Hello all and Happy May. I’m finding it hard to believe the year is nearly half over. It is a busy month with a bunch of birthdays in this family, oh and of course, Mother’s Day.

Being a first-time mother has been one of the sweetest, hardest, most rewarding, most exhausting, most happiest experiences I have ever had. There is nothing like it. You can guess, but you can’t really grasp what it means or how it changes you until you are one. You will do anything, ANYTHING, to raise your child into healthy and happy individuals and protect them from the many dangers out there.

As both a mother now and a dietitian, I have had an interesting perspective on fear and family health. Whereas I have always had some health fears and anxieties, those fears have naturally doubled becoming a parent. What really angers me is now, more than ever before, is that negativity and new reasons for fear are thrown in our faces daily, fueled by technology. We are constantly bombarded by horrible stories on the internet and social media about unbacked health claims. You’ve been feeding your kids wheat? Cow’s milk? Look at what you’re doing to them!  We read people’s opinions and stories in the comments about nutrition, and it can impact how we feel. I’ve even seen cyber-bullying in this scenario, and maybe you have too. It can make us second-guess everything we do. If we let it, this negativity can build and be carried with us like a big boulder on our shoulders. We have enough to worry about in our lives, and now I feel I have ruined my kid by letting him eat _____?

We often forget that many of these very bold claims can be misleading, exaggerated, and sadly, meant to cause fear. Why? It is called fear mongering, and it is done to influence the public towards a desired outcome. Maybe the outcome is for you to agree with their stance they so firmly believe in, maybe it’s to sell a product, or many times I don’t even know what the desired outcome is supposed to be. I absolutely h-a-t-e this. The web is now swarming with bogus health advice without any credible source, not based on any scientific study and these claims, if they sound plausible or appealing, spread like wildfire. They can do a lot more harm than good. Go ahead, type in “is wheat good for you” in your search engine. So much negativity, and from what I saw, there was little credible sourcing. More credible sources were found wayyyy down the list. Not fair to the American public I say.

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As parents, or anyone for that matter, we must equip ourselves with the capability of deciphering through fear mongering. This is where registered dietitians can help. Their main job is to decipher the latest studies and evidenced-based diet guidelines into practical knowledge for the public. True, nutrition is an ever-evolving field and there is still ton we don’t truly know. There’s been conclusive studies, (like, we conclusively know trans-fats are bad for you…) but there have also been studies flawed or based off limited information. Think about it: how can you 100% control a study subject’s diet and environment for a lifetime? You can’t. If someone eats this, how do we truly know it’s what they ate that effected them in a certain way? What about their genetics? Lots and lots of outside factors to consider.

Be careful when choosing to eliminate a food group based off a health claim. They are still food groups for a reason, and it is because each of them provide an abundance of vitamins and minerals you might have great difficulty getting from elsewhere.  There are exceptions of course, obviously if you have a wheat or milk allergy, you probably need to eliminate wheat or milk. But, if you eliminate unnecessarily based off a health trend, you may be setting up for more problems in the future. 

Take the gluten-free craze. Some people truly do need to avoid gluten, (example: celiac disease or gluten allergy) but many don’t. Often people initially feel better when they eliminate products like whole wheat (which makes it very appealing), but it is usually because they are eating healthier in general, cutting out a lot of processed foods, and maybe losing excess weight. Later down the road, while avoiding the immense amount of food products that contain gluten, they may find themselves running into nutritional deficiencies, such as anemia, from lack of iron and B vitamins – which causes a whole other slew of health complications. They are also probably buying a lot of gluten-free products that may have a lot of additional sugar and preservatives as alternative fillers, and may be having stomach problems because of the lack of fiber. I’ve seen it too many times, and it was often because they read a claim that instilled fear. If you are concerned about whether your child should avoid gluten, check this out. Cow’s milk is another one up for heated debate. Here is a great read on that topic.

If you think you are having a problem with a food, you should definitely listen to your body. But, get tested for the allergy/intolerance first before eliminating anything. It may be something else you are reacting to and you would be eliminating a lot of things unnecessarily…making it only harder on you.

I may be an expert in nutrition, since that’s what I went to school for, but only YOU are the expert of your body, your life, and what is best for your kids. You know what works and what doesn’t. You may have strong opinions about certain foods, and that’s okay. What I ask, however, is if you read or hear something you want to try, question it. Ask LOTS of questions. What is their source? What science is backing their claims? Sure, a lot of people are doing it, but are there evidence-based guidelines supporting it? Do dietitians support it (watch out for self-claimed nutritionists, not the same thing) ? What could be some long-term effects? Be careful of famous doctor claims too (ahem…Dr. Oz). Although they have “Dr.” in front of their name, remember they are just people too, sometimes just trying to make $$, and there is sometimes a lack of strong scientific evidence supporting what they’re selling.

So, let us vow to let evidence-based facts, not fear, run our lives. Let us not be led blindly. Keep things simple for ourselves and our kids (hard to do nowadays, I know…). We all deserve a positive outlook on life. As a mother (or father), encourage them to eat healthier by turning off the TV and having sit-down meals as a family. Get them in the kitchen with you to help cook and be a part of the process. Teach them about the “red, orange, or green rule,” which is having some vegetable/fruit of that color on their plates in place of processed foods. And lastly, try to avoid distinguishing foods as “good” or “bad.”  View the diet as a whole picture, rather than focusing on just one part.  Incorporating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and healthy dairy products is truly the key.

Until next time!