Friday, November 30, 2007

On Nutrition and Education, Part 1

As you may or may not know, I'm studying to be a registered dietitian (RD) right now. My first semester has consisted of nutrition from the cellular, biochemical, industrial, culinary, and lifecycle points of view. From my vantage point, it seems Western nutrition and its supporting science are still in its adolescent stages. We know more now but oftentimes the recommendations made by the authoritative organizations are colored by the influence of business, politics, and a lack of sufficient evidence. Not surprising, I know, but these factors make it difficult for nutrition professionals (let alone the public and me) to separate the chaff from the grain.

The food pyramid is a good example. When it first debuted in 1992, there was enormous pressure from food industry lobbyists - meat and dairy, mainly - over the wording and placement of the food groups. The most recent pyramid (MyPyramid) is designed poorly because of, yes, lobbyists from the same industries. Compare:

Even at a reduced scale, there are noticeable differences in clarity, effectiveness, and overall message between the two models. The latter does have certain improvements over its predecessor, namely, greater details and explanations, factors in people with lactose intolerances, and has an image stressing the importance of exercise. But the MyPyramid doesn't present some of the latest evidence and advice concerning diets and nutrition (supplements, alcohol, vegetarian diets, etc.)

This is where a dietitian (of which I will be, hopefully) should step in - and not necessarily a physician (I'll talk about this in future entries) - to provide the details and advice to the individual. I often feel as if I've been thrown into the middle of a jungle with nothing but a machete because the scientific evidence for many areas of nutrition (even RDAs [recommended daily allowances] have changed, often dramatically) can offer confounding preliminary conclusions.

Some of my goals with this blog are to share and clarify what I've learned in the classroom, find the islands of sensibility, and clear away my own fog of confusion surrounding nutrition.* There will be jargon and abbreviations, but I'll try to explain them whenever it seems necessary. Hopefully, we'll all have a stronger, more nuanced understanding of nutrition.**

*Caveat: please keep in mind that I am not qualified to offer any professional nutrition advice (yet). What I present here serves as a reference and method of understanding what I learn in my classes and of nutrition and health in general. Please consult an RD for any nutrition-related advice and guidance.

**Asian nutrition is something I'll address as well, even though it's not a part of my current training. This is an area that should be part of any future RDs' education, especially now.

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