24/03/2014 07:04 GMT | Updated 22/05/2014 06:59 BST

Who Do You Trust for the Best Diet Advice?


With all the message clutter about what to eat and what to avoid, we often throw up our hands, reclaim our seat on the sofa with a big bag of chips, and let out a huge sigh. So whom do you believe for trustworthy and unbiased nutrition information?

1) The nightly news-- touting a new study, which claims chocolate as a health food.

2) Your doctor-- telling you to lower your cholesterol by following the age-old Mediterranean diet.

3) A glossy magazine-- featuring a story about how going gluten-free changed the life of an airbrushed model on the front cover.

4) A respected nutritionist-- explaining that a diet isn't a one-size-fits-all proposition and that there is no magic bullet.

News writers like to sensationalize because that's what increases viewer ratings. What goes unreported is that a food company often funds studies that support its products. Findings can be slanted and summarized in different ways. Conclusions are the opinion of the researcher, who is oftentimes paid by the company or organization funding the study.

Doctors are an integral part of health care but they are not trained nutritionists. Typically, they translate what they read from medical journals into recommendations for patient care. Television doctors (and TV chefs) are good on camera but may not be experts at what they are advocating on TV. They have writers and producers devising their scripts to create a buzz for their audience. Remember it's show time!

The front cover of that glossy magazine determines if millions will be sold. Slick food company advertisements pay to keep the publication in circulation. Publishers look for stories that support their advertisers. We've been pushed to believe that we should look and act like successful celebrities. Like anyone else, actors and models are doing their jobs---working hard to maintain their natural beauty and create an image for themselves. We are buying into Madison Avenue telling us what to do and what to eat based on the sexiness of the magazine's front cover story. Get the picture?

Registered dietitian-nutritionists (RDNs) might not have the hook that sells a product or an angle that makes the news, but they are trained for years, often with multiple degrees to understand how food affects the body. Ethical RDNs will not promote a food, product or a diet to gain popularity. They are trained to translate nutritional science into practice for the benefit of the public. Hardly a sexy story, but this is the truth.

Food companies and industry groups have deep pockets to control the content in the media. With the exploitation of the worldwide web, there is so much written about what we should be eating and doing to stay healthy and live a long life. It is impossible for the public to sort through the mixed messages and know who is behind the hoopla. To fully understand the implications, even health professionals have to dig deeply into articles, which draw opinion on food and nutrition research.

The bottom line is to get back to basics and don't be fooled by gimmicks or fad diets trying to sway you to follow a new trend. Explore your roots and the food culture that has been handed down from generation to generation. If it was good enough for grandma, chances are it's good for you too.

After consulting in the supermarket industry for 20 years, I wrote Beyond The Mediterranean Diet: European Secrets Of The Super-Healthy. In it, I reveal the proven dietary secret of the three healthiest countries in Europe.