Values: Food Literacy: Separate Food Fact from Food Fiction and Enhance Your Credibility



Amelia Winslow

Janet Helm

Kath Younger

Amelia: We're really excited that you've joined us this morning. When we were thinking about what we wanted to cover; the subject is broad. We didn't want to sit in here and name every food term, every package trend. We really wanted to present some food trends, then talk about what stands the test of time. We wanted to talk about how to use these common themes in our blogs; how to promote the food and nutrition philosophy we all have. I'll start out by talking about food trends, buzzwords. Kath will talk about how you can put the info into practice. Janet will talk about how nutrition is communicated online, where to find reliable information.

Amelia: My blog is called Eating Made Easy; it's a place where people can make better food choices. People write in and ask questions and I answer those, as well as cover food and nutrition topics and trends. I started it because I'm a nutritionist and I studied food policy and applied nutrition. What I found was there are a lot of things happening in food and nutrition right now. Child obesity, weight-related health problems; even if they don't impact a person individually, they impact us as a culture. There's also a big obsession with dieting; Americans spend about $45 billion per year on dieting. There's also a lot more food available; we have many more calories per person than we did 30 years ago. Also a huge amount of food information, buzzwords, to try to get us to buy a certain product. The end result -- it's confusing.

Amelia: I watched the documentary Forks over Knives and I realized I need to stop eating as many animal products; I went to the store and was trying to think of dairy alternatives. I could have cried I was so overwhelmed at the store. No matter how much expertise you have, it's hard to make decisions in your day-to-day life.

Amelia: Diet trends -- what they all have in common is that they are all very short-term. You can't sustain this. That's why trends come and go. Food trends (gluten-free, vegan, organic, etc.) -- some are backed by science, some are not; some are good for you, some are not. Also they may appear because of celebrity mentions, food industry campaigns. Food terms and labels (organic, No rBGH, fair trade) can also be confusing. I was recently talking to someone high up in nutrition at a corporation -- he told me he could give anyone a heart attack on an all-organic diet -- just an example of how those terms don't necessarily mean all healthy.

Amelia: Package claims that can be misleading - Light, reduced __ , made with whole grains. So -- how do you know what's truly healthy -- what is a consumer to do; what is a food blogger to do? The answer is simple. These trends last -- whole, unprocessed foods; mostly plant-based; family meals; eating at home; not drinking your calories; moderation. These themes are continually proven to lead to healthy eating over the long term. These may not be the absolute healthiest diet -- Enjoying kale salad with Cheez-Its may not be the healthiest, but moderation is easiest to sustain.

Amelia: What tools can you take away? The 5-year test -- if whatever it is you are imagining, that you can imagine happily sustaining for 5 years. Going on a low-carb diet and not eating any bread and everyone around you is eating bread? Probably something you can't sustain for 5 years. Any diet requires patience and persistence. It's so boring -- I know -- I wish it was more exciting.

Amelia: What do I look for when I buy food? Food in its natural form first; then food with minimal processing. Books I recommend: Food Rules by Michael Pollan. The End of Overeating by David A. Kessler. Also Eating Well magazine and Nutrition Action health letter; plus the Mayo Clinic site online. Now Kath will talk about how she puts her food philosophy into practice.

Kath: My blog is -- it's a 4 1/2-year diary of what I've eaten. It shows a process of learning; it's my own personal diary. I gained 20 pounds in senior year of college; then took off the weight and went through weight loss; now I'm working on weight maintenance. I was the typical American; I knew fruits and grains were good for you. My first apartment -- everything was sugar-free, fat-free; my main source of nutrition info was women's magazines. I thought that's what you were supposed to do when you lost weight. The more I was changing my diet, the more I wanted to learn different mind sets on food. I read SuperFoods HealthStyle by Steven G. Pratt -- it was the first time I thought about what you're putting in your mouth as opposed to what you're not eating. At the time I was using artificial sweeteners; I would go back and forth from sugar cubes to Splenda and back. Then I realized -- I should drink unsweetened tea -- and I learned to like it that way.

