Nutrition facts can be very seductive. Many of us believe that if we somehow knew all the nutrition information that there is to know, then we’d have access to eternal life, perfect health, and a really hot body. I’m quite a nutrition groupie when it comes to learning about the latest info, the current research, the hot supplements or the newest diets. The amount of nutrition books I’ve read, sold to used bookstores or never received back from friends who borrowed them could fill up an Amazon warehouse. I love nutrition facts. And at some point, being a bit of a realist, I started to question the nature of such facts. Where do they come from? Who certifies them? And do they pass by a committee of really smart guys with white beards and white coats?
I also started to question the fascinating phenomenon of intelligent and charismatic nutrition experts – be they a Harvard doctor, a super smart dietitian, a raw food guru, or a scientifically sophisticated vegan – all touting the right way to eat, all hitting us hard with research and facts to back up their diet, and all saying something very different from one another.
Facts are funny things. When they prove our beliefs, we love them. When they go counter to our most sacred commandments, we tend to become cranky and combative and ready for a moral crusade. If you work in the nutrition or health or food fields, or if you simply have an interest in these, it’s imperative, I believe, to grapple with this important nutrition fact:
Most nutrition facts have a very short shelf life.
There are very few tried and true and eternal nutrition facts.
In the old days of clinical nutrition, meat was considered the king of foods. Not anymore. Vegetables were once considered food for paupers and nutritionally bankrupt. Fat was once seen as good for you, then we decided it was bad, and now it’s making a comeback. Oats were once seen as fit for animals alone. Now we put them in energy bars. Supplements, vitamins and herbs were thought of as suitable only for hippies, or yuppies who used to be hippies. Now we have mountains of research on the proven clinical value of so many different nutrients and herbs.
Science is a moving target. Always has been and always will be. We are still growing and evolving in our knowledge of the world. Probability-wise, it’s a bad bet at Las Vegas, and surely a bit arrogant to think we have found the one correct way to eat, or a nutrition fact that is bullet proof. So check in with yourself and ask: How wedded am I to the facts about food that I believe so dearly? Do I tend to get overly moralistic? Are there other points of view to consider? Does a nutrition guru who has “the answer” easily sway me?”
Yes, facts are important. But like anything else in life, too much is too much. If you’re suffering from a “high fact diet,” then it may be time to let go a bit and breathe. Notice others around you. Does the certainty they carry around their nutrition philosophy truly serve them? Does it serve others? Do the facts you hold dear ultimately free you, or limit you?
It may also be helpful to consider where your nutrition knowledge actually comes from. Book knowledge in this realm is surely helpful and necessary. But I would suggest that a list of equally compelling sources of nutrition “facts” should include body wisdom, intuition, personal experience, and the collective wisdom of our stories and traditions.