To quote a great article from Darya Rose, the woman behind the food site Summer Tomato, “nutrition is complicated, but eating is not. Spend your energy discovering what works for you and try not to get too caught up in the science.” What works nutritionally for one person may not work for another person.
As a student naturopathic nutritionist, I understand just how complicated the body is and how many systems are constantly working within us to help our bodies achieve some sort of equilibrium. The balance of food that we eat is one part of this homeostasis that the body is continuously trying to achieve. When people find out what I’m studying and that my ultimate aim is to be a naturopath, I get a lot of nutrition and health questions. In the past year, the common theme of these questions has been, “what do I eat to stay healthy?”. Getting questions like this from educated, intelligent folk strikes me a failure of not only the government’s nutrition education programme but the mainstream press, who give many conflicting messages, many with no scientific basis. These failures mean that there are many nutrition experts and ‘wellness gurus’ that are attempting to provide easy to access food and supplement information to help people make better nutrition choices. Some get it right, some don’t.
So it was to my utter bemusement to open the daily email newsletter from the Pool last week to see an article from Sali Hughes attempting a takedown of ‘wellness gurus’. Her rather snide article, full of mostly anecdotal evidence, tries to put a black mark on these people (does anyone actually call themselves a wellness guru?) without actually naming any of the individuals she thinks are doing a bad job. In taking this approach, I think she rather misses the point. She misses an opportunity to urge people that are interested in improving their diet and lifestyle (and who isn’t?) to do their own research and take advice from a broad range of qualified ‘gurus’ and experts, rather than just from the person that’s released the latest ‘hot’ nutrition and lifestyle cookbook.
Her hyperbolic article instantly loses more credibility when she rubbishes coconut oil, calling it “delicious, versatile, also full of cholesterol score-raising saturated fat, according to my registered dietician friend Leo Pemberton”. As a registered dietician, Mr Pemberton should be privy to the research that talks about good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL), but also coconut oil’s effect on lowering bad cholesterol level. He would also know that coconut oil is made up of medium chain triglycerides, a type of saturated fat that works differently in the body to other saturated fats.
With all of the advice that out there, the onus is ultimately on the individual to make the right decisions about their diet, decisions that work for them and their body. It is problematic that there are ‘wellness gurus’ without any qualifications giving advice, however there are a lot of individuals in many fields that give advice without any qualifications, as she mentions when she references “online amateur experts”. It’s obvious that people need to read everything with a grain (bag?) of salt and do their own follow up research. Unfortunately, there are always going to be people that take things to the extreme (don’t get me started of the misuse of the term ‘orthorexia’), however if the effect of these ‘wellness gurus’ is to get people to even begin to think about the amount of sugar, salt and processed food in their diets, then surely that’s no bad thing?