I recently saw a meme on Facebook that reads: “Eat five meals per day and run. Also, eat only breakfast and dinner, and walk. Also, eat lots of protein and lift, and don’t even do any cardio, it’s bad for your joints. Also, don’t eat too much protein and make sure you sleep a lot. But don’t be too sedentary. But don’t be too active, it’s bad for your blood pressure. Make sure you replace all your lost salt, but never eat too much sodium.
It’s easy, just eat vegetables. Don’t eat potatoes though or corn. Fruit is obviously good for you, and also it’s all sugar and is bad for you. Sugar, I forgot to mention, is a vital source of quick-burning carbohydrates that your brain needs to survive, and you should avoid it at all costs. Protein is hurting your kidneys. Make sure you eat a lot of it. Drink water. Never starve yourself unless you’re calling it ‘intermittent fasting’ and then it’s OK to starve yourself a little bit. Don’t over-hydrate. Being vegan is obviously the healthiest lifestyle, and also it’s not. Fish is obviously super good for you, and it’s full of mercury and killing you. Get some sun every day for Vitamin D and skin cancer.”
That sure is a mouthful and it is very telling of how many Americans interpret health information. There is myriad information disseminated in a variety of media sources including television, radio, print media and online. It is understandably confusing and very difficult to decipher so many mixed messages regarding health-related topics of nutrition, physical activity and disease prevention. One day we hear how great a certain food is and all the benefits that come with consuming it. The next day, we hear the exact opposite.
It seems a daunting and impossible task to filter through jargon and get to the factual information. If you are not a trained health professional or at least interested in the topic, it may seem like a lost cause to find information on your own. How can health professionals expect the general public to appreciate and understand what it actually means to be “healthy?”
Let’s take a moment to calm our anxiety and overthinking. Health is complicated and often we make it more complicated than it has to be. When you are taking in health-related messages, first consider the source. If the information is coming from self-proclaimed “experts,” it is beneficial to exercise a great deal of skepticism. While TV personalities may have experience in the practice of medicine, they may have very little expertise in the field of nutrition and exercise testing and prescription. Self-proclaimed health “gurus” tend to be the worst at spreading misinformation. While some may have a line of successful exercise equipment and related exercise videos, their advice to cut out all dairy, limit intake of certain fruits and vegetables, abstain from all types of grain products, eat only organic foods, and other rigid restrictions is based on their personal experience, has almost no evidence to support the claims, and is, frankly, rather elitist.
There is a major problem with self-proclaimed “experts” and “gurus.” They talk in depth about what has worked for them, while entirely dismissing the differences within their followers’ lives. Rigid dietary restriction and intense vigorous-intensity exercise works for weight loss, but it comes at the price of potential nutrition deficiency and a low likelihood of long-term adherence to exercise and physical activity.
Find evidence-based resources to gather health information. Start with a trained health care professional like your physician or a registered dietitian. The USDA and Department of Health and Human Services publishes dietary and physical activity guidelines for all Americans to use as an evidence-based source of valuable health information. Evidenced-based means exactly what it sounds like: That there is validated, peer-reviewed evidence supporting recommendations that all Americans can follow for optimal health and quality of life.
For a quick dietary reference, use MyPlate.gov. This provides a simple, easy-to-follow guide for how to structure a healthy, well-balanced diet. My Plate and the Dietary and Physical Activity Guidelines aren’t based on one or two anecdotal studies. Each is based on years of solid research conducted by highly skilled professionals that has been validated through countless replication.
Don’t buy into snake oil health schemes. Dietary and physical activity guidelines are designed to make healthy choices easier and to help Americans make sense of the mountain of information floating around. Over your lifespan, eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Limit high-fat, high-sugar foods and beverages. Eat whole grains in a variety of forms, including breads and pastas. Drink water. Consume low- or non-fat dairy products. Limit protein consumption and eat both plant and animal sources. And yes, occasionally treat yourself to a piece of cake, a slice of pie or a Snickers bar. Moderation and portion control are key to a healthy diet.
Health decisions do not have to be so complicated. Follow the guidelines designed to make healthy decisions the easy choice to make. The struggle is real and that’s completely understandable. You are worth the effort!
Follow me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AaronCSwankMPH) for tips, tricks, and advice. Thanks for reading!
Aaron Swank is a Kansas State Research and Extension Agent for Harvey County. Nutrition and Family Finance are his specialties. The Harvey County Extension Office can be contacted at 284-6930.