Melissa Abbott, director of culinary insights for the Hartman Group, a market research company in Seattle, knows something about what consumers buy in stores and how they prepare and eat it at home. In a recent interview for Marketing Daily she explains the dilemma.
Very few consumers pay attention to the government directives. I know. I am one of them.
THE DIETARY GUIDELINES ARE NOT FOOD PRESCRIPTIONS
For starters, directives like the 2010 Dietary Guidelines were never meant to be prescriptive. They are not supposed to be static directions for everyone to eat the same way. I wonder how many people have that bit of knowledge? I wonder how many doctors, nurses, dietitians and public health officials realize that truth?
Last week I spoke with Roger Clemens, PhD. He was a member of the task force charged with preparing recommendations for the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. He is very aware that there are huge holes in our understanding of nutrition and food and the human body. The scientists who draft the recommendations are working with less than perfect information.
THERE IS A LOT WE DON”T KNOW
The 2010 committee working on updating the Dietary Goals for Americans set forth 23 nutrient recommendations. At the same time they submitted over 70 recommendations to direct future scientific research. There is a lot we don’t know.
There is no one right way to eat for everyone. Instead of bickering about which diet is better, we should be much more interested in helping individuals figure out an approach to food that works for them.
It is important to remember that just because a certain diet works for one person, it will not work for everyone. It is important to remember that simplistic sound bites pretending to be the truth can cause more harm than good. It is critical to acknowledge that our food supply is more abundant and adulterated than ever. That alone does not make this easy.
FOOD IS COMPLEX, OUR LIVES ARE COMPLICATED
It is not surprising that people are tuning out messaging that pretends nutrition is a one size fits all arena. While the scientists who drafted the recommendations understand this, I’m not sure the folks writing and marketing the guidelines got the memo.
Food is more complex, our lives are more complicated, and information is more confusing than ever. Very little seems simple about good nutrition advice today, but it doesn’t have to be so noisy.
Eating well means paying attention to a few basics and then fine tuning the process until it works well enough. It may be helpful to note that this path doesn’t lead to perfection. We looking for “good enough”.
1. Eat when you feel hungry. Stop when you are satisfied.
2. Eat a mix of foods so that there is enough carbohydrate for your muscles to work and your brain to focus, enough protein so you feel satisfied, and enough fat to feel satisfied until your next meal or snack.
3. Honor foods in their rightful place. Food is rich medium. Food is our fuel, but it is also social and cultural.
WHEN SIMPLE DOESN’T GET YOU WHERE YOU WANT TO GO
If the simple approach doesn’t work, professional support may be helpful. Look for someone who understands that a sheet of paper or pamphlet is not what you are looking for. Work with someone who is willing to hear your story and help you cultivate an approach that works for you.
This means nutrition counseling will be more challenging, take more time and feel messier for everyone.
MORE HONEST NUTRITION SUPPORT
Doctors won’t get away with simply telling patients to lose some weight or cut out the sugar. Nurses will not get away with handing out a pamphlet. Dietitians will not get away with a standard riff on any one dietary approach. Chiropractors will not get away with a list of supplements that they can sell.
Nutrition counseling will need to be focused and client centered. Effective counseling will probably best handled by referring patients to a professional, possibly a registered dietitian who has learned and is allowed to truly counsel clients, not just tell them what to eat.
MORE EFFECTIVE NUTRITION COUNSELING
Insurance companies will need to examine why they think four 15 minute sessions a year are supposed to be enough to help diabetics effectively navigate the process. They’ll also need to figure out how to pay for everyone who needs nutrition support, not just the diabetics and folks with renal disease. (Although preventing a few amputations or heart surgeries will pay for a bundle of nutrition counseling.)
Health care policy will need to adjust so that people get support as they are developing problems, not just after the disease is diagnosed.
Nutrition information and support needs to be more honest. Only then can it be more effective.