Michael Glab MS, RD, LDN
Everyone is an Expert / Macro Shaming
Updated: Mar 30, 2020
With the proliferation of instant information it seems like we think we’re experts on everything from medicine to auto repair to, of course, nutrition. These days saying “I read about a 5 day juice cleanse, then tried it and lost 6 pounds!” or “I watched a 7 minute YouTube video about ketogenic diet” might as well be the same as receiving an advanced degree in the subject. Maybe what we learned worked for us and fits our lifestyle (or maybe it didn't). However, when it comes to nutrition, what works for one person usually doesn’t work for others.
I was at the 2018 Chicago Triathlon Expo a couple weekends ago promoting services provided by Nutriquity. I met triathletes of all ages and their stories of physical triumph were truly inspiring. One example of the “everyone is a nutrition expert” phenomena really stuck out. I met a 16 year old boy who plays three different high school sports. He was asking me some really good questions and was telling me what he eats daily. For breakfast he ate only eggs. I asked him if he had anything else with breakfast and he said “No, because my mom says carbs are bad.” I then asked where she got that idea and he said “from her nutritionist.”
A lot from that dialogue seemed off to me. Number one, the term “nutritionist” can apply to anyone giving nutrition advice. So his mom’s nutritionist could’ve been a personal trainer, a chiropractor, a hair-stylist or an actual licensed dietitian for all I know. Second, and most importantly, his mom now believes that the advice given to her is now applicable to all others. While she is likely well-intended, this low-carb advice is especially detrimental to a growing 16 year old boy who is also a three-sport athlete. A low carb diet will also likely take a toll on his academic and physical maturation if he were to follow this advice long-term.
Carbohydrates, fat and protein are macronutrients (macros) that provide calories. Calories provide energy. Growing children and teens require balanced energy from all of the macros to learn and get through all of their daily activities. In this case, the 16 year old informed me he doesn’t have a history of diabetes or obesity both personally or in his family. I informed him that carbohydrates are completely fine for his diet and that the advice given to his mom was strictly for her and not applicable to everyone else. Hell, the advice given to his mom could also be completely off-target. I don’t know who actually gave it to her and what the the indications were for doing so. He seemed grateful for the information and I felt like I was in the right place at the right time to help this young man out.
We are now in the second phase of “macro-shaming.” In the 90’s, fat took a lot of blame for people’s health problems. We know polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are the “healthy fats” which should make up most of our fat intake daily (20-35% of daily calories). Saturated fats are fine in smaller amounts and its recommended to keep them at 10% or less of daily calories. But back in the 90’s fat might as well have been the Plague.
Nowadays it’s fashionable to blame and shame carbohydrates. We know that complex carbs such as whole grain wheat, rice, oats and quinoa for example are preferable to refined grains like white bread, white flour, white rice and, of course, the new enemy number one: SUGAR. People seem to think that since carbs breakdown into sugar, that all carbs are bad. That is not the case! Complex carbs like whole grains, fruit and even pasta are great carb sources, especially for athletes, and do not spike blood sugar to the extent that sugar or refined grains do. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends added sugar make up no more than 10% of daily calories daily. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 teaspoons added sugar daily for men and 6 teaspoons daily for women.
I believe those added sugar recommendations above are still way too high and advise clients to further reduce added sugar in their diet beyond those guidelines.
However we’re still missing the bigger picture. Blaming carbohydrates and fat (and probably one day protein) is misguided. These macros are essential for human survival and there is generally no need to eliminate them from your diet if you are healthy. Sure there are better carb choices like oatmeal over skittles or white bread. And sure there are better fat choices like avocado over deep fried cheese curds. The reason I believe social media and people like to blame these macros is because it deflects the blame away from themselves for choosing to eat junk foods.
The Skittles didn’t choose you and neither did the cheese curds. It’s a classic diversion tactic to shift the responsibility to someone or something else. It seems fashionable these days to clear oneself of any responsibility (whether it be legally or nutritionally) by not owning up to their actions. Most people don’t want to be told this, but it’s true. Sometimes a reality check is needed before a lifestyle change can occur.
The main takeaways are that certain diets and lifestyle choices may work for you and that’s great! Believing that what works for will automatically work for others may be detrimental to them despite your best intentions. Macro-shaming is fashionable, but carbs, fat and protein are all perfectly fine for otherwise healthy individuals. If you are confused with the current nutrition information out there, please reach out to a registered dietitian like myself or one of many others as we are rigorously trained to help clients find the best custom diet/lifestyle!