to their eating habits to manage health issues or chronic conditions would also benefit from consulting with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who can provide a more structured, individualized eating plan.
We thoroughly enjoyed reading Diet Cults, particularly the in-depth history of many popular diets and how they rose to stardom. People who are already highly interested in health and nutrition or learning the history of diets and social eating patterns would really enjoy this book. Overall, we give it a two thumbs up rating.
Kristal Shelden, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
September is all about family, food and healthy eating. Campaigns, such as Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, National Hunger Action Month™ and National Family Meals Month™ all coincide this month, making it a great time to prioritize healthy eating for the whole family.
The statistics are alarming. 2.3 million or 24 percent of California children live in households that struggle to get the food they need. In addition, one in three children, including those in insecure households, are overweight or obese. Complex factors contribute to the hunger and obesity paradox, but one solution is more family meals. Aiming for three to five family meals per week has many benefits for children, including reducing the risk of obesity. Take action by adding at least one more family meal per week. Here are four ways to encourage family meals and mind the family food budget.
Not only eating together, but also eating at home will save money, increase the overall nutrition of the meal and avoid excess calories. Most restaurant portions are large and too high in sodium, fat and calories, contributing to weight gain. When cooking at home, parents have the opportunity to serve fruits, vegetables and dairy along with the entree. By including all five food groups, the meal is more nutritious, providing key nutrients kids need, such as calcium, vitamin D, potassium and fiber. Family meals aren't limited to dinner, either. If schedules make evening meals impossible, plan a family breakfast.
Before going to the grocery store, create the dinner menu for the week. Planning meals ahead of time minimizes food waste and encourages more meals eaten at home—two valuable cost-saving strategies. Involve children in the planning by asking for menu suggestions, including fruits and vegetables to purchase at the grocery store or farmer’s market and entree ideas to prepare. Planning weekly meals ahead of time will not only save time and money, but also help the whole family be healthier.
When preparing a meal, make double or triple the amount you need for dinner. Save the leftovers for a quick meal together later in the week or freeze the leftovers in small storage containers to serve in the weeks ahead. Also plan on leftovers for packing lunches for work and school. Having quick, pre-made meals available in the freezer is a healthy, cost-saving alternative to “take out” dinners when families are too busy to cook.
Fruits and vegetables purchased in season are less expensive than other times of the year. To help prevent food waste, buy some unripe fruit and allow it to ripen throughout the week. Freezing fresh fruit before it gets too ripe is another way to prevent food waste and adds variety later in the year without having to pay higher prices for fruit that is out of season and imported. In addition, be sure to purchase nutritious foods that are lower in cost all year long, such as beans, lentils, carrots, leafy greens, potatoes, sweet potatoes, apples and bananas. Frozen and canned foods are also healthy, affordable options if you struggle to finish up fresh produce. Look for labels that say "no sugar added," "canned in own juices" or "reduced sodium" for best results.
The average fast food meal for a family of four will cost well over $25. Yet family meals that are planned, prepared and enjoyed together at home can cost far less. Good + Cheap by Leanne Brown is a gorgeous cookbook with healthy, affordable meal and recipe ideas for about $4 per person, per day. Check out some of the great recipes like Whole-Wheat Cheddar Jalapeno Scones and Charred Summer Salad, then download her entire cookbook. During Hunger Action Month, consider donating some of the money saved by eating at home to the Great American Milk Drive. This program connects needy families with vouchers for milk—so families can access this most-requested food item regardless of whether or not a food bank has refrigeration units.
How do you help children maintain a healthy weight and plan healthy meals when your grocery dollars are tight? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Centers for Disease Control, Childhood Obesity http://www.cdc.gov/features/childhoodobesity
Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), Understanding the Connections: Food Insecurity + Obesity http://frac.org/pdf/frac_brief_understanding_the_connections.pdf
Fulkerson, JA, et al. Are there nutritional and other benefits associated with family meals among at-risk youth? J Adolesc Health. 2009 Oct;45(4):389-95. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2009.02.011. Epub 2009 May 28. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19766944
Gillman, MW, et al. Family Dinner and Diet Quality Among Older Children and Adolescents. Arch Fam Med. 2000;9:235-240. http://triggered.edina.clockss.org/ServeContent?rft_id=info:doi/10.1001/archfami.9.3.235
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), The Importance of Family Dinners VIII. http://www.centeronaddiction.org/addiction-research/reports/importance-of-family-dinners-2012
September is chock-a-block full with things to celebrate and observe. Many of the observances are interrelated as well. For instance, enjoying family meals even just once or twice a week (although we recommend more frequent family meals) can help protect against childhood obesity.
Hunger Action Month helps remind us that food insecurity is a real concern for many families and More Matters Month reminds all of us that we can make improvements to eat closer to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Celebrate September and all of its important observations with delicious recipes that include a wide variety of foods from all five food groups. Be sure to sign up for The Scoop eNewsletter for more timely nutrition and health topics for families, health professionals and educators.
September Family Meal Recipes
Chicken Nuggets with Blackberry Mustard with Fettuccine with Broccoli and Carrots and Everybody Loves Chocolate Pudding; plus Turkey Taco Salad, Tex-Mex Summer Squash Casserole, Good News Breakfast Smoothie and Toast Danish.
Mexican Lasagna with Nopales (cactus) Salad and Raspberry Mango Sundae; plus Oven Crispy Coated Chicken, Cabbage, Carrot and Pineapple Salad,
Creamy Potato Soup and Super Quick Chunky Tomato Sauce.
