This morning, those in the field of dietetics heaved a collective sigh of exasperation in response to a Facebook status from celebrity chef, ‘health coach’ and activated almond enthusiast Pete Evans.
“No wonder the public is confused.
Each and every time an article comes out about health and nutrition in this country, the journalists always feel the need to get a spokesperson from the Dieticians Association of Australia to add in their position.
Here is a list of the the major partners of the Dieticians Association of Australia…
Interesting to say the least…what are your thoughts on this and please share!
I know there are lots of registered dieticians in this country that are frustrated with the current system and guidelines. I am looking at forming a working relationship with some like minded Australian dieticians to help implement the changes necessary to our current system. If you are a registered dietician and want to help then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can start this much needed journey for change.
After reflecting on this and discussing it with some peers, I’ve got a few things to say about Pete Evans’ assertions.
So often, dietitians are looked upon with mistrust by the general public. There’s a frustrating level of ignorance out there about the work they do and how it differs from any number of other self-proclaimed nutrition experts – and misleading comments such as this one only serve to muddy the waters further. Pete Evans has a huge following (almost 200k on Facebook) and people listen to him, so even a single throwaway Facebook status has the power to sway opinions.
Evans is annoyed with journalists who seek the opinion of Accredited Practicing Dietitians “each and every time an article comes out about health and nutrition”, but he fails to recognise that there is a valid reason for this: the Dietitians Association of Australia is the peak body of nutrition experts in the country.
I don’t just say that because I’m hoping to pursue a career in dietetics. Through my studies, I’ve come to understand something of the complexity of nutrition and food science, and it’s left me with no doubt that their in-depth knowledge of biochemistry, physiology and clinical nutrition set dietitians well apart from the absolute multitude of players in the nutrition game. I’m convinced I’ve learnt more in the first three months of my Master’s degree than I did in my whole three years of undergraduate study, and I can only imagine what I still have left to learn in the remaining 18 months. This, in addition to the rigorous accreditation process and broad competency standards that must be met to be named an APD, means that members of the DAA are extremely well versed in analysing scientific data and are thoroughly qualified to comment on current developments in nutrition.
Evans’ credentials, however, do not position him well for deciphering the literature, which is perhaps why his beliefs are somewhat skewed compared to what the DAA and APDs generally recommend.
His preference for paleo foods are fine by me (I have breakfast plans tomorrow morning at Patch, a paleo cafe in Richmond – all for fun, not the imagined health benefits), but his touting a ‘high fat, low carbohydrate’ diet to his followers is slightly worrying.
According to Dr Antigone Kouris, there is little evidence that a diet like this is likely to aid in chronic disease prevention. In fact, some of the healthiest ‘diets’ that have been proven to demonstrate such benefits – for instance, the Mediterranean and Okinawan (Japanese) diets – don’t avoid carbs at all, consuming plenty of rice, potatoes, bread and legumes.
Kouris explains that the high proportions of animal foods recommended in a ‘high fat, low carb diet’ is conducive to inflammation and chronic disease – quite the opposite of a Mediterranean style of eating, which includes animal foods only in small amounts.
Also concerning is the out-of-date image Evans paints of our Dietary Guidelines. Contrary to his opinions, the guidelines, compiled by the National Health and Research Council, are based on extensive evidence. Evans argues that Australia is well behind the rest of the world, and out of step with countries such as Sweden, which do recommend the ‘high fat, low carb’ diet he favours. In fact, as dietitian Jessica Bailes points out, Australia and Sweden’s dietary guidelines are broadly similar, and the ‘high fat, low carb’ recommendations Evans is referring to actually only reflect their advice for weight loss, as opposed to general health.
The oddest part of Evans’ post is his claim that dietitians are ‘selling out’ or being swayed by monetary gains. While the DAA may be sponsored by some big names in the food industry, there’s little worry of being mislead by a dietitian, who is trained to carefully sift through scientific findings to get to the truth. It’s for this reason that dietitians generally promote products that they can confidently recommend for definitively proven health benefits. Whereas, as Bailes observes, “if you’re looking at conflict of interest, you don’t want to ignore that Pete Evans is launching his own coconut oil brand, a key ingredient in the paleo diet.”
Oh, and by the way, the idea that all dietitians recommend low-fat everything couldn’t be further from the truth. Have a read here of the wonderful Heidi Sze’s approach to full-fat dairy.