Welcome to episode 35 of The Inside Knowledge. I’m Anna Mapson.
Why we need to be suspicious of nutrition information
Today’s episode is all about how to better understand nutrition information that you read online. Discovery calls I have with potential clients show up phrases and attitudes and opinions from other nutrition professionals.
Sometimes they’re not even nutrition professionals. They’re chiropractors, personal trainers, dentists, other people who have an interest in health. But are not specifically trained in nutrition. Giving out nutritional information that, frankly, is incorrect and can be quite dangerous.
So today I want to help you navigate some of this information by understanding key phrases that you can be aware of. Then you can decide whether to follow these people in the future or whether you’ve had enough of listening to some of this information.
Creating food anxiety – don’t let them scare you
The biggest one I want to start with is people who create a suspicion about food. You will identify these people because they are calling things inflammatory. They are using words like toxic, nasties, it’s natural and natural’s always better, using words like junk.
You know, there’s really creating a good and a bad, a clean and a dirty.
These words are quite wrapped up in a lot of moral judgment as well as not being accurate. If you think about one food and how much importance that might have in the entire context of your whole diet.
I see people getting way too hung up on the importance of one food. Or one ingredient in one food that they might have once a month. And really thinking that this is going to have a big impact on their digestion. When in the majority of cases it won’t. It’s much more about your overall dietary pattern.
Individual foods are not inflammatory
People who are encouraging you to think of food as toxic or telling you that certain foods are inflammatory do not understand how food works in our body.
We do know that certain dietary patterns can be linked to increases in inflammatory health conditions. So this is typically a high fat. Overly high calorie, low fibre diet that is sometimes called the Western diet.
That is linked to increases in body weight, increases in heart conditions, heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure. But to go from that to saying that a Certain food is inflammatory or a meal might be inflammatory, you know, what does that even mean?
What do you mean by inflammatory foods?
Which particular inflammation markers are you talking about that are raised after eating this food and how has that been proven? The problem is in nutrition research is that we just don’t have that much research showing you eat a certain food and it has an exact reaction straight away in your body.
I guess my main point is just be aware of the language that is being used about food. And know that eating a certain meal doesn’t necessarily lead to raised inflammation markers. If it does, what inflammation markers are being raised? How long are they raised for? And what is the implication of that over time?
2. Be wary of nutritionists who sell supplements
Now, the next red flag I want to move on to is nutrition or health professionals who sell supplements. If they’ve got their own supplement range, or they have a shop where they are selling supplements, then take what they recommend with a pinch of salt. These are obviously selling a product.
It’s not the same as recommending you something that may help with your symptoms. Maybe an individual nutrient like magnesium, or maybe you need iron or omega 3.
Selling a product that is a combination product is not necessarily going to be in your best interest. It’s one of their products. So just be careful where people are marketing themselves as independent health professionals. Yet they have their own shop and their own products, and actually they keep promoting their own products alongside their services.
It’s nonsense to be told everyone needs the same functional tests
And then secondly, someone who says that you need to have a test in order to work with them.
I see quite a few nutritionists online in similar space to me who say that everybody who works with them has to have a stool test which costs £350. Or they have to all do a SIBO test before the person will work with them.
I just think this is a bit of a red flag. These tests are not essential for everybody. And there’s so much that can be done through diet and lifestyle.
I do run some of these tests with people, but as a second line intervention. It’s not about making everyone pay out for these tests. Partly, it’s a real cost implication for you. And I don’t think it’s essential.
I don’t think it’s always the right level of detail that you need in order to see benefit. I would much rather you work through diet and lifestyle and see some changes without these tests.
Gluten free is nutritional nonsense for IBS
So the third point I want to make is people who routinely recommend everyone goes gluten free.
This is very common in the nutrition online world. Again, it’s about the inflammatory thing. People saying that gluten is inflammatory and you should all be avoiding it, which is, again, utter nonsense. I see people online saying eating gluten is affecting brain fog, skin health, gut conditions, hormone problems. You name it, it can be linked back to gluten, apparently.
I know that there are people who have undiagnosed coeliac disease. There are people who have gluten intolerance, which can be a thing. However, indiscriminately recommending that going gluten free for better health is just not true. And whole grains are actually a really important part of your diet.
They are linked not only with better gut health and lower cardiovascular disease. And there’s just no compelling evidence that says we should all be avoiding gluten.
There’s no evidence that says it’s bad for you, unless you’ve got coeliac disease, of course, and then you need to avoid it.
4. Seed oils are not inflammatory
Exactly the same point for my next category which is people who demonize seed oils.
Again you will see people saying they’re inflammatory. They have been oxidized, they’re bad for your health.
