What are your health-related goals? Lose weight? Lower your blood pressure? Get your blood sugar under control or your cholesterol down? All these goals will require long-term changes in your eating habits. Making these changes often requires the assistance of a qualified nutrition professional. To whom will you turn for sound nutritional advice?
March is National Nutrition Month. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly The American Dietetic Association) encourages “informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.” So do I. As an exercise physiologist and health coach, I often find appropriate nutritional changes are critical to my clients’ success.
As a health professional who is not a registered dietitian or licensed nutritionist, though, I am legally prohibited from doing nutrition assessments or nutrition counseling. This means I can’t evaluate your nutrient needs and nutrition status, provide you with individualized meal plans or diet plans, prescribe how many calories you should consume daily; or review and critique your dietary record—though there are fitness professionals who do this, as a routine practice.
At Premier Health & Fitness Center, we make it clear to all our fitness staff that this is prohibited. It’s not only illegal. It’s also a breach of the ethical standards for most certifying organizations. Personal trainers, exercise physiologists and strength and conditioning specialists have no business doing nutritional counseling (unless, of course, they are also licensed/registered dietitians or nutritionists).
Also common, but illegal, health food store employees who diagnose nutrient deficiencies, and have just the supplement to fix you right up. Representatives of nutritional supplement lines participate in direct sales or pyramid schemes. They, too, have just the thing for you to lose weight, gain weight, have more endurance, or clear up your skin. Keep in mind that these products are not subject to FDA approval and their safety and effectiveness have not been demonstrated by good science. Remember, only a physician (or similarly licensed medical professional) can diagnose and treat any condition.
What Can I Do?
While I’m not a dietitian, I have stayed at a Holiday Inn. While I can’t provide individualized nutritional advice, I can provide general nutritional education to support a healthy lifestyle. Here are some things I can tell you that are based on good science.
If you are you one of the over 75% of Americans who’s either overweight or obese, know this: With few exceptions, you can’t outrun a bad diet. You will need a moderate decrease in calories consumed and a moderate increase in calories burned. Losing weight, in a healthy way, that increases the likelihood you’ll keep it off, requires that you lose fat, while maintaining muscle. This requires enough protein. You’ll also need to do some weight training. I can certainly help you with that. What you eat, or don’t eat, how much you eat, when you eat and why you eat are all important considerations if you want to retain muscle, lose fat, and keep the fat off. Don’t trust that to me or anyone not educated and credentialed to help you with that. For a very reasonable fee, you can consult a dietitian at Tallahassee Memorial’s Metabolic Health Center.
Good Foods/Bad Foods
With all due respect to nutrition as a discipline and profession, I have heard some foolish stuff over the years. Decades ago, I was taught, “There are no good or bad foods.” Balderdash! I feel confident in saying that any food that contains trans fats or partially hydrogenated fats is a bad food. These artificially produced fats were chemically engineered to be healthy alternatives to saturated fats like lard and butter. It turns out they are probably worse.
In contrast, we now know there are some truly great foods. One of my favorites is prunes—or as the California Dried Plum Board calls them, dried plums. Marketing. It’s no exaggeration to call them a superfood. They have the highest concentration of antioxidants of any food. Ounce for ounce, they have the most soluble and insoluble fiber. This makes them good for what Grandma knew they were good for. Some hospitals give them to patients following surgery to treat constipation. My friend, Bahram Arjmandi, professor of nutrition at FSU, has shown that prunes increase bone mineral density and can actually reverse osteoporosis. Many participants in his studies also saw lower cholesterol and weight loss. Two items of caution: Too many prunes too soon can have explosive results. Dr. Arjmandi recommends they be added gradually, until the goal of 8—10 dried plums each day is reached. He also recommends drinking water with the prunes; about 8 oz. for each one eaten, to avoid constipation.
For most people, sound nutrition is quite simple and not controversial. Authorities agree we should eat a mostly-plant-based diet of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Proteins should be of the leanest kind. Avoiding or minimizing sugars, starches, processed foods, animal fats and cured meats is recommending by everyone except the industries that produce and market them. Hmmm. Mediterranean and DASH diets are good examples of this, tried and true, with good science to back them up. Remember, anyone can publish a book or put up a website. Ask yourself why Americans aren’t thinner or healthier, with all the money spent on diet books. Fad diets come and go and never survive the test of time—much less scientific scrutiny.
My Bottom Line
Good, sound nutritional information, based on good science is available from numerous sources. The information I provided above is a small sample. Plenty of people are quick to dispense nutritional advice. Often, they are not qualified to do so and are really trying to sell you something. Following the wrong nutritional advice could lead to life-threatening complications. As the ancient Romans said, caveat emptor: let the buyer beware.
David Wheeler, MA, MS is Wellness & Health Recovery Coordinator at Premier Health & Fitness Center. He is an American College of Sports Medicine Certified Exercise Physiologist. David provides fitness training and health coaching for those contending with health challenges and for healthy adults who want to stay that way. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-431-4835.