I posted an article last week about the current sponsorships of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, my professional organization. It received a lot of feedback, primarily positive. One issue that came up in the comment section was the idea of “conflict of interest”. This individual seemed to accuse me of having a “perceived” conflict of interest, since some of the work I do includes consultation to the American Beverage Association and the Corn Refiner’s Association.
I imagine that this comment was considering the legal definition for conflict of interest, which implies that I would be acting contrary to my professional obligation to the public to provide sound nutrition advice, and doing so for personal gain. False.
For the record, I happened to write an article about high fructose corn syrup for my local newspaper several years ago, prior to even knowing what the Corn Refiner’s Association (CRA) was. As a result of my professional opinions described in that article, I received an offer to become a consultant for the CRA, helping them communicate clear nutrition messages to the public. Since I’m a natural writer, and am passionate about communicating the facts, I was thrilled to have this opportunity. (Prior to consulting with these particular companies, I never avoided foods that have high fructose corn syrup on the label, and we’ve always kept a variety of diet and regular sodas in the spare refrigerator for special occasions and road trips. I’ve bought bottled water and flavored waters for many years, particularly while having teenagers in the house. My behaviors have not changed after accepting these positions.)
I am very passionate about sharing ways to live a well-balanced life, which for me includes regular exercise, healthy eating, and time off spent with family and friends. I am passionate about helping people understand that a healthy diet is attainable, and that, yes, it may even include occasional treats such as a candy bar, soda, or potato chips! To me, “healthy eating” doesn’t exclude certain foods, but it does include certain foods. For example, your pork rinds may be my brother’s Mortadella – both really high in fat, and not something you should eat every day – while not my personal preference, if you love it, then we can find a way to include it in your diet once in a while, and still mange your health.
Can this advice coincide with the advice to eat more fresh vegetables and fruits, reduce your sodium intake, and consume less saturated fat (evidence-based dietary guidelines)? Yes!
My corporate clients have not skewed my thoughts about what I choose to purchase at the grocery store, feed myself, or feed my family. More importantly, as my disclosure states, I will not choose to work for a company in which my views are not already aligned: Common sense applies. I am a nutrition professional. I do not recommend that you eat cake for breakfast (except perhaps, the day after your birthday) but:
- I have not, nor will I, recommend that you drink a soft drink with every meal or even daily. I don’t, on the other hand, believe that you should never consume them if you want to have any sort of health.
- I do not recommend that you eat a large candy bar or a big bag of cotton candy every day. I do think that you can include small portions of sweets like this from time to time and still maintain health, if you balance them with nutritious foods and exercise.
- Real food first. I’ve never met a dietitian who doesn’t recommend eating whole food first. The basic food group guide still holds true – fruits and veggies, bread, rice, grains, pasta, protein (meats, poultry, beans, tofu, nuts). Once you’ve satisfied your need for nutrients, then it’s time to decide how many “extras” or “treats” can fit. I “treat” myself every day.
- Finally, whatever you choose to consume, proper nutrition advice really needs to individualized. A registered dietitian visit is your best bet to get this advice. Perhaps you can consume 12 ounce soft drink every day and still remain in good health? It certainly depends on all of the other foods and beverages you consume, your current health or disease risk, and the activity you get daily. Would this be the healthiest habit? As I said, real food first.
I will continue my work as a writer and nutrition communications consultant because I truly enjoy it. I’m also going to continue challenging the ideas of people who demonize food and put registered dietitians in the sole role of “food police”; a role which I surely never signed up for, nor do I identify with.