Wednesday, June 06, 2007

the nutrition gap

there was a pretty interesting article from Reuters recently regarding the apparent gap between public knowledge about nutrition and their actual dietary intake.

the CNN post of the article is at:

the basic argument is that the American public tends to admit to understanding nutritional guidelines, but displays an inability or unwillingness to actually follow those guidelines.

this isn't really surprising. i'm sure everyone has seen it in most of the people they know--i know i have. everyone says that they should eat healthy, and for the most part they know this means monitoring fat, carbohydrate, protein, and nutrient intake. sometimes, they even know enough to distinguish between the good, bad, and innocuous kinds of each. a few even take the time to read the nutritional information on food containers for them. most, however, rarely make the effort to consciously choose to follow a diet in foods that would good for their health.

this extends to athletes (including triathletes)...if anything, it especially extends to them. i have friends who are outstanding athletes (try annual Kona qualifers for the Ironman World Championships), whose diets are heavy in cheeseburgers, french fries, burritos, potato chips, muffins, pies, and ice cream. this, despite the fact that they've diligently completed the education that should make them know better (one is even a medical doctor!).

i don't think it's laziness (i mean, anyone who has the discipline to follow an Ironman training plan is unlikely to be too lazy to control their diet). i don't think it's ignorance (it's extremely unlikely that with the amount of knowledge an Ironman has to develop about training that they would neglect something as important as nutrition). i don't think it's apathy (an Ironman, or triathlete, or any athlete, is about competition, and you can't compete if you don't care about things that will affect how you or your competition competes).

i suspect that with athletes there is a carryover effect from the self-confidence and sometimes outright arrogance that comes from the knowledge of having a highly conditioned and supremely capable physical body. i mean, it's entirely conceivable that a world-class athlete at the height of physical ability would feel omnipotent and invincible to anything in the world. if anything, this attitude would be expected, as it's the kind of mindset that would spur an athlete to overcoming ever greater challenges (i.e., they can overcome challenges because they believe they can). an athlete living with this attitude would consider themselves impervious to anything or anyone--including a steady serving of cheeseburgers and french fries.

of course, all this belies the scientific findings that things eventually catch up to you...even the cheeseburgers and french fries. in fact, especially the cheeseburgers and french fries.

which just goes to show you: everybody suffers from the nutrition gap, and it's not really surprising.

but that doesn't make it right, and it shouldn't be acceptable. we can do better--our lives depend on it.

in case the link doesn't work, the full text of the article is as follows:

Study spots gaps in Americans' diet, health IQ

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Ninety percent of Americans say breakfast is an important part of a healthy diet, but just 49 percent manage to eat breakfast every day, a new survey shows.

And only 11 percent know the amount of calories they should consume daily to maintain a healthy weight, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation's second annual Food & Health Survey. "The only good thing is more people tried to guess than last year," Susan Borra, the president of the Washington, DC-based IFIC Foundation, told Reuters.

IFIC commissioned a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults, this March to better understand people's beliefs and behaviors regarding healthy eating. The survey identified a number of "diet disconnects" between what people intend to do and their actual habits, according to Borra and her team.

Among the most striking "disconnects," Borra said, concerned knowledge about good and bad fats. While current guidelines recommend people consume more polyunsaturated fats, found in fish and some whole grain foods, and monounsaturated fats, found in nuts, avocados and vegetable oils, she noted, 42 percent of those surveyed said they were trying to eat fewer polyunsaturated fats and 38 percent reported trying to cut down on monounsaturated fats.

However, 70 percent of people said they were trying to cut down on saturated fat, more than last year's 57 percent. Saturated fats are found in meats, dairy foods, and coconut and palm oils, among other sources, and have been tied to an increased risk off heart disease and stroke.

While 84 percent said they were physically active at least once a week for health benefits, only 44 percent said they "balanced diet and physical activity" for weight management. "That concept of calories in, calories out isn't quite making the consumer radar screen," Borra said. "That's another big disconnect."

And while most people surveyed knew about the benefits of functional foods; for example, 80 percent knew such foods could benefit the heart, just 42 percent actually ate such heart-healthy foods.

"Consumers are interested in health, they want to have a healthy lifestyle, but they're just having a tremendous difficulty achieving it," Borra said, adding that people's "hectic, crazy lifestyles" and the confusing mix of information out there don't help matters.

Borra recommends people stick to good sources of information on diet and health, such as IFIC's Web siteexternal link; the federal government's mypyramid.govexternal link; the American Dietetic Associationexternal link; and the American Heart Associationexternal link .

She also urges people to make incremental changes in their lifestyle habits, rather than trying to do everything all at once, and recommends IFIC's "Your Personal Path to Health: Steps to a Healthier You" as a good source for identifying ways to make these small changes.

"If you just make a couple of small steps a day, you're doing a lot to achieving a healthy lifestyle in the long run," Borra said.

Copyright 2007 Reuters.

1 comment:

Trihardist said...

I admit my guilt. I was even keeping track of my caloric intake and expenditure every day, but I've since dropped that. I hypothesize a sense of entitlement among triathletes. We work so hard and do so much... Don't we deserve a little food-based comfort?

I would also say that Zach's nachos should be a case study in poor triathlete nutrition. Nothing like some post-race nachos and beer.