Everybody knows you shouldnt smoke cigarettes. Making the decision to do so means accepting the chance of potential consequences.
Unhealthy eating isnt as clear cut. Much of what we know about how we eat continues to evolve, and new research can sometimes contradict what we thought we knew about food.
Dr. Magdelena Greene, an internal medicine physician at Kootenai Clinic, said that news outlets will sometimes highlight studies with sensational conclusions rather than the studies with more sound research but less-than-exciting conclusions.
As part of our training, physicians are required to learn about how to analyze studies, and yet we often get tangled up in these studies as well, Greene said.
Greene said doctors tend to interpret new health and dietary information differently. A few are early adopters and a few will always drag their feet, while most will fall somewhere in the middle.
I would recommend in most things being in the middle of the bell curve or even being the late adaptor on things, especially if there is a potential for something to adversely affect your health, Greene said.
Kimberly Young, a registered dietitian supervisor and WIC coordinator for the Panhandle Health District, said the trend of labeling some items as superfoods is one way media and the food industry can confuse a consumers decision-making process on new research and dietary recommendations.
There are foods that have a lot of nutrition packed into them, but there are no superfoods, Young said. Theres not one food youre going to eat thats going to cure you or reduce your risks. Its the combination of all the things you eat.
Intentionally or not, food manufacturers havent always been truthful in their claims either. Young said a major example of this was the industrys decades-long push of low-fat products being advertised as blanket healthy choices.
In order for something to be low fat, they would sometimes replace it with more sugar or sodium or something that wasnt necessarily healthy, Young said.
Many nutritionists and dietitians have since turned a corner in explaining the importance of certain healthy fats to a diet, and, in turn, the industry has also changed the way they market them (think of how often no trans-fat now appears on food labels).
Still both Young and Greene said theres too much focus on fads, diets, hacks and superfoods. When asked about the recent announcement by the American Heart Association advising against a heavy diet of coconut oil (a popular alternative to other cooking oils, with some research pointing to health benefits), both said there should be more focus on a balanced diet.
We often talk about food as a dichotomy of good versus bad, but this is not necessarily the case for many foods, Green said. In our country we have access to so much information about nutrition, yet I doubt the majority of us are doing the basics, such as eating adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables.
The focus on oils is missing the point, she said. It is like the analogy of always following the speed limit but ignoring every other traffic sign. Eating a healthy diet has so many other components that are important other than choosing which oil is best.
Most medical professionals try to preach a balanced diet of fresh foods and reducing consumption of processed foods and sugar. Poor dietary choices are linked to the nations growing obesity problem, which is now being attributed indirectly to as many as 1 in 5 deaths in the United States, Greene said. Obesity is linked to increased risks for cancer, cardiovascular disease and many more terrible things.
The hard thing about obesity is that changing habits is incredibly hard, and unlike smoking or drinking, food cannot be completely cut out of our lives, Greene said. We have to figure out how to interact with food in a healthy way, which is incredibly hard after having years and years of bad habits.
Greene said there has never been much argument in the medical community about the lack of nutrients in processed foods.
The trouble is these foods can be made and purchased at such a low price, she said.
The solution begins with how people approach their shopping lists.
There is a perception that eating healthy is expensive, and it doesnt have to be, Young said.
Food stamps and programs like WIC have helped low income families with fresh foods and choices that fit into a balanced diet. Farmers markets are another way to shop on a budget.
The way out of the grocery store is you should really spend your time along the outside areas deli, the vegetable and produce area, Greene said.
Young counsels families and individuals on nutrition through programming at Panhandle Health, and she often tells people to avoid drastic, unsustainable changes.
Its about making small changes that will lead to greater results, she said. That could be anything from working on portion sizes or wanting to include more fruits and veggies into a diet.
Even as small steps build into broader lifestyle choices, there should always be a little space saved for a few food vices.
Were all bound to have a treat every once in awhile, Greene said.