The second part of an enlightening interview with nutrition sensei Michael Joseph.
“You don’t need to eat X portions of fruit and vegetables each day. Don’t get me wrong, but making people believe they will be healthy if they hit a certain number of apples or oranges is silly,” says Michael Joseph, founder and editor of Nutrition Advance, a leading global portal on nutrition in Australia.
Nutrition Advance has been one of my main sources for science-backed information, calorie counts, free recipes and “what not to eat” since I went on keto. The free ebooks, infographics and precise data were a godsend when I started educating myself on nutrition and separating the real from the fraud.
A nutrition educator with a degree in Nutritional Education, Michael is an authority on clean eating and low-carb living. This man has a passion for busting long-held misguided perceptions about food, making him our Lifestyle Design Hero of the week. One major myth being that fat clogs arteries. “Dietary fat is actually required for the body to absorb nutrients, and to burn fat efficiently,” he says.
What intrigues him is how rather than eating good, honest homemade food, most of us subsist on poor-quality processed foods. If you find yourself confused by the information overload on what to eat and what not to, he believes mainstream media is partly to blame. “If you watch how a particular newspaper or magazine covers nutrition, all they basically do is write controversial headlines about the latest study without fact-checking it. ‘An egg is worse than a cigarette for your heart’ one says. The very next week the publication contradicts itself by printing a headline which says the opposite,” says Michael.
In Part II of the interview [Part I explored keto], he delves into the things you didn’t know about nutrition which are putting you on the road to bad health.
How did you get interested in nutrition?
Michael Joseph: Actually, I had an interest in nutrition from early childhood but I just didn’t know it. As a child, I would always beg my mum to help with cooking and to let me bake on weekends. Of course, the things I made weren’t exactly healthy — cupcakes with bright green, pink and blue icing — but it was always fun.
When I started studying food in school, my grades were excellent but I felt that food and nutrition weren’t a “real” subject at the time. It was fun, but just a life skill rather than a real school subject. In fact IT was the big thing and the most popular subject with boys, whereas cooking and textiles were for girls – please forgive the sexism here – it was just the view of an inexperienced 12-year-old.
The biggest event which led me in the direction of nutrition was when a friend died. Losing a family member, a friend, or any other close person is always difficult, but especially so at a young age. The cause was a condition called sudden arrhythmic death syndrome (SADS); it was very unexpected and obviously devastating. The condition often affects young people, and there are several famous cases involving young athletes. It often has no known cause.
After this, I was very depressed and had a sense of mortality at an age I’d never even considered it. I became a little bit of a hypochondriac, always worrying. I started trying to be ultra-healthy by doing things like avoiding dietary fat, exercising every day, eating lots of grains and fruit, choosing only skimmed milk, and all the other things people conventionally think of as “healthy”.
I realized how important nutrition is to our long-term health, and my passion for it grew and grew. Later though, I’d learn that these conventional views on a healthy diet were sub-optimal at best.
What’s the story behind your website Nutrition Advance?
MJ: I’ve always enjoyed following different websites, but I never really thought about making one myself. A few years ago, I randomly decided to sign up for a Twitter account and started tweeting thoughts about nutrition. Some of them got hundreds of shares which was kind of weird. Why are all these people sharing my tweet? It wasn’t anything groundbreaking – but then some people started messaging me and saying “thank you” and that I’d helped them improve their health. I decided I’d make a website with the goal of helping as many people as possible lead a healthier life.
Running a website and holding a day job [as a nutrition educator] is definitely tough but it’s also rewarding when I know people have found something helpful. The website has been getting 5,000 visitors per day. I started it in August of 2016. There were about 600 daily visitors last December.
What are some of the truths nutritionists and dieticians aren’t taught themselves?
MJ: The biggest thing I’ve learned is that official dietary advice from health organizations isn’t as trustworthy as people think. A good example of this is the fact that in Australia, there is a ‘health star’ system which gives butter 0.5 stars for health yet gives margarine 4.5 stars. It also gives low points to raw whole milk, but calls processed soy milk with added sugar and about a dozen additives, healthy.
#2 Never blindly trust something you hear — even from studies — without researching it for yourself. Unfortunately, the nutrition world is full of bias.
There are numerous documented occasions where the food industry has paid scientists money for a favourable study outcome relating to their products. Then there are various lobbies who all work on influencing public nutrition policy – be they the sugar industry, meat industry, or any other agricultural group.
While many people assert we should all eat a particular way – whether that be the “balanced diet”, vegan, or paleo – the truth is, what is right for one person isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet. Everyone has different wants, health considerations, and requirements.
Why is it that general know-how on nutrition is so far removed from scientific research?
MJ: I think one of the most significant reasons is advertising – and this is the combined result of the food industry making deceptive claims and authorities allowing it.
For example, a breakfast cereal contains large amounts of refined grain, sugar, and vegetable oils (or even trans fat). Often the front cover of the cereal box carries labels such as “Heart-healthy whole grains” or “full of vitamins and minerals for a healthy child”. That’s a load of rubbish.
I have no problem with personal choice when it comes to dietary decisions, but how about some honesty from the companies? Yes, advertise that your ultra-processed food tastes delicious and people love it. That’s absolutely fine. But don’t try to deceive people and pretend it’s health food.
What are the misconceptions among regular readers of your website?
MJ: Obviously, the big one would have to be that “fat makes you fat”, or that “fat clogs the arteries”. Fat does neither of those things (provided you’re consuming it in sensible amounts), and it’s actually essential to our health.
Another would be that we have to eat X portions of fruit and vegetables each day – we don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy fruit and veggies as part of my daily diet and I believe they are beneficial, but making people believe they will be healthy if they hit a certain number of apples or bananas is silly. For example, a few eggs have so much more vitamins and minerals than a typical piece of fruit does.
Is the media partly responsible for spreading half-baked knowledge?
MJ: Definitely. If you watch how a particular newspaper or magazine covers nutrition, all they basically do is write controversial headlines about the latest study without fact-checking it. ‘An egg is worse than a cigarette for your heart’ is a good example from recent years.
Of course, the very next week the same publication contradicts itself by printing a headline saying the very opposite. It’s no wonder the public doesn’t know what they are supposed to eat.
What are you trying to do in this scenario?
MJ: I just want to bring a positive change by educating more people on the truth about nutrition and how important it is.
Many people think of unhealthy food and poor diet being bad because they might cause a little weight gain or possibly a dental filling. But a prolonged unhealthy diet might be the difference between developing or not developing cardiovascular disease, cancer or Alzheimer’s.
Not enough people realize this, and the myth that our genes predetermine our health is far too common.
What is your writing process like?
MJ: It very much depends on the article. If it’s a topic I’m comfortable with and I’ve researched the issue before, it can be one evening. If it’s something where I haven’t deeply looked at the issue before, then it can take a few days.
Recently, I’m trying to write with as much balance as possible, so investigating all the different positive and negative studies does take time. In nutrition, I think it’s important to avoid a biased stance yet we are probably all guilty of personal biases. It’s human nature. So that is something I’m trying to be more aware of.
Did you always enjoy writing?
MJ: I used to love writing fictional stories when I was young. I remember one time when my school teacher gave us homework to write a one-page story, but I got really into it and ended up handing in 18 pages. I was never any good at keeping things short.
MJ: Good health is a lot simpler than most people realize. I want to do my part in helping more people understand that.
Tomorrow: Fats to eat to look leaner
Still hungry? Click below for articles by top bloggers on the subject of nutrition. Should curb your enthusiasm.
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