DECLARING WAR ON MAINSTREAM NUTRITION
By Monika Tarkowska-Carter, CPT, LWMC, HLC 2
Dear Los Angeles Times Editor and Health Section Editor,
I have been a reader of your Health section for quite some time now but it hasn't been until recently, since you started publishing James S. Fell's articles to be exact, that I have started seriously questioning the qualifications of your writers. I did a little bit of research on Mr. Fell and short of his ONE certification he is an individual with an MBA employed by a technology company in Calgary who specializes in marketing. I don't even think he qualifies as a trainer. How many years has he been in the training industry? How many actual clients has he trained? How much continuing education does he have? How many conferences does he attend? Fell claims that his certification is a "gold standard" in the training industry. Well, it is not. It is a good certification, like many others, but a gold standard? By whose standards? I am a health and fitness professional myself. I have been in the industry for almost 19 years. I am a certified personal trainer, nutrition counselor and a Holistic Lifestyle Coach. I hold certifications from ACSM, NASM, NSCA, ACE, UCLA Extension and CHEK Institute. I am currently pursuing a degree in applied and holistic nutrition.
I have trained dozens of clients. My specialty is weight loss and weight maintenance as well as special populations, post-rehabilitation training and general fitness. I have been running my own company, Fitness Science, Inc. for over 15 years. I hope this qualifies me somewhat to talk about Mr. Fell and his articles.
While I enjoyed Jay Blahnik's articles published by your paper until fairly recently, I do have an issue with both the subject matters chosen as well as qualifications of the current author. I happen to know Jay Blahnik from many conferences that I have attended over the years. He is a fine professional. His columns were informative for an average reader looking for good fitness information. They were to the point and addressed many interesting aspects of fitness. James S. Fell, on the other hand, seems to have chosen to thrive exclusively on the criticism of others. How about some real information that readers would actually benefit from? Fell seems to also be extremely subjective having spoken from the point of a fitness enthusiast rather than an experienced trainer or nutritionist. Here's one example: the Bowflex machine. I have many clients and friends who have used it and love it. They have all been able to get great workouts on it. It is a good and relatively cheap piece of home equipment, especially when space is an issue. Just because Mr. Fell doesn't use it and says it's bad it doesn't make it so.
Another example from his latest article: the Paleo-Cleanse Powder, produced by a much respected supplement company Designs for Health, which he criticizes in a rather stupid and sarcastic way, happens to be extremely effective. ( I have used it myself with great results.) I wish Mr. Fell, and many others so quick to criticize any kind of detoxification, had at least a bit of knowledge about the phases of detoxification in the human body and were able to understand that while our bodies have a pretty ingenious design they were NOT equipped to deal with the amount of chemicals and toxins we have been bombarded with in the last 100 years. But Fell is obviously incapable of seeing the real picture.
He couldn’t even get the name of the organization right when citing his fellow trainer as certified by the National Association of Sport Medicine. Such organization does not exist. It is called the National ACADEMY OF SPORTS Medicine. It just shows you how familiar he is with the fitness world.
It is, however, his most recent article from Monday, Dec. 20th, that had me enraged. What does he REALLY know about holistic nutrition? Or is it, maybe, his physician wife's point of view who, gathering from her comments mentioned by Fell, subscribes strictly to allopathic medicine? And what kind of knowledge does she have in nutrition in general, considering that most medical schools offer a few hours of basic nutrition as part of their curriculum?
I have been trained in and have taken hundreds of classes and lectures in nutrition as it has always been my special area of interest. It is my complete disenchantment with the "mainstream nutrition" that prompted me to look further and embrace holistic nutrition. While I agree with Fell that there are many bad, unqualified holistic nutritionists (as is the case in any profession), I assure you that there are just as many terrible ones that are Registered/Licensed Dietitians. As a matter of fact, I found the holistic ones to be superior in many cases because they are not only able to think independently but, what is more important, do not constantly change their position depending on what the current new “wave” or fad presented as “research” and promoted by the ADA or food industry is. The majority of mainstream dieticians are slaves to the American Dietetic Association which, as all of you hopefully know, has very strong ties to the food companies. They have lost their own voice even when they know, that especially now, this voice is so badly needed. I have real trouble believing they have all been so brainwashed that they can't see for themselves what's happening in this country and where all the misinformation about food has taken us.
