THE BLOG

The Worried Well and How We're Asking for It

09/12/2013 03:43 pm ET | Updated Nov 12, 2013

Every day a plethora of "vital" information explodes in the public arena surrounding the specific parameters required for healthy living. Except almost none of them make any sense. Grains are hot one day, then they're killing us the next. Exercise is great, except when it isn't. Fruit is good.Well, probably. Meat -- well, you could write an entire book on that one.

Here's the problem, we -- the "worried well" -- eat this propaganda up with such voraciousness, that we have literally created an industry to maintain the feeding frenzy. We have become so concerned with the intricacies of healthful living (that we more often than not don't even adhere to), that we are completely wound up in knots over it. And food companies, journalists, topic-educated authors and their PR firms know it.

On the comments section of a blog I visited recently, there was actually a verbal assault amongst readers that could only be described as completely insane. People digitally screaming at each other over whether quinoa was a valuable source of protein (it is a rare plant-based complete protein, by the way, just not an abundant source of protein in the average diet). The comments quickly turned to insults and anonymous cheap shots over the virtues (or lack thereof, according to particularly irate commenters) of beans and lentils. Honestly, have we in all seriousness come to a place where we are in full-on nutrition blitzkrieg over eating plants?

I gave a lecture titled "Superfoods: What They Are and Where to Get Them," a few months back at a local corporate-wellness seminar. The audience was packed with physical scientists (physicists, non-organic chemists, etc.). Generally a brilliant group of individuals. One slide was on fiber. I thought it was pretty straight forward: "Fiber is good. You can get it from plants." The subsequent questions floored me. The one that made me realize that we were going totally off the rails was, "Do you think eating crunchy peanut butter is healthier than smooth, because of the extra fiber content?" Now this may actually be a good question, really, but only for a food scientist examining digestibility of peanuts. In real life, aren't we splitting hairs a bit here? I can just imagine the ridiculous headline now -- "Eating Smooth Peanut Butter, But Not Crunchy, Bad for Digestion." While I know I'm setting myself up for some peanut-hating comments (you're out there, don't deny it), how much of a difference could there actually be in eating slightly mashed peanuts to completely mashed peanuts -- on bread, with jelly. We seem to be losing our minds, er, ourselves a bit here.

I admit, I have written in the past about how reductionist science is necessary, and paying attention to the results of research is important. But, our obsession with "what works best" has ironically become the exact juggernaut that food companies, restaurants, supplement joints, gyms, smoothie bars and fitness-gurus have come to so expertly prey on.

We want organic? Okay. There's a label for that (and a questionable set of guidelines for adherence).

Gotta add fiber? Great. Throw some exotic-named seed du jour in your protein shake and call it a colon miracle.

How about gluten free? Done. Just load that fake pasta up with potato starch and sugar. No gluten, no problems. Right?

High intensity exercise is the new 10-minute ab-sculpting, booty-tightening, fat-blasting workout phenomenon? Well, you should get on it. Every. Day. Um, until this happens. Oops.

Our demand for facts and scientifically vetted details is important, obviously. But, our insistence for the extreme, regardless of the depth of our actual knowledge, is creating a cesspool of misinformation. Worse yet, it's turning those of us that care deeply about true health against one another, creating an endless marketing campaign for those peddling the crap health practices we are actually trying to combat.

A recent report written by attorney Michele Simon blasted the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) for being "in the pocket of big food." According to Simon, only about 12 percent of the floor at the 2012 AND meeting was occupied by fruit and vegetable vendors, the majority of the rest taken up by big food companies. Her conclusion was that the "infiltration of the nation's top nutrition organization raises serious questions not only about the professions credibility, but also about its policy positions." And while it may be true that big food pays big bucks to snuggle up with nutrition professionals, there may be a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg problem here. Big food needs headlines. Nutritionists do research. They provide the fodder. We get whole-wheat Fruit Loops.

A perfect example is the latest recommendation for reducing salt in the diet. The literature is out there. Lots of salt equals lots of health problems. Okay, the "worried well" immediately want to reduce our sodium intake. So in anticipation of the recommendations, big food started to lower their salt content. For those of us that cared, they began calling their products "lightly salted." For everyone else they didn't tell you at all because, "If you put that on your packaging, that can be a negative taste cue," said one ConAgra spokesperson in a 2010 CBS interview. The unfortunate and absurd consequence is, we have now just created a huge salt-substitute market. Rather than simply reducing sodium in our diets by eating less processed food products overall, we are buying more boxes packed with epidemiologically untested salty flavoring.

The most inane reality is, we're literally buying it. In our quest for ultimate health, we are opening our wallets to the industries that some claim are ruining the health of America. They in turn, feed us exactly what we are asking for. Less sodium? You got it. And a label on a box to prove it. A perpetuation of exactly what we allege to rail against. Yet ironically, we are totally asking for it.

For more by Rachele M. Pojednic, Ed.M, M.S., click here.

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