Corn and Broccoli Cheese Calzones with Black Eyed Peas and Red Beans and Peaches and Cream pops; plus Bean and Cheese Burritos, Creamy Banana Walnut Oatmeal, Tuna, Barley and Black Bean Salad and Homestyle Green Bean Bake.
Quinoa Stuffed Tomatoes with Cheese Fondue and Frozen Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Pops; plus Super Grilled Veggie Wrap, Pasta Del Sol, Berry Blast Smoothie and Ribollita Sicilian Supper Stew with Peppered Cheese Melts.
As families everywhere stock up on supplies for back-to-school, don’t forget two healthy habits to help ensure academic success. A good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast are simple, but sometimes overlooked, school supplies that can really have a positive impact on student performance.
Adequate sleep (nine to 11 hours for school-aged children) provides children with the energy needed to concentrate, think creatively, problem solve and retain information. And numerous studies show children who eat breakfast have better attention, memory and overall academic performance compared to those who miss out on breakfast.
Parents can help children get enough sleep by incorporating effective strategies into the evening routine:
Establishing and sticking to a bedtime routine sets up an easier start to the morning. Well-rested children tend to wake up earlier and easier, allowing time for breakfast. Another useful tip is to plan breakfast the night before. Involve children in choosing breakfast options the night before to simplify morning decisions and preparation.
Whether breakfast is consumed at home, in the car or on the bus, try to combine at least three food groups (see our "3 out of 5" breakfast formula) to ensure a healthy balance of nutrients. Try our kid-friendly breakfast recipes to add variety, and use these easy breakfast tips to help scholars get a healthy and successful start this school year.
Sometimes even the best plans and strategies go awry, so check into options for breakfast at school. In many districts, breakfast is available in the cafeteria, sometimes in the classroom or even "after the bell."
By stocking up on healthy habits like a good night's sleep and a healthy breakfast, children will be well-supplied for learning this school year. Here are more great back-to-school success tips from the U.S. Department of Education.
Basch CE. Healthier Students Are Better Learners: A Missing Link in Efforts to Close the Achievement Gap. New York: New York. Columbia University; 2010. http://www.equitycampaign.org/i/a/document/12557_ EquityMattersVol6_Web03082010.pdf Accessed February 26, 2014.
Kleinman RE, Hall S, Green H, Korzec-Ramirez D, Patton K, Pagano, ME, Murphy JM. Diet, breakfast, and academic performance in children. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism. 2002;46(suppl 1):24–30.
Taras, H. Nutrition and student performance at school. Journal of School Health. 2005;75(6):199–213.
We recently met to discuss The Complete Leaky Gut Health and Diet Guide by Dr. Makotto Trotter, a naturopathic doctor and Doug Cook, a Registered Dietitian. This book is similar to a book we reviewed in 2014, the Inside Tract.
The Complete Leaky Gut Health and Diet Guide is centered around the theory that a “leaky gut” can trigger inflammation and result in symptoms of fatigue, migraines, mood disorders, food sensitivities, diabetes, chronic infections and asthma. An elimination diet, nutritional supplements and lifestyle changes are recommended as the primary treatments.
It is important to note that Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS) is not taught in medical school. Rather, it is a condition acknowledged in emerging research associated with inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease.1
The health plan recommends many sensible lifestyle modifications that have strong evidence for improving health, regardless of leaky gut status. For instance, the book includes 150 recipes that encourage at-home cooking. Several of our book club members noted that some of the recipes look quite good! Additionally, the plan encourages cooking with whole, anti-inflammatory foods while reducing overly-processed foods. Clearly these are lifestyle modifications that most dietitians would encourage as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Other recommended lifestyle changes include reducing stress, slowing down eating by chewing food thoroughly, exercising regularly, reducing caffeine and alcohol intake and improving sleep habits. Again, all of these recommendations have strong support among health professionals and are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They are good recommendations for all adults and individuals experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms should begin with these strategies and see if their symptoms improve.
However, our registered dietitian nutritionist book group took issue with the authors' liberties in extrapolating the known link between gut-brain axis into statements that are not supported by peer-reviewed nutritional science. Some of these unsupported claims include:
Even with qualifying statements like "may be a sign of" or "may mean," our book club members thought these statements were unfounded and possibly harmful.
Beyond the exaggerated and unfounded claims listed above, our book club members' biggest criticisms of the book are its "one-size-fits-all" approach and the extremely restrictive diet. As mentioned above, most people will experience improved gut health by changing the quality of the food they eat and addressing lifestyle issues. Others with very damaged intestinal tracts will need an elimination diet in order for healing to begin.
Although the book recommends an individualized approach with guidance from a health professional, we could envision a consumer attempting the weekly meal plans on their own. Unfortunately, what works for one individual may not work for another, and unnecessary elimination of foods or food groups should be avoided whenever possible to maximize the nutrients attained from foods versus supplements.
As recommended by the authors, individuals experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms should talk to their healthcare provider about any symptoms before attempting any LGS treatment.
Health professionals should work hard in listening to client concerns! Too often, clients turn to unproven alternative health care solutions when they do not feel heard and respected by nutrition and medical professionals. It is important to remember that their experiences and symptoms are real and deserving of treatment.
Finally, nearly anyone can improve their health by making positive lifestyle changes that include a healthy, balanced diet and exercise. Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are uniquely qualified to help develop healthy eating plans that enable individuals to navigate dietary modifications necessary after medical diagnosis.
Maureen Bligh, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
1. E.A. Stewart, Leaky Gut Syndrome — Learn About the Causes, Associated Conditions, and Treatments under Research, Today's Dietitian, Vol. 18 No. 1 P. 46 2016, January 2016.
This program, brought to you by Dairy Council of California, aligns with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
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