I have had the benefit of observing this particular industry for the last 18 years, listening to lectures of nutrition scientists, sport nutritionists, dietitians, etc. at various conferences I regularly attend and I have seen it go from one extreme to the other making this country fatter and fatter. One huge difference between holistic nutritionists and mainstream ones is the fact that we have not changed our position stand on many issues: we have always advocated eating healthy, organic, whole, unprocessed foods - foods that are natural and not genetically modified, full of chemicals like pesticides, herbicides and fungicides or full of hormones and antibiotics or coming from animals fed the unnatural diet of grains and other junk. (For anyone doubting these facts, please, see the movie "Food Inc."). It is the mainstream nutritionists that keep constantly changing their recommendations from one extreme to the next: low fat, nonfat, high carb, low carb, high protein, low protein, vegetarian, good fats, bad fats.
Your last Monday's section is the most “brilliant” example of this kind of flip-flop. Just look at the article "Carb Reversal". You couldn't have chosen better than to print the above article together with James S. Fell's article on the same day. Fell criticizes holistic nutritionists who have maintained their position on natural foods and who tailor their recommendations to individuals as opposed to many mainstream nutritionists who follow the constantly changing “research”. Do you see my point? I remember when Barry Sears published his book on the Zone Diet and finally made us aware of the dangers of too many carbs and insulin resistance. There was an absolute uproar in the nutrition world. How can he say such things? How can too many carbs be bad? How can more fat be good? There were so many people trying to defend their position of the old school. I personally know good nutritionists who were afraid to stand up to the public and their peers' criticism, in fear of being laughed at. But then the inevitable happened - quietly, more and more of them started saying that actually adding more protein couldn't hurt, adding some fat might be beneficial, etc., etc.
Take a look at the article you just printed on carbohydrates. If you read points of view of different scientists many of them are now almost totally convinced about the benefits of cutting down carbohydrates. They were just as convinced before about eating low fat, low protein and so on. Mind you, if you read carefully, some are actually saying that eating even saturated fat may not be so bad after all. Am I reading this right???
But wait, they are still very cautious about actually recommending saturated fat.
So here's the news for all of you who don't know much about holistic nutrition. It has never demonized saturated fat, or any food for that matter, as long as it was in its natural form. Read: AS INTENDED BY NATURE! Neither has it confused people for years switching from one recommendation to the next.
And maybe a definition of holistic nutrition is in place here. What is it really? It is nutrition based not only on natural healthy foods but one that takes a whole person into account. This means looking at different issues/problems that a person may present with and looking at a nutritional (read: natural) way of addressing it. Yes, food is that powerful. Many times an improper diet will result in hormonal dysregulation (including some thyroid issues), blood sugar problems, weight issues, depression, fatigue, and so on, just to name a few. Mr. Fell disputes this as if either he or his wife were experts on nutrition. Neither one actually is.
As to the use of supplements: holistic nutritionists use them to HELP the body while trying to fine tune it with a properly designed nutritional plan, and only as long as it's absolutely necessary. I would dare to dispute the fact that many supplements are unsafe (though some certainly can be) and propose that many drugs prescribed by doctors are a lot more harmful than most people realize. The sad part is - physicians are aware of it but their relationship with the drug industry pays for their houses, cars and nice lifestyles many of them have, as one of my colleague's clients, an orthopedic surgeon, admitted when asked if he was aware of the dangers of prescribing strong anti pain and anti inflammatory drugs long term. If doctors sell/prescribe drugs why can't holistic doctors or nutritionists sell natural supplements? Let's judge everyone equally here and apply the same standards to everyone. And let’s not be delusional about what drives the medical industry. Big PHARMA is ALL about the money. So what’s wrong with holistic practitioners charging for supplements they might use to help treat their patients? (Actually, many of them do it only as an added convenience for their patients and in many cases they just refer clients to homeopathic pharmacies.)
So why do we have such a mound of misinformation and why are we making this nation fatter and fatter? Well, that's a very multi faceted question, but one that I will attempt to answer here. It starts with the power of the food industry and then drug industry, respectively. There is a great saying that "a lie repeated a thousand times becomes the truth". Many years ago when the rate of lifestyle diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease started to rise somebody decided that the dietary fat was to blame. So the food industry quickly figured out that it could make a huge profit by making us believe that a high carb diet is the answer. Well, it was, sort of, but only for a short period of time since, as we all know, the truth will always come out in the end. Why? Because most carbohydrate products are easy to produce, very cheap to make and with the addition of some wonderful chemicals and preservatives, can last almost forever. So the food industry pushed it for as long as it could.
Then came the "healthy" vegetable oils. The truth about vegetable oils got so entirely twisted that not only did every restaurant and food vendor advertised that they used ONLY vegetable oils but the nation's incidence of cardiovascular disease got completely out of control. Why? Because it changed the healthy ratios of fats in our diets advocating almost exclusively Omega 6 fatty acids, which we know are pro-inflammatory and leaving Omega 3, the anti-inflammatory ones, way behind. Now we are desperately trying to reverse that mistake.
