A pretty hefty portion of session time is spent clarifying misinformation that our patients have absorbed from various sources and assumed to be true. If you are a dietitian yourself, you know exactly what I mean.
It can be frustrating, but the patients are not to blame. If I encounter a post or article about combustion engines, overseas investing, the rise and fall of the Ottoman empire, or any other of the millions of topics in which I am a layman, I might mistakenly assume that what I am reading is correct, too. Without expertise in the subject, how could I possibly be expected to decipher the difference between fact, half-truths, and pure fiction with any degree of accuracy?
As an example of the nutrition-related nonsense that circulates in our culture, consider a post that popped up in my Facebook feed today entitled “This Finally Convinced Me to Never EVER Drink Coke Again. Once You See It, You’ll Understand.”
No way am I going to link to it; the post already has thousands of Facebook likes and I am not going to facilitate more exposure. If you really want to find it, I am sure Google will be more than happy to assist you in your efforts.
The post begins with Coke bashing. “The sugar content in each serving is astronomical, and the acidity can strip metal (coke is often used to de-grease car engines). If you’re a big fan of coke and still need some convincing to quit your bad habit, check out this experiment.”
Look, I am not arguing that Coke is a health food, but good-bad food dichotomies create way more harm than people realize. All foods have their pros and cons. Yes, even Coke has its upsides. Otherwise, why would anybody ever buy it?
“What happens when you drink some coke after drinking milk or eating a dairy product?” They continue, “You’ll be totally disgusted to see what happens in your stomach.” A series of photos then depict a small amount of milk being poured into a bottle of Coke, which is then capped and left to stand for six hours. By the time the hours elapse, the mixture separates into an upper layer of tan water and a lower layer of brown sediment, similar to how Italian salad dressing separates when left to stand undisturbed.
The caption reads “But what is that totally gross thing at the bottom? Is it dirt? Sand? Colon cancer?” They aren’t done. “The coke is so acidic that it denatures the protein found in the milk, causing this chemical reaction.”
According to an article published by the American Society for Microbiology, Coca-Cola Classic has a pH (which is a measure of acidity) of 2.5. You know what else has a pH of approximately 2.5? Your stomach. According to the National Institutes of Health, our stomachs – when empty – have a pH in the range of 1.5 to 3.5 due to the presence of hydrochloric acid, which is a naturally-occurring chemical that our stomachs secrete. Good luck digesting your food without it.
In other words, put protein in your stomach, let it sit there for six hours (which is unrealistic, as the stomach tends to empty much faster than that), and the product may very well resemble the denatured milk protein in the Coke bottle. The authors want us to think that something abnormal, scary, and unhealthy happened to the milk, but that is really not the case.
But what fun would it be, and more importantly how many Facebook likes would their piece get, if the authors concluded it with a lesson on digestive system physiology? Instead, they played the fear card. “This is so gross, I can’t believe I put this stuff in my body. Please share this with others, everyone needs to see this.”
No, not really. As it turns out, I don’t think anybody needs to see it.