Leading Nutrition Academy Sells Credibility

File this under #WTF.

Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) everywhere are blazing with outrage at the latest devious move by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the Academy/AND).

In a move that would leave thousands of Dietitians feeling betrayed, the Academy’s board of directors made a closed-door deal with Kraft cheese. Kraft paid the Academy an undisclosed sum of money to allow them to use the “Kids Eat Right” logo on their plastic cheese.

RDNs found out about it when the news broke on the New York Times. Then in a great piece on the Huffington Post. Then on the Daily Show. Soon, it was on every major news network.

Mixed signals about nutritious food

First, it’s not even legally “cheese”, which is why it’s called a “cheese product”. Second, it’s certainly not environmentally friendly. Third, I would rather see a kid eat minimally processed cheese over Kraft cheese for the same nutrients.

Listen, I believe that people should be allowed to make whatever choices they want about what food to eat. But when nutrition organizations are confusing people about what’s healthy and what’s in question, it makes it harder for people to make smarter choices.

Sitting at the table with junk food companies

Some argue that we should partner with companies like Pepsi-Co, McDonald’s, etc, to make healthier options. They aren’t going away, after-all. If we can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

The free market does more to motivate food companies to make healthier food than does any nutritionist. By letting these companies lobby us, we can’t stay neutral. Thinking that nutritionists are actually raising the consciousness of a food company above what the free market does sounds like self-deception.

Big Food companies care about raising the numbers on their income statements, not their consciousness.

A minority of RDNs think processed junk food is healthy.

Contrary to what the media and some non-RDNs may like to portray, there aren’t many RDNs out there who think that Kraft cheese is real food. Some argue that it’s a “good source of calcium, protein and vitamin D” for kids.

They argue that processed, packaged food is fine.  After all, I don’t sew my own clothing or build my own car. Why would I also cook my own food? 

Well, I respect that the world is diverse. And I respectfully disagree.

The majority of RDNs believe food is medicine, and junk food is not medicinal.

The majority of RDNs value whole food. Minimally processed. Time in the kitchen is a chance to connect with family, famers, and maybe, with the circle of life.

Listen, I get it that lots of people may genuinely not have the skills, interest, or time for cooking. An RDN meets a person where they are at and partners with them. It’s our job to help them make the healthiest food options that are available to them, given whatever limitations.

Sure, eating Kraft Cheese once in a great while won’t kill you. But junk food should not be billed as healthy.

Junk food companies want you to believe junk food is healthy.

It amazes me just how confusing nutrition has become. Some argue this is by design. The more confused people are, the more they need an easy answer. And nothing shouts “healthy” to a busy parent than a Kraft Cheese label shouting “Kids Eat Right”, from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

For many, junk food is a means of getting rich and profiting at the expense of confused consumers. Big Food companies fall into this category. Nutrition organizations have no business promoting them, in my professional opinion.

Consumers Are Betrayed.

Behind all of these nutrition schemes are money and politics. I interviewed Andy Bellatti, MS, RD, How Food Politics Affect Your Health. You can find them here as Part 1 and Part 2.

It’s amazing that nutrition has become so unnecessarily political. It’s a money grab. Big Food makes misleading food labels and cherry-picked health claims. It takes a nutrition expert to decode the confusion.

For the nutrition professional, keeping up on trends is full-time work. For the average adult with children and other busy responsibilities, keeping up is nearly impossible.

Dietitians and Nutritionists Fight Back

While nutrition experts might not agree on everything, the consensus is that the Academy should not endorse any food, especially junk food. There is a petition to repeal the endorsement that causes confusion for the public, which garnered over 8,000 signatures in 4 days.

RepealthesealRD

The Dietitians for Professional Integrity (DFPI) is a group of RDNs exposing the problems with receiving sponsorship and money from Big Food and Big Ag groups. This includes McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Monsanto, General Mills, and Kellogg’s. I am one of several founding members.

As David Katz, MD stated in the Huffington Post,

“It’s bigger than dietitians. I mean no offense, here; it’s bigger than physicians, too, and all health care professionals put together. In those places around the world where people eat the best, it’s not because their clinicians get it right and provide terrific guidance; it’s because their culture gets it right, and no guidance is necessary. The Blue Zone populations live, and thrive, in places where all available food is true food, and there is no predatory, profit-driven nonsense to compete with the truth about food. We ought to have what they’re having.

“Truth and food go together and belong on the same menu; junk and food do not, and never did. The truth about food should issue from those devoted to public health, not be manufactured by those apt to profit at its expense.”

Calls-to-action:

  1. Please sign this petition to support our effort to repeal the Kids Eat Right logo on Kraft Cheese;
  2. Please follow Dietitians for Professional Integrity on Facebook or Twitter.

Recommended resources from my library:

Leave your comments here. What’s the most surprising element of this story? Do you think that nutritionists should partner with junk food companies?

4 comments

  • Uggh, I saw some backlash about Kraft in the media lately, but I didn’t know the reason, until this. It’s one thing for the company to tout itself as healthy (because we tend to be skeptical of self promotion.) But it’s something different entirely for a 3rd party with health credentials to give their seal to a product that most members believe is unhealthy.

    • You said it, Lori! People should be allowed to make whatever choices they want about food. But when nutrition organizations are confusing people about what’s healthy and what’s in question, it makes it harder for people to make smarter choices.

  • Frances, thanks for joining in to the conversation and increasing awareness! In Chinese medicine, we believe that food is medicine as well, and Kraft singles… are not food.

    • Ain’t that the truth! I realize that sometimes, people need to eat food for convenience. I just don’t think that the nutrition academies should have such cozy relationships with these companies, which totally appear as endorsements.

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