Defining ‘best’ foods is a matter of ‘fact’, not ‘perception’

By Amanda Johnson 20/03/2012

I was shocked to read an article in the Sunday Star Times a week ago (11 March) by Lee-Anne Wann that was full of inaccuracies, was misleading, and could be potentially dangerous for some people.

The article Defining ‘best’ foods is a matter of perception made the following incorrect claims:

1. Not all people carry excess body fat because of excess calories.

FACT: For weight loss to occur, a calorie deficit is ESSENTIAL!

Here is a quote from the Obesity Task Force Report of the British Nutrition Foundation (which I edited some years ago), written by some of the world’s leading experts in obesity:

’One of the few statements about obesity that can be made with absolute certainly is that obesity can only occur when energy intake remains higher than energy expenditure, for an extended period of time. This is the incontrovertible foundation stone upon which any theories of obesity must be built.’

I think this sums it up nicely.

2. Butter is an excellent source of iodine.

FACT: No, actually, it isn’t. Butter contains negligible amounts of this important mineral. This dangerous misinformation may put people at risk of iodine deficiency, particularly those with high requirements such as pregnant and breastfeeding women. Bread made with iodised salt, fish and eggs are good sources of iodine.

3. Full fat coconut cream has a huge host of benefits.

FACT: Both butter and coconut cream are high in saturated fatty acids, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Intake of such foods should be kept to a minimum. For people at high risk of CVD, consuming such products could put their health at risk.

4. Otago University have published a list of 49 foods to avoid

FACT: The NEEDNT food list, to which this statement refers, is not ’Otago University’s 49 Foods to Avoid’ as stated in the article. In fact, it is a tool designed to help obese people replace certain foods that are high in calories with lower-calorie, more nutritious alternatives. It is intended to be used in a clinical context by health professionals, in conjunction with other relevant nutrition information. The Science Media Centre held a briefing on this last month, which received quite a bit of coverage.

I know other dietitians were equally alarmed by some of the claims made in the article, and Dietitians New Zealand, our professional association, contacted the Sunday Star Times to express their concerns last week. Unfortunately their letter was not published, although the original article did attract some attention in the letters page this week (18 March).

It’s a real shame that once the inaccuracies in the article had been clearly pointed out by Dietitians New Zealand (a leading expert organisation in the field of diet and nutrition), that the correct information was not published in the paper the following week.

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