It’s not nutrition that’s confusing; rather, it’s nutrition communications that have reached new heights of confusion.  In recent months and years, it’s possible to find newspaper articles, research studies, books, websites, TV and radio shows, and newsletters that proselytize conflicting information, particularly by zeroing in on single ingredients as dietary villains or by exaggerating real results. 

We’ve been barraged with headlines that scream bacon and burgers (and saturated fat) are back (and good for you), contradicting other experts who maintain that it’s the type and quantity of fat that matters.  Unbelievably, even fruit has become a nutrition villain thanks to carb fearing phobics.  Gluten, although a real problem for a small population of celiacs, has become a pariah, with whole grocery store aisles filled with gluten-free foods.  Restaurants are willy-nilly labeling foods as gluten-free, even when they may not have been prepared in a gluten-free environment (yes rice is gluten-free – but not if the risotto was prepared next to the baking station with its airborne wheat flour. As the fad side of gluten grows, those with a real medical reason to go gluten-free are at risk from the spread of misinformation. Newspapers, radio and TV shows have recently been covering a study about low fat diets v low carb diets, when neither is sensible, and the most recent study that allegedly addressed this issue really didn’t.  Common sense has been thrown out with the bath water. 

What do we need to do to bring back common sense and straight talk?  Whenever I’m asked what the next new thing in nutrition is, my answer is the old ways are the new ways.  Moderation, lots of plant foods, healthy fats and less processed foods are the hallmarks of the old ways.  They are time-tested, research-tested, but not new, and therefore, not sexy and usually not newsworthy.

There are scientists who are focusing not only on the science, but also on big-picture common sense and on making the complicated more easily understood by the guy or gal on the corner.  David Katz, MD, of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center is one.  As James Hamblin wrote in The Atlantic magazine, “Dr. David Katz is emerging as an iconoclast on the side of reason.” Dr. Katz writes prolifically and poignantly on LinkedIn, the Huffington Post and in his newspaper column about these very issues. Three statements he recently made in his LinkedIn post, “Diet research, Stuck in the Stone Age” are right on target, are views that make perfect common sense, and I hope, are leading nutrition indicators.   

On healthy food:   “I am an advocate, based on the evidence, of wholesome foods in sensible combinations.”
On research:   “I am an advocate of research that is fair, unbiased, and relevant in the real world.”
On the media:  As a medical journalist, I am a proponent of reading past headlines. Headlines want to titillate you, not educate you.”  

Both David Katz and James Hamblin will be speaking about nutrition common sense at the November 9-11 Oldways-Whole Grains Council Conference on “Breaking Barriers.”  Hamblin will address the Pitfalls of Pseudo-Science in Popular Nutrition Writing, explaining how and why “most of the bestsellers in health writing are largely fiction, including books like Wheat Belly and Grain Brain” while Katz’ presentation will explore the disconnect between popular fad diets and what Paleo Man really ate. 

We hope you’ll join us for this event — either in person or through an audio recording (available after the Conference) — and in Oldways’ renewed efforts in the years ahead to stop the madness and bring back common sense. Stay tuned for more old ways.


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