How accurate and truthful is the information being fed to us about health and wellness trends? For the last two years, I have been working on completion of an extensive certification program to become a health coach. The process was a deep dive into human physiology, kinesiology, nutrition, chronic inflammation and many other health related topics.
After eight years of living, teaching and writing on health, wellness and fitness topics, it has become obvious to me that health and wellness is one of the most manipulated categories of misinformation out there.
It can be a slippery slope to trust any health and wellness information that is publicly shared. Thinking that this information is usually accurate or at least well intended may be naÔve in the best case and downright dangerous in its worst case. The notion that most health information can be trusted becomes an even harder sell when seeing misleading health information coming from so-called trusted and reputable sources. We have certainly seen a trend from respected health organizations taking almost untenable positions on products or issues that are counter to basic common sense.
Here is one great example of confusing health information. Coconut oil has surfaced in the last five years as a beneficial oil used for everything from skin care to cooking. Coconut oil was vaulted into the same ultra-healthy category as olive oil, even though it was relatively high in saturated fat.
As quick as coconut oil became a health wonder, it has fallen from grace even faster. What makes this a high point around misleading health information is its undoing by a reputable source, the American Heart Association and the fact that the science around cholesterol and saturated fat, as it relates to our standard American diet, is flawed. The AHA finds coconut oil is as bad for you as beef fat and butter.
Letís break down the issues around coconut oil. First, if I am the American Heart Association and I know the vast majority of Americans are eating a high carbohydrate diet with tons of sugary foods, smoking, drinking and in general not following a healthy diet, the proper assumption is yes, any saturated fats is going to lend itself to heart disease. If I am a dietitian or nutritionist, do I go against AHA findings? No, most dietitians or nutritionists would toe the line, then invoke the basic chemistry around Medium Chain Triglycerides found in coconut oil which converts to lauric acid which some studies show may increase LDL or bad cholesterol. But wait, other studies also show lauric acid may in fact increase HDL or good cholesterol. Now letís get very confused and go with the AHA recommendation to include margarine as a good source of fat. It sure seems counterintuitive to select margarine or even Canola oil as being healthy for you.
As you can see, the mixed message from trusted sources is confusing at best and misleading since few are taking into account the total picture of cause and effect. Our overall health is a blend of foods, lifestyle choices and genetics. Without understanding the overall view of an individualís health, based on integrated factors such as their nutritional footprint, how active they are and so on, it is purely conjecture to categorize mainstream products as good or bad.
To finish the thoughts around coconut oil, from my perspective in moderate use, coconut oil combined with a healthy low carbohydrate, whole foods diet is still an excellent choice. The science and fact checking debate around coconut is not clear-cut. With that said, donít be too quick to dump coconut oil from your pantry.
Now moving on to yet another recent and confusing health trend is regarding carbohydrate intake. Many of us tried the Atkins diet 10 years ago and over the past few years, ketogenic diets have been gaining interests as an effective way to lose inches and improve health. Recently, a new study is now challenging the notion that a reduced carbohydrate nutrition plan does not ensure weight loss or improved health. Carbs donít affect weight gain is another good example of using limited data from a narrow study group based on an incomplete set of contributing factors. Now remind me again what macronutrient drives obesity and metabolic disease? Diets high in carbohydrate consumption spike insulin and drives diabetes along with other related health problems. The number of studies both controlled and others less so can feed an endless series of differing conclusions on either side of any given issue.
Media spin, marketing agendas and sloppy science all add to the misinformation. Examples such as all fats were bad for us, so we plunged into a decade-long love affair with non-fat, low fat and no-fat-ever culture. Letís add to this spin cycle the great coffee debate that has bounced around from not good for you to very good for you to not good and so on over the last couple of years.
Letís face it, from a media perspective, health and wellness issues are best served with splashy headlines and extraordinary unsubstantiated claims either pro or con on any given health topic. When it comes to feeding an agenda, large national health organizations, pharmaceutical companies and big agriculture groups use misinformation has an effective method to change peopleís behaviors and how they think.
We are all consumers of health and wellness information. As such, be cautious of sweeping claims from all sources. We live in an era of misinformation as a form of marketing to our pocket books and it is not out of the question that some of this misinformation is insidious in its intent with who knows what end in mind.
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Judd Jones is a director for The Hagadone Corporation and Certified Health Coach.