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Contradictory Media Messages About Nutrition Confuse People: Is Anyone Surprised?

It's not only wine, fish, coffee and vitamins where confusion reigns. We all have our nutritional issues that bamboozle and leave the most health conscious among us wanting answers.
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If you feel dizzy after reading all the mixed messages in the media about which foods, supplements and eating behaviors are good for you and which are bad, you are not alone!

It's official, according to a study about the effect of conflicting media reports on health and nutrition published in the January issue of the Journal of Health Communication. Many consumers don't know what to think about nutrition, with all the contrary info bombarding them, especially when it comes to foods like wine, fish, coffee and supplements where messages have been mixed.

The worst, according to study author Dr. Rebekah Nagler of the School of Journalism & Mass Communication, University of Minnesota, is that these confused readers may be less likely to comply with expert nutrition and health advice. They are also prone to ignore advice about foods and behaviors for which there is no ambiguity that they lower disease risk. This includes prescriptions like eating more fruits and veggies and doing regular exercise.

The take home message for many, after they've read or been exposed to a few conflicting reports on Oprah, Dr. Oz, the Internet or their favorite women's magazine is to give up any pretense of healthy living. Dr Nagler describes this retreat to the Oreo cookie box as "backlash."

The logic appears to be that, if the experts can't agree on what's healthy, nobody knows; so it doesn't matter what one eats.

This doesn't bode well for a country where diet- and lifestyle-related chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer are the biggest killers going and that improved nutrition and lifestyle can and do make a difference preventing illness and, not to be underestimated, helping us feel good.

I sympathize with the folks who get overwhelmed by the conflicting sound bites, headlines, and press releases on the latest nutrition research, not to mention all those diet books promoting the latest theory. We all suffer from information overload when it comes to diet and its effects on health. It can be a challenge to find dispassionate non-hyped information about what's best to eat.

The solution, however, is not despair or "backlash." Trust me.

I write about nutrition and health and I have had days when I've felt like throwing in the towel and reigniting my teenage love affairs with the men my mother warned weren't wholesome. Remember Mr. Lays and his potatoes, Mr. Kraft and his mac'n cheese, and Captain Crunch? My delusion that the junk foods or bad boys of my youth weren't as crummy as my mother or decades of scientific evidence confirm doesn't last long.

First, these foods never taste as yum as I recall. Second, and this is the clincher, I linger a tad too long over the ingredients' list. That's enough to take away my appetite and lead to more disturbing questions about the food supply and why I need a degree in chemistry to know what I've swallowed?

We know there's a connection between what we eat and how we feel. It's a cliché but true. We are what we eat and drink and breathe -- at a cellular level. It follows that we want to think twice about what goes on our plates and in our mouths, but after that, everyone seems to agree, it gets baffling.

It's not only wine, fish, coffee and vitamins where confusion reigns. We all have our nutritional issues that bamboozle and leave the most health conscious among us wanting answers.

  • Is low-carb or high-carb the way to go?
  • But I forgot to ask, what's a carb?
  • Are all calories the same and, while we're talking, what's a calorie?
  • What's this about soluble and insoluble fiber and how best to get it?
  • What the heck's a prebiotic -- probiotic misspelled?
  • What's metabolic syndrome and how can I avoid it?
  • Same goes for heart disease and the C word. Do what I eat and drink really affect whether I'll get cancer or survive it once I do?
  • Is going organic worth it or a waste?

Confusion was one reason why I started a website. I wanted to explore the science and related evidence about how food can affect my and daughter's health for better or worse. I wanted answers so I would know what to cook for dinner and pack for lunch. I realized, while the experts had theories that tell all or part of the story, I was the one who had to decide what goes in our mouths. I shouldn't have to be a doctor or a diet guru to do it.

I was and still am as intrigued by the partisan nature of so much of what I read and hear on the food and health front. At times, the media discussion looks less like reasoned debate than a bun fight between the vegans and the paleos; the raw foodists and the processed foodies; the low-carb and the high-carb campers; the low-fat and high-fat folks; the raw milk and the commercial dairy blokes; not to forget the pro-supplement and the anti-supplement crowd.

Going behind the verbiage and arguments among experts, diet-book authors (sometimes not the same), the impassioned and others, I've found valuable ideas about what to eat to feel better, avoid illness and recover when sickness hits.

Remember, when it comes to nutrition, the most powerful advice is often the most mundane, though nonetheless good rocket science.

Eat more fruits and vegetables and move more.

Too bad too many of us ignore the message, because of all that noise coming from the bandwagon.

For me, I'll stick with the wise words of jazz legend Blossom Dearie, with a nutritional edit: "Peel me a grape; hold the fries"

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