Niki Bezzant: Get off your high horse, Paleo Pete

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Pete Evans is a chef, not a nutritionist, yet often dispenses nutrition advice. Photo / Grant Triplow
Pete Evans is a chef, not a nutritionist, yet often dispenses nutrition advice. Photo / Grant Triplow

Last week I spoke to a group of nutrition experts - New Zealand's dietitians - on the subject of nutrition in the media.

I told them there was good and bad news. The good news: hardly a day goes by without a story on a nutrition topic. This is also the bad news. Because all that nutrition news isn't equally accurate or helpful. Some of it is downright confusing.

Most recently, our paleo friend Pete Evans has been in the news, under fire for dispensing the advice that people should stop eating dairy because it will remove calcium from their bones. For the record, the experts say this is nonsense.

Pete Evans is a chef, not a nutrition expert, but this does not stop him freely offering personalised and prescriptive advice. Often, in his case, no matter the problem, it involves going paleo and buying his book or online programme.

This highlights an issue I raised with the dietitians.

They are true nutrition experts - trained for years and subject to ongoing professional development, education, registration and monitoring. They could quite justifiably feel a bit sick of our culture of distrust of experts. It's a trend I see in many areas, but it's particularly apparent in science. Witness the ongoing discussion around fluoridation.

It's compounded by the way stories are reported, with news media being vulnerable to falsely balancing opinions from experts and non-experts.

We have seen this in stories about climate change and vaccination, where scientists with the backing of the scientific community, who have dedicated their lives to the study of a specific field, will be forced to "debate" the issues with laypeople who have started a lobby group with a bunch of friends.

Pete Evans has said people should stop eating dairy because it will remove calcium from bones. For the record, the experts say this is nonsense.

In nutrition we see this, too.

A recent example pitted the Ministry of Health advice on coconut oil against the opinion of a non-expert "ambassador" for a coconut oil company.

Unfortunately, this kind of reporting conveys the impression that "even the experts can't agree"!

We throw our hands up and say, "Oh, well, everything's going to kill me. I might as well eat that pie."

This is a real shame.

In fact, the experts agree on a lot.

There are different approaches and yes, even debate on some topics, but people with expertise in nutrition agree a lot more than they disagree. And this common ground often gets overlooked in the hype of the "my diet is better than your diet" media coverage.

I suspect this to be true even for non-experts.

If Paleo Pete came down from his high horse, he would find good news.

That he and any dietitian in the room would agree a whole, fresh-food diet, not too much processed food and lots of veges is good for us all.

• Niki Bezzant is editor in chief of Healthy Food Guide

- Herald on Sunday

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