Kath: I decided to go back to school to become a registered dietitian. The more I learned on a molecular level, the more I realized that you really are what you eat. I came out with a more relaxed but more mindful attitude on nutrition. Benefits of whole foods -- reduces risks of chronic diseases, including cancer, stroke, Alzheimer's, etc.

Kath: Nutrition is a young science; it has not been around for decades. We know that fruits, veggies, and whole grains are nutrient dense. There's also so much that we don't know. There are about 8,000 identified phytochemicals -- we have so much to learn about all of them. In 10 years, it's more likely that they will find out that artificial sweeteners are bad for you than that apples will be bad for you. Diversity in what you eat is a huge answer to the question. Phytochemicals can have complementary and overlapping mechanisms of action.

Kath: Research done on supplements -- most studies conclude that antioxidant supplements do not provide benefit to disease prevention. They can't find benefits in pill form. There's something about whole foods. They suspect that it's the synergistic relationship of things that are in whole foods; plus foods interacting with each other for protective effect. For me, I don't want to just eat a pill and call it dinner. I'd rather chew my food.

Kath: How I use my blog is to show rather than tell. Chewy granola bar versus whole food bar or baked oatmeal bars. High fiber and protein cereal versus cinnamon shredded wheat -- these two products are made by the same brand. Also look at "extra fiber bread" -- the food industry will put "fiber" on it because people will think it is healthy. Chicory root fiber -- does that belong in bread? If you're taking all of this fiber and adding it to this food, it might not be as healthy in your body. I give these ideas of "real breakfasts" -- oatmeal, smoothies. "Real" lunches -- I'm a big fan of sardines. "Real" dinners -- I make 20-minute meals in my house; I don't love to spend time in the kitchen. A lot of my meals are just real food thrown together in the least amount of time possible -- like grilling.

Janet: I'm also a registered dietitian -- In your blog, make sure you articulate what you're about. Mine is "thoughts, opinions, musings, and discussion about nutrition, food trends, diet myths, new products, and fad-free healthy eating." Then I talk about who I am and what my philosophy is. I don't think it needs to be complicated or confusing; I think taste and health can coexist. I also state my mission and what I believe.

Janet: People are increasingly going to blogs for information -- they trust blogs. 80 percent of internet users have looked online for health information. People who are living with a chronic disease are even more likely to go online to look for "someone like me."

Janet: What characterizes this age is democratization of influence; We used to look at C. Everett Koop as our health authority, then Sanjay Gupta; now the Fit Bottomed Girls. When I did a search online on nutrition -- who has the most influence on Twitter on nutrition -- it was Jillian Michaels. On nutrition, it's "Nutrition by Natalie" - I don't know who that is.

Janet: One of the things I helped create was the Nutrition Blog Network - all blogs by registered dietitians. It's a place where consumers can find trusted, reliable information.

Janet: I want to talk about media trends and how bloggers can leverage those. One of them is that editorial is now democratized. Forbes has been a real leader in this -- their bloggers online have a larger following than the reporters for Forbes. Huffington Post has done a lot of work with bloggers. WebMD is also doing this right now -- They have regular staff; but this is the blog portion of the site.

Janet: A second media trend is production is highly dimensionalized. It's all about multi-platform, multi-layer storytelling. Visual, video, Facebook, Tweets. It's all about the image today, with the rise of image-based social networking. And then there's Pinterest -- the food category is the fastest-growing; it can be one of the most important drivers to your site. I'm a big fan of that. The whole idea of having a photo to communicate the wonders of food and nutrition might be enough to grab someone in. Healthy Aperture -- we wanted to create one about healthy food. Healthy Aperture is not so much about food porn as it is about food. We're also on Pinterest with a shared board. If you want to share, you can be a member of Healthy Aperture on Pinterest.

Janet: The other trend is about little copy but grab me with that photo or image. It's about the gallery, not long text or copy. It's also about video -- if you can tell your story in a video, a lot of bloggers do it to introduce nutrition concepts in a video format. There's also the rise of the info graphic -- How can you provide shareable content? There are amazing info graphics that tell you image-specific things.