Trans fats came next. Noted scientist and an internationally known lipid researcher, Dr. Mary Enig, (author of "Eat Fat, Lose Fat" and "Know Your Fats") tried to tell us close to 20 years ago how destructive trans fats were to the human body and how much they contributed to heart disease. Her research funding got cut off by one of the food giants. But, as I said before, the truth always comes out in the end. And it has. But they were considered "healthy" because they were super cheap to produce, had a never ending shell life and were a source of huge profit. The information on the extremely beneficial coconut oil is just as twisted and incorrect. (Please, read Dr. Enig’s research in the books mentioned above if you are interested.)
So...what about the "bad" guys, the demonized saturated fats? So here's the news. We all really need them. They are absolutely necessary for the production of sex hormones, needed in times of stress etc., etc. (their many beneficial effects are beyond the scope of this article). So wait, did I actually see it right? Did Dr. Ronald Krauss say in your article: "....and don't agonize about saturated fat"? Did Dr. Stephen Phinney actually say that he eats "less than 50 grams of net carbs a day ...." (Oh God!)"....including cheese and buttermilk"? He says he would rather eat a diet higher in fat, rich in protein and lower in carbs than take two drugs a day with side effects, which he used to do to control his blood pressure. Am I hearing this right? A diet higher in fat and rich in protein so he WOULDN'T have to take two drugs??? Is Dr. Edward Saltzman saying: " A very-low carb diet is likely healthier for the long term...."? Dr. Walter Willet, an often cited authority on food from Harvard School of Public Health, is living on "...well under..." 40% of carbs per day? What would have the nutrition world said if he admitted to doing that 5 or 10 years ago?
And Dr. Eric Westman: "If we were to design a one-size-fits-all diet, it should probably be a low carb diet. We should go back to the days of hunter-gatherers. The secret to maintaining a low carb diet is to increase fat intake, but only natural fats, not man-made fats. I can keep patients on a low-carb diet forever if they can have cream, butter and bacon". No, really? There is a great book on the subject, ignored by many, as books that speak the truth often are, by Uffe Ravnskov, MD, PhD - "The Cholesterol Myths - Exposing the Fallacy that Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease". It is an amazing read, however technical at times, for anyone who wants to know the facts about cholesterol and how the whole "theory" was created and the truth twisted.
Linus Pauling once said during one of his lectures: "A person who is 10 years ahead of his time gets a Nobel prize. The one who is 25 or more years ahead is considered a quack". How so very true and so very sad! There have always been people who told the truth about nutrition but we refused to listen to them. Why? Because it is money that we listen to and wherever there is an opportunity to make a buck the "research" gets twisted accordingly.
So here we have just come back full circle. Saturated fats are NOT bad as long as they are (as I said at the beginning of this article about where holistic nutritionists stand on the subject) NATURAL. But here's the REAL problem. Most people don't even have an idea how natural foods taste because they grew up on commercial foods of this country.
Just a funny little anecdote here. As a health professional I obviously care about the quality of the food my family eats. I cook everything myself, buy only natural and organic foods and make almost everything from scratch. Yes, it is a little more costly and more time consuming but worth every penny and every minute of extra time. Since, in my opinion, pasteurization and homogenization of dairy has caused more problems than it was intended to prevent I am not a big proponent of it. (Most people unfortunately do not realize that Louis Pasteur, the father of the "germ theory" and an inventor of the pasteurization process, revised and re-stated his own theory in 1882). A while back I switched to raw dairy products which I have shipped to me directly from a reputable organic farm in Northern California. My husband, who grew up in America and was used to eating processed foods, made a comment when he took his first sip of raw milk and his first bite of raw organic cheddar cheese: "It tastes like a barn!" Well yes, alleluia! It actually taste like real food is supposed to taste. I grew up in Poland. Yes, on organic raw dairy, saturated fats and other presumably "unhealthy" foods. I was always a picture of health until I came to the US. It is the food here that has caused me many health issues like mercury poisoning and digestive problems. Now I am adamant about seeking the best quality foods I can find even if it adds some inconvenience to my life. Just to be clear, I do NOT expect everyone to run out and start ordering from farms or buying organic food only. I know people are struggling with other issues at the moment. What I am proposing, however, is speaking up for natural foods and beating the food giants who will sacrifice anybody's health to get profits at any cost. Have we all lost our voice? Do we even have a voice anymore?
