Immaculata Magazine - Winter 2015 - page 21

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Frank thinks fad diets are often rooted in “a little bit of paranoia that a lot
of people have about modernity and purity. And I’m not pooh-poohing the
reasonable concerns that people have,” she said, mentioning problems with
genetically modified crops and toxic pesticides. “There are a lot of reasons to
question the way that food is produced. But you can take it to an extreme.”
In the introductory nutrition course that Frank teaches with Instructor
Susan Johnston, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., and Associate Professor Tracy Oliver,
Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N., students are learning to spot unhealthy extremes.
Christine McIntyre ’17 says her professors “have helped us look critically
at fad diets by encouraging us to ask questions. Does the diet call for calorie
restrictions, and are these restrictions reasonable? Does it omit entire food
groups from consumption, or does it promote balance? Does the diet offer
variety? How much does the diet cost? What research is there on the diet’s
effectiveness, and is this research reliable? Finding the answers to questions
like these can help clarify whether the diet is safe, effective, or reasonable to
follow.”
McIntyre researched the paleo diet and found that “the protein and fat
intake levels of this diet are higher than the recommended daily values,”
which may lead to high cholesterol, heart disease, and kidney problems.
The gluten-free trend is similar to the paleo diet in that it advocates
avoiding certain grain products, Frank says. For people with celiac disease or
different levels of gluten sensitivity, a gluten-free diet is medically necessary
in order to avoid digestive tract damage.
However, she cautions, this therapeutic diet is not the answer to every
physical problem. People may feel better by going gluten free, but this may
be the result of the placebo effect. Or it may indicate that people are paying
more attention to what they eat and making healthier food choices in
general.
Frank encourages concerned individuals to get tested for gluten
sensitivity. If they don’t need to eat gluten-free, they probably shouldn’t, she
tells them, because of the potential for nutrient deficiencies. An article in
Environmental Nutrition
titled “Think twice before giving up grains” says
that wheat, barley, and rye—all of which contain gluten—provide specific
vitamins, minerals, fibers, and prebiotic starches, which feed beneficial
bacteria in the body. These important nutrients can be difficult to get from
other food sources.
Frank is concerned not only about the physical cost of a gluten-free diet,
but also the financial cost. Four pounds of gluten-free baking mix can sell
for $15 or more, while the same amount of whole-wheat flour is about $4.
“There is even a social cost, since it’s hard to eat with others who are not
following the gluten-free diet,” Frank adds.
So if we don’t necessarily need to go grain-free or gluten-free, what
should we eat? “Food that you’re going to enjoy eating, and there’s enough of
a balance of nutrients that it supports your health and your ability to do the
things you want to do, including staying physically active,” Frank says. “To
me, that’s a healthy lifestyle. It’s not a diet.”
Unlike most fad diets, Frank’s philosophy of healthy eating is
relaxed and practical. She emphasizes choosing foods “that fit
your personal situation.” This includes buying ingredients you
can afford, and preparing meals that are appropriate for your
level of skill in cooking.
“Unfortunately, my profession sometimes tends to hyper-
focus on the nutrient content of the food,” Frank says. It
can be helpful for dietitians to suggest healthier substitutes
for people’s favorite foods, “but to just say, ‘Let’s take all of
these unhealthy ingredients out of a cherished food, make
it something it’s never been, and erase what it means to
people’—I really object to that. I think it’s just disrespectful,
and it’s also a complete lack of appreciation for all of the value
that food has for people other than the nutrient content.” Food
is also about our cultural heritage, our emotions, our senses,
and our social connections, and Frank wants to make sure our
understanding of healthy eating takes these important aspects
into account.
If Frank goes to a party, she’ll eat a brownie, even if
people who know she’s a dietitian give her funny looks. “Get
over it—I’m off duty,” she jokes. “This isn’t the way I eat all
the time. I’m enjoying myself.”
She doesn’t eat a large portion of chocolate at every meal,
but she has a bite almost every day. Besides, she points out,
there are some health benefits to chocolate. “I’m glad I’ve been
vindicated in that area,” she says, grinning.
“In reasonable amounts, and with reasonable frequency,
I will enjoy things that are not especially healthy within my
overall healthy food choices. There’s room for that,” she says.
“Stay away from diets and try to figure out a good way to eat
for the rest of your life.”
As you do so, she advises, “do your homework. If you’re
going to make dietary changes, get educated about it.” Not
everyone who has a credential is worth listening to. “Make
sure that you’re looking at reputable sources,” she says,
mentioning WebMD and eatright.org, the website of the
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, as good resources, as well
as
Environmental Nutrition
and Tufts University’s
Health and
Nutrition Letter
.
And of course, “if you really want to get good nutrition
advice and counseling, find a registered dietitian,” Frank
advises. “There’s so much conflicting information out
there, and it’s so hard to sort through if you don’t have the
educational background to do it.”
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