I’m just now tapping into cardiology fellow Dr. Danielle Belardo’s excellent podcast called Nutrition Rounds. She goes by the handle TheVeggieMD. What drew me to her podcast was her recent interview with the amazing David Katz, MD. He’s recognized globally for his expertise in nutrition, weight management and the prevention of chronic disease. When in the podcast interview, he was asked why there’s a lot of confusion in the nutrition space, especially among MDs, his frank response, based on his decades of experience, summed up the situation perfectly. What did he say?
“I honestly don’t think, especially among physicians, there’s very much confusion. I think there’s more collusion.”
The bottom line is that a) all the best health outcomes are associated with unprocessed plant-predominant and plant-exclusive diets and b) collusion exists within numerous industries to bombard us with competing messages about the healthiest diet because there is tremendous profit to be made from doing so. The industries actively foster what Dr. Katz refers to as pseudo-confusion. Due to the competing messages, we pretend we’re confused about what to eat because as long as we’re confused, we don’t actually have to change the way we eat. Does this resonate with you? This certainly used to be my perspective.
Here is Dr. Katz’s list of industries that are promoting and profiting from our pseudo-confusion:
1. Food manufacturers
We know companies that manufacture food, as Dr. Katz puts it, “hire teams of PhDs, give them a functional MRI and marching orders to design food that people can’t stop eating until their arm gets tired from lifting it to their mouths.” They can cater to any niche (such as gluten-free, low-fat and low-carb) by creating processed food that we’re hard-wired to enjoy. They make it that much harder to put down the engineered processed food and pick up commonsensical whole foods. There are lots of unprocessed foods that can fit into a wide variety of eating patterns. It’s just that the food manufacturers won’t profit (as much) from them.
2. Medical and pharmaceuticals
These industries make money from treating diseases that could have been prevented through lifestyle choices. I know from decades of work in pharmaceuticals that, generally, a pharmaceutical company would love nothing better than to be able to sell a drug that people will use long-term. This maximizes sales and profits. Drugs for high cholesterol and high blood pressure are perfect examples. Also, we also know that physicians receive very little training in nutrition (despite the fact that diet is the third leading risk factor for death and disease combined in Canada). At the same time, pharmaceutical companies are tightly linked to the medical community: they wield influence through sponsorships, grants, partnerships and educational opportunities, to name a few. So it makes sense that many physicians are more comfortable with the practice of prescribing medication rather than beans and greens.
Per Dr. Katz, who worked for a couple of years at Good Morning American, the media industry “doesn’t want us to be too secure in our knowledge because then we won’t need to tune in tomorrow to get confused again.” So they keep changing the story. I recall someone saying years ago that we all want to hear good things about our bad habits. And it’s bound to happen if we keep tuning in, right? Butter is back! It’s not the fat it’s the sugar! It’s all in our genes so eat whatever you want! I think this very human desire to cling to our favourite foods is closely tied to our pseudo-confusion.
The number of books published about a wide array of diets is astonishing. A quick search reveals books like Whole 30, The Plant Paradox, Keto Woman, Celery Juice, and 131 Method. Dr. Katz points out that people who live in The Blue Zones (pockets in the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives) simply eat what the generations before them ate. They don’t need to explore the latest eating trends in search of something better. They already know that eating mostly unprocessed plant-based foods is the best fuel for their bodies. As for the rest of us, we may prefer to believe, given what we see on the bookshelves, that this is all a conflicting and confusing mess. Maybe we’ll eat more veggies and whole grains when there’s some consensus among all those authors. (It may take awhile.)
5. Health Experts
Dr. Katz points out that, if an expert is given a platform, the temptation is to “sound special”. To have “the winning formula”. Even if health experts agree on most of what healthy eating looks like, the tendency is for them to focus on the differences, rather than the similarities. This leads again to the perception of competing messages, and again to the tendency for us to take no action.
“Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”
You’re likely already familiar with this quote by writer Michael Pollan. Dr. Katz noted that this quote sums up everything we need to know in order to eat healthy, based on a massive amount of evidence. I definitely agree. If you’re not already eating mostly unprocessed plants, is now the time to put aside everything that’s holding you back, and simply make the change? There’s no time like the present.