Monday, March 4, 2013

Librarians vs. Dietitians: The Mediterranean Holiday Edition

It turns out March is National Nutrition Month®!

From the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website:

"National Nutrition Month® is a nutrition education and information campaign sponsored annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The campaign is designed to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. NNM also promotes the Academy and its members to the public and the media as the most valuable and credible source of timely, scientifically based food and nutrition information."

I'm always curious how other professional organizations handle promotional events and the like. And now that I've been drawn in by the siren song of dietetics and nutrition, I'm eager to see how it's done with this group. 

In Libraryland, we have National Library Week and Banned Books Week, but not a whole month so kudos to you dietitians, for not only working hard but making sure people know what you do!

(Note: I did write a piece some time ago criticizing Banned Books Week, which delves into many library issues, as well as the accepted definition of banned material. But as I said in a previous post, we all have issues with our professional bodies.)

And, hey, March 13th is Registered Dietitian Day! I'll have to remember to post something about that, too. Because I still feel the RD-MLS connection must be made stronger. (Or just must be made!)

But as I continue to appreciate all the scientific based food information these health professionals show us, I also continue to be amazed at how it gets thrown into the general media-sphere and becomes more than somewhat skewed.

And once again I blame the NY Times. Instead of poring over the Health & Wellness sections, I made my usual weekly comfort check on Wednesday's Dining & Wine section. And, there it was. Another reason to blog.

There was that op-ed piece by Mark Bittman on sugar and diabetes. Now, Bittman is not one to promote processed and sugary foods, but the study he cites makes a pretty clean case towards staying away from a lot of this manufactured crap. And the result of this study is: excessive sugar can increase incidences of diabetes.

Maybe people actually need to hear this. Maybe it is not so obvious to all. Maybe it is because we are force fed "facts" about health and nutrition from the very companies who may not actually value our health over their bottom line. 

But...why is any of this a surprise?

But that's not the one that gnarled me. It was another article (also by Bittman) on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Yes, it's healthier than eating than processed crap! Yes, you can eat somewhat naughtier things on this meal plan without resorting to excessive flour-sugar concoctions. And your cholesterol and other health problems will fade away!

But let's look at the actual report from which Bittman quotes. First off, I do want to say, it looks like a fascinating bit of work, and, to be honest, something on a more 'realistic' scale than some other diet research out there. (And RDs are a big part of their research! Yeah! But no word on librarians.Just who did their literature research?)

But here's what the researchers said:

"The generalizability of our findings is limited because all the study participants lived in a Mediterranean country and were at high cardiovascular risk; whether the results can be generalized to persons at lower risk or to other settings requires further research."

So, while so many forums and news bytes are going on about this amazing "discovery for life-long health", did anyone stop to ask if was repeatable elsewhere? More importantly, did anyone ask about things things like portion control? Sure, I eat a lot of olive oil, nuts, mainly veg...that's healthy and tasty. But it's also easy to overdo the bowls of oil and nuts. And chocolate. And wine. Give me unlimited amounts of that stuff and I'd be back to my Retro self, and probably not too healthy, cardio-wise, either.

I also take a bit of offense at this whole "Oh, these people have always been more attuned to natural eating. They're so much healthier." Which is why I suppose it was pretty easy to find this many subjects for the test who had heart issues, huh?

I heard the same thing when I was living in Japan. "Oh, it's all so healthy here...just simple rice and fish." Except for the huge bowls of sodium laden pre-packaged ramen all the salarymen sucked down after a few bottle of whiskey. Evidently, "pure and simple" also means one of the world's highest rates of hypertension.

To go back to the Mediterranean diet, here are two of my favorite Mediterranean foods:

Cassatine Siciliane - cannoli filling surrounded by marzipan and royal icing and sugared fruit. Just as natural as when it was harvested from the field!

Baklava - pistachios are indeed healthy, but even more so when doused in honey and butter! So....earthy and primal.

And that's the point. Mediterranean folk don't live austere monk-like existences. And there are unhealthy folks in all regions of the world. But a more vegetable laden, less-processed meal plan is better for you than eating honey-nut cake every day. 

And again...this is a surprise?

Here was my dinner last night:

Walnut-parsley pesto with beans, peppers, tomatoes, salami and cheese.
Is it Mediterranean-inspired? Well, I don't know if they have Hebrew National salami over in Malta, but I guess it could be popular.

This "recontextualixzing of the other" seems to be a way to place blame on the industry around us than on our own habits. Yes, we've seen big companies do market stuff that is extremely not good for us. But look at our dietitian pals. They're saying eat healthy. 

Maybe they should do it in a foreign accent and we'd all listen more.

So here's my pitch, you RDs come to us for more backing research and we'll come to you to learn better promotion and eating habits!  

It's certainly better than "Banned Cookbooks Week."


Basu, Sanjay, Paula Yoffe, Nancy Hills, and Robert H. Lustig. “The Relationship of Sugar to Population-Level Diabetes Prevalence: An Econometric Analysis of Repeated Cross-Sectional Data.” PLoS ONE 8, no. 2 (February 27, 2013): e57873. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057873.

Bittman, Mark. “When Diet Meets Delicious: The Mediterranean Approach.” The New York Times, February 26, 2013, sec. Dining & Wine.

Estruch, Ramón, Emilio Ros, Jordi Salas-Salvadó, Maria-Isabel Covas, D.Pharm, Dolores Corella, Fernando Arós, et al. “Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet.” New England Journal of Medicine 0, no. 0 (0). doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1200303.

Kolata, Gina. “Fill Your Days With Nuts, Olive Oil, Chocolate and Wine.” The New York Times, February 25, 2013, sec. Health.

“It’s the Sugar, Folks.” Opinionator. Accessed March 1, 2013.

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