Beth Kitchin PhD RDN blogs on health and nutrition. Her blogs are fact-based and offer a common sense approach to a healthier life. She's a food lover so don't expect her to tell you what not to eat! Beth is a an Assistant Professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Nutrition Sciences Department and the patient educator at UAB's Osteoporosis Prevention and Treatment Clinic. She also appears weekly as a guest contributor on WBRC's morning show "Good Day Alabama".
Last week, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) were at it again with in-your-face ads blaming a much loved food for America’s poor health. These are the same folks who told baseball fans not to eat hotdogs because eating a hotdog is like smoking a cigarette (see the hotdogs in the cigarette pack here: http://www.pcrm.org/search/?cid=1686). This time, cheese was on the receiving end of PCRM’s wagging finger of shame.
1.They don’t work. Do groups like PCRM honestly think that cheese-loving Americans are going to give up their cheddar because of obnoxious billboards like these? If anything, contrarian Americans will eat more cheese just to show ‘em that they can’t tell us what not to eat. I count myself among cheese-loving contrarian Americans and am eating a piece of cheese as I write this.
2.They are biased. Neal Barnard, MD, the leader of PCRM, has his own version of the four food groups that has no animal foods at all. Trying to turn all of America into vegan vegetarians, while a healthy proposition, is futile. We love our meat and dairy in America. Dr. Barnard says that cheese increases the risk of heart disease and causes obesity. If you eat too much cheese and it contributes to weight gain, then that is true. But that is true of anything that has calories. If you eat cheese within the context of an overall healthy diet that is low enough in calories to keep your weight healthy, then cheese is not bad for you. In fact, it’s high in protein and calcium – two important nutrients. Dr. Barnard often commits the cardinal sin of claiming that data from observational studies shows cause and effect relationships – something observational studies cannot do. In fact, cause and effect type studies showing that cheese does not increase bad cholesterol levels are starting to rack up.
3.It makes the rest of us look bad. Who wants to listen to a big bunch of patriarchal buzz kills who don’t want you to eat anything that they deem unhealthy? When nutrition experts are constantly telling you all the things you like are bad for you, of course you’ll start tuning them out.
In Dr. Barnard’s defense, he is mounting this campaign because America’s cheese intake has increased dramatically over the decades. Cheese is high in fat – and not the healthy kind. The folks at PCRM are not bad people – they promote ethical treatment of research animals and do truly care about the health of the American public. For those who are vegan vegetarians – it’s a great and healthy choice. But meat eaters can be healthy too. Vilifying a single beloved food is not the way to help Americans eat healthier and fix the obesity problem. We need to focus on being more active and eating patterns as a whole rather than taking one food to the woodshed.
Beth Kitchin, PhD, RD
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham