Selling healthy nutrition: what the experts just don’t get

Earth to Cleveland Clinic: under no circumstances is a bowl of oatmeal (even one as photogenic as this one featured on your Twitter feed) a “swap” for bacon.

The only possible swap for bacon is another piece of bacon. Turkey bacon is NOT bacon. Those dreadful soy protein veggie bacon-bits are NOT bacon. And a bowl of oatmeal is most certainly NOT bacon.  The only bacon product worth eating is real bacon. Period.  

The clear message here, from dietician Kristin Kirkpatrick (the Wellness Manager of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, so apparently somebody who knows a lot about wellness) is that some foods are GOOD, and some foods are inherently BAD.

Here’s what Kristin wrote for this Cleveland Clinic website post:

“Trend-lovers will be sad to hear this, but I would never eat bacon. It is sky-high in sodium, which is a concern in the modern American diet. Plus I owned a pig, so I just can’t do it.

“The problem with bacon is there aren’t many similar alternatives for breakfast. I would search for other breakfast foods that are rich in nutrients and benefits, but without the drawbacks such as too much sodium. Eggs are a protein powerhouse, and oatmeal (no sugar added) with slivered almonds and berries is a great alternative, as well.”

First of all, let me hasten to add that I am not a “trend-lover” (as my grown children are relentlessly happy to point out).  I am, however, a person who grew up in a big Ukrainian family. On a farm with chickens and a pig whose name was “Ham”. My maternal grandmother lived well into her 90s, outlived three husbands, and survived entirely on a traditional prairie diet dominated by the holy trinity of Ukrainian cuisine: sour cream, butter and bacon. She considered dill pickles to be a vegetable course.

Her view – like mine – was that specific foods are neither bad nor good, but depend on factors like how you prepare them,  how much of them you eat, and  how often you consume them.

And my view is that there are few if any foods you could name that cannot be significantly improved by adding real bacon to them – from ice cream to salad to those famous donuts at Portland’s über-trendy Voodoo Bakery.

And is there anything closer to nostalgia heaven itself than an old-fashioned bacon, tomato and lettuce sandwich on toasted crusty rye, especially if you’re lucky enough to have grown the tomato and lettuce in your own summer veggie garden, dressed with a small whisk of tangy homemade mayo just before serving?  This is a beautiful thing.

A perfectly poached egg nestled on a whole grain English muffin is simply naked without at least one strip of ever-so-slightly over-crisped bacon alongside.

I’ve heard many people say they might even consider becoming vegetarians – except for that pesky no bacon rule…

Kristin is absolutely correct about one thing: there aren’t many similar alternatives to bacon for breakfast. I’d hazard a guess that there is in fact NOTHING like bacon. Ever. When I have a (very rare) craving for real bacon, I would never think:

“Hey! Instead of the bacon I’m craving but have been denying myself for months on end, I think I’ll have a nice big bowl of (!) oatmeal – no sugar added!”

Don’t get me wrong, my darling Nags. I do love my oatmeal, and eat it regularly almost every day for breakfast, week in and week out, all year long. I especially like it the way my sister Catherine makes it: heaped with a chopped unpeeled apple, pumpkin seeds, nuts, cinnamon, flax, with a wee drizzle of 100% pure Grade 2 organic Canadian maple syrup. I do this because this breakfast is very delicious, hearty and best of all, it keeps me feeling full and satisfied until well past lunchtime. I love oatmeal – but I do know the difference between oatmeal and bacon.

The unwittingly ineffective thing about experts warning the great unwashed among us about their Never-Ever lists of BAD food to avoid is the food-shaming implication from an elite bunch of Food Nazis scolding us with their collective pointer fingers wagging in our faces.

The personification of Food Nazi may be best represented by the New York woman who threatened to revoke a legal joint child custody agreement after she found out that her ex-husband had sent their son to school with a lunch that included a sandwich made with white bread.

Talia Pollock, blogging at Party In My Plants on “fun and easy ways to take your life from lame to legendary”, is a recovering Food Nazi, as she explains:

“When I first started eating more healthfully, I turned into a pretty fierce Food Nazi. I would make my parents feel terrible about their dinners, I’d shame my sister for her snacks, and I’d guilt my boyfriend for his meat.

“I didn’t mean to hurt the people I loved! I was doing it out of concern for their health. I was ‘taking care of them’, I told myself.

“But it hurt them. I could tell. (Plus, they told me numerous times!)”

She now suggests this “nice” way to hide the fact that you’re actually a Food Nazi:

“Want to convince your partner that a morning green juice trumps coffee? Show off your green juice energy buzz! They’ll want to get in on that.” 

No, Talia. They won’t. Not until after they’ve had their damned coffee.  Morning green juice does NOT trump coffee.  Nothing trumps coffee when you love coffee.

Her advice on how to be a nicer Food Nazi includes offering those around you positive reinforcement when you catch them doing things you approve of. For example:

“When your co-worker snacks on apple chips instead of Doritos, give him a smile and tell him his apple chips look so good. When your sister orders a salad without the cheese, tell her she rocks. These little ‘gold star stickers’ can go a long way in helping others along their journey.”

Gee, maybe Talia’s gold star sticker idea might work if I wanted to find a “nice” way to tell somebody to wash the dirty car in their driveway, or leave a better tip for their server, or pass any other judgement on others’ personal choices that are also none of my business.

But “helping others along their journey” sounds so noble, doesn’t it? Unless of course you detect a whiff of the smug superiority it just might also suggest.

There are a lot of superior eaters out there, I’ve noticed, many of them tediously eager to share their current trend-of-the-minute – from vegan to bone marrow, gluten-free to quinoa, paleo to kale. (Speaking of which, for many years the biggest consumer of kale in North America was, ironically, the Pizza Hut restaurant chain, whose venues used it not as a food at all, but only to line the big trays on their all-you-can-eat pizza buffet tables).

