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How Nutrition Advice Changes

Wonder why you hear one thing about food and nutrition only to hear something completely different later on? Today’s post explores why this might be happening to you.

Nutrition is one of the weirdest things to study and communicate with people. Almost everyone has an opinion on what is and isn’t healthy, whether they have studied nutrition for decades, or whether they spent 30 seconds Google-ing “what food good?” For those who haven’t read my blog before, the answer is “food good.” For those who have read my blog before, you know the answer I’ll give is a “it depends on who’s asking.” Why does it matter on who is asking though?

The advice given will depend on a variety of factors, which for some people might even include when they received the answer. A younger crowd won’t always know what is or isn’t healthy, and rely on caretakers to help guide their food choices. This means the advice I’ve given to a younger crowd often is very basic, such as “are fruits and vegetables good?” Once that person becomes more independent, they might have some thoughts and opinions already formed. This means that the advice I’d give is more complicated, and depends on what they already know or think they know. Oftentimes, that Google search can give you a variety of advice that’s not entirely true, or has changed over time.

One reason why advice over time changes has to do with the fact that the science becomes more refined, allowing us to have greater understanding. One example of this is with regards to eggs. At first, eggs were an amazing food item, offering a wide variety of vitamins and minerals and protein. Later research condemned eggs, as they are high in cholesterol. Now that is looks like dietary cholesterol doesn’t have a large effect on overall body cholesterol, the advice is to eat eggs with moderation. Another example of a dietary guideline change comes from the industrial era. In a food history class I took, one piece of advice that was given was to include jam and jelly as part of the diet. Now, we know the impacts of added sugar and how it can negatively affect health, especially with the changes to labor, both in terms of law and professions.

Branding and buzzwords have also impacted how people make food choices. For awhile, many drinks and snacks were branded as having or being”super foods.” What did this really mean? A super food more or less has a large amount of antioxidants, which is more or less something you get from dark berries like acai or blueberries. One of the most successful branding with regards to food in my opinion has to do with bananas. Yellow bananas were marketed as a method of antiaging, and as a sweet fruit that everyone was gonzo for. To this day, bananas are still consumed in large amounts. Gluten-free is another marketing craze that capitalizes on misinformation and fear. Gluten, a protein found in many wheat products, has been marketed as a detriment to health for many people, leading them to opt for foods that are labelled as gluten free. However, gluten is only harmful to people with certain digestive issues, such as Celiac’s disease. However, this has lead to a variety of people spreading misinformation that gluten is harmful to the majority of the population, leading to a rise in people eating gluten-free items when they had no real reason to.

One last reason why you hear advice changing over time has to do with something you might have overlooked: You change also change over time. When you are growing, you have different Calorie and protein needs than you need as an adult. A life time of healthy living has a difference on the overall well-being when compared to someone that changes later in life. Thus, the advice and care changes for the person depending on how old they are. For this example, I’ll use dietary fiber. For younger people, fiber helps with regards to cardiovascular and digestive health, which can help prevent or delay chronic diseases from occurring. Additionally, many high-fiber foods, such as fruits and vegetables, have a large amount of vitamins and minerals, which can help with healthy aging. Older people benefit from eating fiber as well, but the damage to their systems would have already been done. The main message for the older generations with regards to fiber is that it helps when dealing with incontinence.

Nutrition is often a confusing subject because it’s a mixture of opinion and scientific fact. As new things are discovered with regards to health and wellness, the advice changes. Food companies also influence how people view the health content of their food via advertising campaigns. As you get older, the advice that professionals give also change, as what becomes the most relevant to your health changes.

What are some pieces of nutrition advice you’ve received over the years? Is it still relevant or is is irrelevant? Feel free to leave a comment!

By The Nutrition Punk

I am a dietitian living in Portland, Oregon. I write about a variety of nutrition and heath topics, with the goal of improving people's understanding of food and nutrition so they may be empowered against all the misinformation that is out there.

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