Here, I would like to go back to saturated fats for just a moment. Many people, I am sure, will argue with me that saturated fat has been shown to cause heart disease, to be pro-inflammatory and so on. Yes, it is true but ONLY partially. Studies done on saturated fats have been conducted only on animals fed, what is now considered standard and "normal", grain diet. Grains are NOT what animals were designed by nature to eat. They contain mainly polyunsaturated fats and if the amount in the body is disproportionate to saturated fats they will cause an inflammatory response. So for years we were constantly told that saturated fats were bad and grains, low fat diets and artificial fats were good and look what we have done to this country's health.
And in the meantime the drug companies have been having a field day - selling more drugs than ever before: for cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease and various cancers. When are we finally going to get smarter and figure this out and accept the simple fact that it is NOT a good idea to fool with Mother Nature? We would be so much better served if we put all our time, money and resources to protect it so it can feed us the real healthy foods as it was initially intended to do? When are we finally going to figure out that denaturing food is a bad idea and stand up to expect the food producers to give us quality versus quantity?
THE BIGGEST SIN IN THE NUTRITION INDUSTRY TODAY.
I think we have done the biggest disservice to people by categorizing them as the same and absolutely refusing to believe in biochemical individuality. Why is it so hard to see that people are different, that our chemistry is different, that how we individually respond to food and what we need depends hugely on our ancestry, our genetics, where we live (the climate and temperature), our state of health, stress levels, age and many other factors? Why can't we just accept that some of us will thrive on a high-carb diet while others will be a lot healthier on proteins and fats?
I have worked with many different clients in the past and, with my experimental nature, have used myself as a guinea pig and I can tell you that people's response to foods and different diets varies drastically. More interestingly, it also varies within the same person depending on many factors at that particular moment. A wonderful book on the subject was written by Dr. William Wolcott ("The Metabolic Typing Diet") who has done a tremendous amount of research on the subject of hormonal responses to food and biochemical individuality.
Many people are seemingly incapable of evaluating research, listening to the information fed to them in the media and press and then actually using their heads to think and make their own conclusions. Many scientists and most of the public are guilty of just repeating what they hear, blindly following others and never using their own ability to think for themselves. That's a long lost talent. So now we are paying the price. Good information on foods and nutrition has always been available out there. You just have to look for it and be able to distinguish between the truth and “research” driven by the desire to make a name for oneself as a scientist or the desire for financial profits.
We as public have to become more responsible for our own education, our children's education and our own lifestyle choices and decisions. Good nutrition really isn't as complicated as they try to have us believe. While confusion pays off for an invested few it leads most of the public to disastrous results. The state of our country's health is but one such example.
People like Dr. Stephen Barrett, now notorious in the medical field for his website Quackwatch.com and who Fell “consulted” for his article, will always exist. He has obviously made it his retired-life's mission to discredit many accomplished and successful professionals from the medical industry. (I have sent him a letter some time ago regarding his position on holistic dentists with whom I have personally had nothing but an amazing experience and whom I admire for their depth of knowledge). His opinion on many fine professionals, specializations, procedures and conditions is totally unfounded and simply shows his lack of knowledge as well as close-mindedness.
I would like to add here that I have been in the scientific circles all my life. I grew up as a daughter of a research scientist. My father is a world famous embryologist, a published author of over 70 scientific papers (among them a few in highly regarded Nature), recipient of many international awards, including a prestigious Japan Prize, and member of numerous international academies including the National Academy of Sciences in the US. The rigors of scientific research are not foreign to me. I can't help but wonder though: why are we so arrogant and cannot accept the fact that just because the research hasn't been done YET but the human experience shows otherwise, it is not true? How can we be so sure? Do you really think we need a double-blind, 10-year long research study with 10,000 subjects to show that blueberries are good for us? And why do you think there AREN'T more studies on natural foods and supplements? It is so very, very simple I cannot comprehend why people do not see the truth. Who would pay for a study of a substance that no one can patent or make huge profit on? Who do you think funds the studies if not food and drug industries? It makes absolutely NO sense for them to provide funding for the studies of anything natural.
As to Mr. James Fell - here is my brief advice:
I wholeheartedly congratulate you on changing your lifestyle habits and losing 45 or so pounds. A successful dieter you may be but an accomplished and experienced trainer or nutritionist you are NOT. So use your time more productively and instead of trying to make a name for yourself by only criticizing others in the areas you often know nothing about take some advanced courses in both training and nutrition and get yourself more educated. Oh, and one more thing..... once you've listened to all the information, don't forget to think for yourself!
* Articles mentioned above from LA Times, Dec. 20, 2010
1. “Does “H” in HN stand for hokum? – by James S. Fell
2. “Carb Reversal” – by Marni Jameson
3. “Cleaning up your carb act: Where to begin? ” – by Marni Jameson