When Freakonomics authors Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt published a reader comment on their blog suggesting that a McDonald’s McDouble cheeseburger is actually a good dietary bargain at $1 each (and 390 calories, 23 g of protein, 7% of your daily fibre needs, 20% of daily calcium), some huffy Food Nazi-types wrote in to suggest an alternative meal: boiled lentils.

Boiled lentils.

Yes.

I liked Stacy Whitman’s theory on School Bites about why we tend to react the way we do when feeling criticized about our food choices. She was writing from the other side of the lentils, defending parents who’ve been labelled Food Nazis because they want healthier food served in their children’s schools:

“What you eat (or feed your kids) is as indi­vid­ual as reli­gion, pol­i­tics and the deci­sion to cir­cum­cise. Par­ents would not have the same reac­tion if we were talk­ing about switch­ing from chemical-based to ‘green’ clean­ing prod­ucts at school.

“There is some­thing about the sub­ject of food that makes some peo­ple go bananas.”

Stacy is correct. If Cleveland Clinic’s Kristin Kirkpatrick had been tweeting about handy household hints to make my kitchen sparkle, I’d be glad to read them – and then likely happily share her tips with my girlfriends.

But when it comes to food, we already face a relentless public onslaught of finger-wagging, shaming, elitist and critical judgements. These range from subtle raised eyebrows unless you’re buying only organic, GMO-free and locally-raised produce to those “helpful” tips on how to substitute what you like eating with what you don’t. Think: boiled lentils.

Nutrition experts and health care professionals who cannot grasp this reality are often wasting their efforts to change a lifetime of entrenched eating habits in others.

When it comes to sensible common sense wisdom about a return to real food – the kind our grandmothers would have recognized – I like Michael Pollan’s seven-word manifesto, from his highly recommended book, In Defense of Food:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

I can write with some authority on this topic because, sadly, I too have been guilty of Food Nazi finger-wagging.

I remember, for example, stopping dead in my tracks one day while walking through the Minneapolis airport when I caught sight of a mother pouring Coca-Cola into her infant’s bottle.  How stupid does one have to be, I wondered at the time, to feed Coke to a tiny baby?!?

Now, that attitude might not be too far off, in fact, from what Kristin Kirkpatrick was also thinking about breakfast: how stupid does one have to be to eat bad bacon instead of good oatmeal?

But what I know now is that the Minneapolis airport mother’s decision likely had far more to do with what academics call her social determinants of health than any real conviction that Coke is “good” for her infant.

Perhaps, as has been previously mentioned here, I should have approached that woman in person to share my opinion on her beverage choices in order to help her along her journey…

Lest you start thinking that I’m dismissing the importance of making healthy lifestyle choices, let me add that much of my current life as a heart patient with ongoing cardiac issues is, in fact, focused on relentless monitoring and tracking and saying “NO!” to all kinds of food I’d otherwise love to eat. I was a distance runner for 19 years before my heart attack, so I spend part of every day (when I’m not planning, preparing or eating all that heart-healthy food) occupied with sticking shiny sparkly reward stickers on the tiny squares of my bathroom calendar for each hour of exercise I do each day. I also have to be relentlessly careful about getting a good night’s sleep, about taking all of my cardiac meds, and about managing my day-to-day stress.

All of these decisions are aimed at preventing a return trip to the coronary intensive care unit any time soon. So the reality is that I hardly ever eat what I truly love – which is bacon.

And yes, every once in a very rare blue moon when I have a real bacon, tomato and lettuce sandwich on toasted crusty rye, I simply do not care if Kristin or any other expert like her says:

I would never eat bacon!

Here’s my tactful Twitter response to Kristin’s tweet about bacon:

 .

See also:

Or these . . .

Q: What do you swap for bacon?

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6 thoughts on “Selling healthy nutrition: what the experts just don’t get

  1. I have no swap for bacon (unless it’s a slice of my home-smoked brisket nestled up next to my egg and potatoes…) And love the flow chart.

    So much nutrition advice is fad based on dubious science. Interesting that Kristin Kirkpatrick bases her opposition to bacon on sodium these days. In another era it would have been fat. Though I recently read that the official sodium standards in the US are below what is necessary to sustain life, and far below recommendations in other countries. Perhaps they are compensating for the fact that processed foods contain enormous amounts of sodium.

    This year I made ginger snaps with bacon fat for Christmas and shared them with my book group. They were exclaiming over their utter deliciousness, but when I told them the secret ingredient the double-bypass veteran handed me her half-eaten cookie in horror. That’s when the only doctor among us nodded her approval. “Animal fat is important,” she said. Having just attended a nutrition workshop in which the effects of fructose on the liver (including from fruit) was a far greater health (and heart) concern.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Kathleen,
      Home-smoked brisket?! Ginger snaps with bacon fat?! Also heavenly… If we keep up with all food trends/experts/news, we’ll soon have to give up everything – including fruit, for Pete’s sake.

      Like

      • Exactly. I was reminded of the movie SLEEPER.. The time traveler who says he owned a health food store is asked, “So, in your time, there were no hot fudge sundaes?”

        And my mother who dutifully fed us margarine for decades because she thought it was better for us.

        My own rule is on the lines of Michael Pollan’s. I eat whatever I like, just not too much of anything.

        Liked by 1 person

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  3. Wheat causes inflammation. Inflammation is the ‘root’ cause of most diseases. Its shocking that the Cleveland Clinic is so misinformed on nutrition. My own doctor once asked me how gluten was contributing to my asthma symptoms. She had no idea what gluten was.

    Like

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