Be skeptical about diet info, fads, warns expert

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — The internet gives young people more access to nutritional information than previous generations, but a dietitian recently warned students to have a healthy skepticism.

Hannah Da Silva, a registered dietitian and researcher from Toronto, recently told the National 4-H Members Forum that many differing messages are spread through social media sites that could lead to eating disorders and fad diets.

“It’s easy for laypeople to spread information around on Facebook, etc., and spew information that could be harmful,” she said.

“Youth have a pretty good understanding of nutrition, but the information is often contradictory.”

She said young people should consult with a registered dietitian before embarking on the latest fad diet or vegan lifestyle. Registered dietitians are the best source of reliable information, she added.

Da Silva said Celiac sufferers must avoid the gluten protein found in wheat, barley and rye because it causes gastrointestinal issues and inflammation in their small intestine. Gluten is found in bread but also hidden in other food such as salad dressings.

Some might get a rash from wheat, while others have gluten intolerance, which results in fatigue and bloating. Neither requires total abstinence from grains, she said.

“A little bit might be OK.”

Going gluten free as a lifestyle choice is expensive, less tasty and can lead to imbalances in the diet, she said.

For those without food sensitivities, Da Silva said choosing whole wheat pasta is best, but eating regular pasta also works if more vegetables are added to the plate to increase the nutritional value and fibre content.

Protein shakes may be useful for high performance athletes who require more protein, but she recommended choosing those with as few ingredients as possible.

Young people also asked about the potential harm in eating late in the day.

Da Silva said healthy eating is about the ins and outs.

“Weight is a balance of how many calories you consume and how many you use up,” she said. “It doesn’t matter when you eat, but just how much.”

However, she said evening eating often includes poorer choices, mindless snacking such as eating an entire bag of potato chips and eating well past the point of feeling full.

Moderate amounts of nuts, al-though high in calories, are a better choice because they are rich in nutrients.

Da Silva advised eating regularly to avoid being over hungry after school or when coming home late from club activities. She also suggested adding nuts and fruits and increasing lean proteins to make them feel fuller longer.

Da Silva said there is little need for multivitamins and supplements with a balanced diet. Many foods are already fortified.

“You can have a healthy balanced diet,” she said.

“You can do it on a budget, but it takes work.”

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