There literally is no evidence that says in humans it is bad to consume seed oils.
I’m not for one minute suggesting that you start drinking loads of oil or having excessive vegetable oil in your diet. But we do know that when people swap out saturated fats, I’m talking like butter and lard and other things in processed foods. And actually change them for This type of vegetable oil, there are benefits in cardiovascular health. There are benefits in terms of weight loss, and cholesterol lowering.
So, you don’t need to be afraid of having some exposure to vegetable oils. It’s okay to cook with them, it’s okay to use them. Obviously keep your fats in proportion overall in your diet.
The ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 is nothing to worry about
There’s also no real evidence that says we should have a ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 which is what sometimes people worry about with increasing vegetable oil. Because it’s high in omega 6. There are lots of different types of omega 6 but essentially people worry about having too much omega 6 and not enough omega 3 which is from oily fish.
There’s no evidence to this ratio either. However, most people do need more omega 3 in their diet. Which is why often eating oily fish is recommended two times a week, or taking an omega 3 supplement can be helpful for some people.
5. Promoting greens powders
The next one I want to talk about is greens powders, or any kind of powdered supplement that includes vegetable extracts, antioxidant extracts.
These are typically very low in the nutrients that you actually need, and so should not be a replacement for eating a good and balanced diet. The marketing department of many of these companies are really good. Which is why you will see a lot of podcasts and health influencers being sponsored by greens powders companies.
These generally are very low in fibre, not a good way to increase your fibre levels. Actually not a good substitute for eating fruits and veg and eating a normal amount of fruits and veg every day. So where someone is really pushing to sell greens powders, I think ‘just think about why they’re doing that and are they an affiliate of these companies rather than it’s their actual health benefits that they’re really promoting.’
Then last two sections to go through.
6. Continuous Glucose Monitors are not necessary
One is people who are promoting the use of continuous glucose monitors for healthy people. Unless you’ve got diabetes, there is no need for you to know what your blood sugar response is to every single meal that you’ve eaten.
This is over medicalizing a normal biological process in our body.
When we eat food, our body releases insulin to pack away our glucose. For some point after a meal, you will have a level of glucose in your blood. As long as that returns to normal within a two hour window. There is no issue with having a glucose spike, as it’s sometimes called.
And by the way, there’s no real definition of what spike means.
We also don’t have any evidence that lower is better, that if you stay low for a longer time, that’s better. Now, of course, I’m not saying anyone wants to have a raised blood glucose over two hours again and again, that is unhealthy.
Too much data on blood sugar, most of it not necessary
However, what I find is people are getting a little bit over obsessed with these continuous glucose monitors, thinking about their glucose response to every meal. What we don’t have is evidence to say that a normal response that reduces down is actually bad for your health.
So we know diabetic conditions are dangerous and that’s why they’re really closely monitored. If your doctor realises that you have got raised blood glucose on a fasting diet. glucose test, then they will try and deal with it with you.
We just need to be careful about outsourcing how our body feels to a machine. That’s part of my issue with it. I don’t think it teaches you to be in tune with your body.
Glucose responses change, and that is normal
And we also know that our glucose response changes throughout the day, depending on how many meals you’ve already eaten that day. Depending on what else you’ve eaten, depending on whether you’ve exercised or not. I
If you’re a woman, depending on your menstrual cycle phase, your blood glucose will change throughout the day, throughout the month.
And that’s relatively normal. When we’re identifying issues from a certain food, people are feeling very nervous about eating them. Which I think creates more food restriction and food fear.
Last few bits of nonsense
Then just a few final things that I would always be very cautious of online is firstly, anyone who is selling you a quick fix. Health changes are rarely quick and easy and the simpler they seem, probably the more sceptical you should be.
So anyone who promises you can lose three inches around your waist. Or lose five stone in a month. These kind of quick fixes are just unrealistic and unhealthy.
And then a couple of other dietary things that are also really worrying is the carnivore diet. Where people literally just eat meat, and eat no vegetables and fruits.
There are people, even doctors online, saying that this is healthy. And that fibre is bad for you. This is clearly just nonsense, and I think a lot of people will see that.
However people in the IBS world have realised that if you cut all fibre out, it can manage some of your symptoms. But, long term, you’ve just got to think about whether this is going to do damage to your arteries. You’re eating saturated fats and meats all day, and no fibre.
Similarly, people who go on about lectins in food, about oxalates. These are natural parts of foods that people tend to demonize and say they can give them issues. Majority of people it’s not a problem. We need to look at your overall diet pattern, the amount of food you’re eating. Rather than blaming a compound in food which isn’t really likely to be causing you a problem.
