Barely a week passes without headlines (or Twitter trends) about diets and how to lose weight, improve your energy levels / skin/ hair / libido / life expectancy. Often these are contradictory and can lead to confusion. Whenever the headline suggests that a fad diet or miracle food is the holy grail that will solve all our health problems alarm bells should ring!
Dietitians are trained to examine the evidence behind such claims and sift out the facts from the fanciful. Unlike many medical trials where a drug is tested for effectiveness (usually against a placebo), nutrition trials are usually more complex and difficult to interpret. Mainly because nearly everybody eats, and people’s baseline diets and habits are so varied it makes it difficult to isolate the effect of altering one aspect of the diet.
We also consider the person as a whole and aim to prioritise dietary aims. An example of this is a referral that came through recently for a lady in her 80’s who wanted advice for diverticular disease and type 2 diabetes. When we saw her, it became evident that she had lost a considerable amount of weight since losing her husband. We were able to explain to the patient and her family that this was the greatest nutritional risk to her so we would encourage her to prioritise eating a little of what she fancied to try and boost her weight rather than follow a restrictive diet for her other conditions, particularly while she was an inpatient when we know that people are vulnerable to malnutrition.
As part of the fourth annual Dietitians Week being held June 12-16, the BDA and dietitians in Dumfries & Galloway are encouraging the public to get their advice on diet from the properly qualified experts. The public should also ensure any diet plan they follow is based on scientific evidence. Some of the advice given in relation to fad diets is not just ineffective, it can actually be harmful to people’s health.
Evidence-based nutrition advice is important because often the trials that are reported may be based on small, specific experiments and the results may not translate easily to real life or real people. Dietitians can interpret the evidence and help people make adjustments that fit into their lifestyle and are sustainable.
Eg. There is evidence that eating large quantities of soya can reduce cholesterol, but for the majority of people, having large quantities of soya-based products for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks is not going to be an achievable goal.
Annually, the BDA run a weeklong event called Dietitians Week, aiming to promote the importance of dietitians and the great impact they can have on the nation’s health and wellbeing. This year the week runs from 12-16 June and is taking the theme of Evidence and Expertise and you will spot our myth-busting displays around DGRI. This is to promote the importance of ensuring that dietary and nutrition advice comes from evidence-based sources, whilst highlighting the risk of following guidance that is not scientifically credible.
Please take time to look at our displays next week and when you see us out and about in the hospital, grab us for a chat about nutrition, fad diets and separating the fact from fiction.
Laura King is Lead Acute Dietitian at NHS Dumfries and Galloway