Janet: Another trends is niches. Food blogs are very specialized in niches. That's why it's important to articulate what your mission is. The idea of food politics is an increased specialty -- merging food with policy. Summer Tomato talks about science of nutrition; Obama Foodorama -- food policy on the Hill. Family nutrition -- Family Fresh Cooking; Meal Makeover Moms. There's also whole foods, made appealing with beautiful visuals -- My New Roots, Naturally Ella. Then there's the idea of where you cross the line with responsibility. One blog Diabetes Warrior -- the blogger Steve adopted a Paleo diet for diabetes. He lost 45 pounds, got off insulin; became an evangelist for Paleo diet for diabetes. He spoke out against the American Diabetes Association -- then he was investigated for practicing nutrition without a license. It became a big issue in North Carolina; when do you change from sharing your story to giving nutritional advice? They've dropped their case against him now, but now he's suing them. Now he clarifies that he's not a nutrition expert. He had been giving one-on-one counseling and that's where he had gotten a bit in trouble. Responsibility as a blogger -- where do you draw the line? Another question is where your opinion dominates over facts. Huffington Post ran a nutrition questionnaire of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (a vegan group). They would ask, Does an egg have as much cholesterol as a Big Mac? OK, if it does, what does that mean? This was using a nutrition quiz, but advancing a point of view. Marge Perry of Sweet and Savory Life called them on it -- this is about misleading information presented as fact.

Janet: What I will leave you with; you have a right to your own opinion; but you don't have the right to your own facts. There's a lot of information out there.

Question: Technically speaking, are you of the opinion that a recipe that you have a beautiful image of that you're trying to make competitive with a more fat-laden food -- should you label them as "healthy" so they can compete, or just put it out there?

Janet: You go on Healthy Aperture, and you know that these recipes are better for you, but they don't necessarily say that in the recipe title. Most of the time you are lured in with how beautiful the image is.

Kath: I've seen recipes that are vegan, gluten free, dairy free, blah, blah, blah… cookies. They could be the best cookies ever, but at that point I don't care. I'd say keep it simple. You could go to a place like Healthy Aperture where you don't need to use so many descriptors to distinguish yourself.

Question: What about using resources that provide nutrition information with your recipe?

Amelia: It's more about personal preference and what kind of information you present on your blog. I'm not a dietitian; I purposely don't provide nutrition information. I don't want it to be like, "For dinner I had 250 calories…" If you're going for a very informational blog where you're looking for that kind of resource, it would be appropriate.

Kath: I think it's fine if you use a professional source. Give credit to the source.

Question: Can I post some of my photos on Healthy Aperture?

Janet: Email Healthy Aperture to ask to be a contributor. That's a shared board -- you email us at healthy and then you can pin to that board.

Question: I am the Ninja Baker, I was brought up in Japan. How popular/ubiquitous are adzuki beans, matcha. Will Middle America know these terms?

Janet: I think if it's your passion, you should be authentic to your passions and blog about that.

Amelia: There are tons of people reading about everything. Foodies are searching for your terms. Trying to make your information approachable to everyone isn't really being true to yourself. Having a niche is a good thing.

Kath: Have a glossary page with pictures of ingredients to help people if they don't know.

Question: Who do you think should be calling themselves nutrition experts?

Amelia: It's a term that is thrown around very casually. A personal trainer could go to a half-day session and learn about macronutrients and go home and call themselves a nutrition expert. I recommend you look for the words "registered dietitian."

Janet: Nutrition Diva is not an R.D. but does a fantastic job. Summer Tomato -- not a dietitian, but has a Ph.D. in nutrition. It's important for people to know about you. As long as you're being transparent about who you are, it doesn't have to be an R.D. It's important to know the source -- as long as you're identifying your credentials.

Amelia: You can tell what seems credible or not. If people are trying to sell you something -- a supplement, a food that will cure something -- it's pretty easy to tell it's not trustworthy. Looking for information that is sourced tends to be a good means for finding food fact versus fiction.

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