The biggest issues in online nutrition today
So that was a list of all my biggest bugbears online at the moment. The things I see which really worry me in terms of the messages they’re sending out. I suppose I’d like to summarize it by thinking about how this information makes you feel. Whether it makes you feel more empowered or more worried. Sometimes the level of understanding that people have is patchy.
And what I would say is if you’re reading certain information, you’re skimming through various social media feeds. You can pick up some really detailed, some really interesting information. But you can also get a skewed picture of what is important.
Social media promotes controversial info
Part of the problem with social media information is that the algorithms favour new information that people are engaging with.
If you’re constantly just giving out normal public health nutrition advice, which is eat more fibre. Don’t eat too much sugar, don’t drink too much. Eat your fruit and veg, you know, this is very standard information. Everybody knows this. And so a lot of people are trying to find interesting ways to keep their account fresh.
And what it means is that they’re sensationalising information that doesn’t really have enough scientific basis. Which is why it’s not in National Guidelines for Eating. This is a problem. It’s a compromise, I suppose, between keeping your audience interested and actually educating them on real nutrition facts.
Gut health trends to avoid in 2024
I wanted to finish with three trends or things to look out for that I’ve noticed in the online gut health space into 2024.
The first one is this illusion of personalized nutrition. There are some companies out there providing personalized nutrition without necessarily getting to know you as a person.
So there are programmes, for example, the Zoe programme, which looks at your stool test and gets you to wear a continuous glucose monitor, a CGM for a couple of weeks. Then they will give you a ‘personalized nutrition plan’. Now, I have heard that there is very generic advice that comes out of this. Like eat more fibre, eat more veg, no whole grains, avoid too much sugar.
These are generic recommendations, but they’re wrapped up under this heading of personalized nutrition. And I think we don’t want to get confused by an algorithm providing some nutrition advice based on a couple of tests that you’ve done. Compared to working with a nutritionist who is actually talking to you. And understanding a little bit more nuance about what you’re saying, about what you’re eating based on experience.
I’m not saying that their algorithm is wrong, it’s just that working with somebody one to one is in no way the same as getting an output from a machine taking some of your data points.
One thing I think is worth being aware of is this clean eating. It’s almost like coming out of that Zoe programme, there’s a microbiome diet that people are really worried about.
And it’s similar to the clean eating fad. And I don’t think it’s helpful to demonize foods, to have this level of moral judgment on foods. It’s really an obsession with health that is sometimes termed orthorexia when it gets into very specific ways of thinking about foods and really labelling foods.
Thinking about your gut microbiome all day every day is not healthy.
So It’s that clean eating obsession which I think needs to get in the bin for 2024.
Facebook group communities
And then the third thing I think you need to be aware of if you’re someone who’s interested in gut health in 2024 is how much online advice you get from portals like from forums or Facebook communities. Whilst these communities are amazing for helping people out. Connecting you with people who feel the same as you and have some of the same issues. Particularly with IBS, it can be so embarrassing. You don’t want to share that stuff with your nearest and dearest. So connecting with people who don’t mind you sharing the details about your bowel habits and your digestion is amazing.
But where I have seen some really worrying trends is certain people who are not trained nutritionists giving out information like it is a fact.
Or advising people on what they eat with absolute certainty. Or telling them to take supplements with no clue whether they’re taking any medication that might interfere with this. Or whether it’s suitable for them.
People may have the best intentions, but the wrong knowledge
I just feel it’s really worrisome. And I wonder whether it’s actually helpful for people in the long term. So whilst I love the idea of people connecting with other people who’ve got IBS, I wonder whether if you’re getting information from a Facebook group or an online forum message board, whether that is actually helping your condition or not.
And I hope it is, and I hope you are not getting false information that actually could be making things. Most people on these groups are doing it with the best intentions. They are telling you things that have worked with them. They don’t want you to make the same mistakes that they did. So they’re really passionate about sharing this information.
However, they’re not doing it from a place that understands your health conditions, your diet history, and your symptoms even, often they’re just given out the same information again and again.
You must be taking this, you have to take this, have you had this blood test? And I just worry that people are getting information that is leading them down a rabbit hole. And they’re not actually addressing the real root cause of their issues.
Right, sorry, that has been quite a ranty podcast. This has just been a list of all the stuff that I find hard online when I’m looking around on social media. And as I’m drawing to a close for the end of the year, end of 2023 here, I’m just asking if you would please review and rate my podcast.
If you’ve enjoyed any of the information that I’ve shared this year, It would really help me if you would review the podcast. Give it a rating, and share it with anyone else who you think would find this information helpful.