Lou Schuler

Author, Journalist, Presenter

Posted 03/14/2011

Nutrition: What Do We Know, and How Do We Know It?

New rule: lifting something smaller than your forearm is not exercise

On my worst days, I fantasize about cleaning my house with a shovel. It’s cluttered with so much useless crap that it would be impossible to sort out piece by piece. Better to just shovel it all out and not worry about whether we’ll miss any of it later. As it is, we often can’t find the stuff we need because it’s buried under all the stuff we don’t.

Case in point: Today I found a stack of Kids Discover magazines from 2006. And when I say I “found” them, I mean they were sitting on our dining-room table. It’s the first thing a visitor would see. How they got there is a mystery I’m unlikely to solve.

As long as they’re there, I had to look at them, and one of the themed issues caught my eye. The subject: nutrition. The image: a frowny face made from eggs that look like they were fried in axle grease and a very sad-looking strip of overcooked bacon. The headline: “Are these foods good for you?”

You can guess the answer. They won’t say “f— no!” in a kids’ magazine. But they will tell you that saturated fat is bad, that broccoli is a good source of protein, and that no one — not even bodybuilders (they actually use a photo of a bodybuilder to make this point) — needs to eat more protein than the average American already gets. “Exercise is what makes muscles grow,” it says.

Okay then!

I bring this up for two reasons:

First, because I’ve heard “abs are made in the kitchen” and “nutrition is 90 percent of the battle” so many times that I sometimes think I’m the last fitness professional who still believes in the primacy of exercise to change the way people look and how they feel about themselves.

Second, because I think the average person is still completely confused about what he or she is supposed to eat.

I’ll save the first reason for a future post. For the second, here’s a recent email from a good friend, slightly edited by me:

I’ve had some recent discussions with my mom about nutrition. She’s an ex-reference librarian, so compared to most people, she’s very well read. And yet, she says some things about diet and exercise that really make me wonder about her sources of information.

Her husband is a type-2 diabetic. I gave them the cholesterol talk, which he loved to hear, but she hated. He loves meat, eggs, and cheese. She’s not a fan.

The bigger issue, however, is that because they’ve bought into the conventional wisdom about diabetes, they won’t stop — or even slow — the flow of carbs.

I suppose every fitness and nutrition professional has had similar conversations with friends and relatives. We have a family that we spend a lot of time with. The first time we spent a weekend together, they were shocked to see how much I eat. I got the impression they’d never seen anyone eat three eggs in a single meal, much less four. The fat! The cholesterol!

I don’t remember how I explained my breakfast — I probably said something about the nutritional value of egg yolks and the caloric demands of my activity level — but I knew it didn’t really matter. From that point on I was a cardiac event waiting to happen.

Later this week I’ll get an actual nutritionist to weigh in on the question I ask in the title: what do we know, and how do we know it?

But for now, I want to hear from you:

  • What do you know now about nutrition that’s different from what you once thought was true?
  • Do you think the new conventional wisdom — the advice we get from today’s fitness and nutrition professionals — will stand the test of time?
  • If not, how long do you think it’ll be before we’re on to a new and different understanding of nutrition as it applies to appearance and weight control?

Let’s get the conversation started!