The Great Divide: Why Medicine Can Be Confusing

A nutrition student gives some reasoning as to why medicine is confusing.

Imagine this scenario:  Your doctor hands you some papers that you need to read and sign through.  The words are small, so you need to squint to see them.  The page just seems filled with words.  Eventually you reach the bottom where your signature is required.  How many non-medial people think to themselves “what the fuck did I just read?”

Now imagine this other scenario: you talk to your doctor after some blood work.  They talk about several problems, perhaps something with “triglycerides” or “hypertension.”  Not wanting to look stupid, you nod in agreement, despite the fact you have no idea what was just said.

These are issues real enough in medicine, that I am taking a class on how to write a document to the lay-person.  Whose fault is it that there is this breakdown in communication?  Is it your fault that you don’t understand the doctor?  Or is it perhaps the doctor’s fault for not knowing their audience?

Personally, I think it’s the latter.  The class I am taking that teaches nutrition students how to write for a lay-audience discussed that the average reading level in America is 8th grade.  Meaning that there are several people like me who can read a research article, understand what is going on in the study, and then report it back as a summary or as a point of evidence.  There are also several people that struggle with reading materials that are considered “basic.”

How can communication between medical professionals and patients be improved?  For starters, I think documents have more whitespace (the spacing around paragraphs), bigger font sizes, and definitions next to some key words.   Whitespace and larger font sizes improves readability, while definitions help people understand.  If you are unfamiliar with “triglycerides,” on a document, the paperwork can instead say “triglycerides (fat found in blood).”

Doctors and other medical professionals can also use more casual language when talking about health issues.  Instead of telling the patient they have “hypertension,” the doctor could tell them they have “high blood pressure.”  Not everyone understands medical jargon.  Simplifying the language used can help patients understand the issue and how to correct it.

In case you were curious, this blog post has a reading level of 8.9, meaning that someone who is almost a 9th grader most likely can understand this piece.  Some of the reasons it’s higher is I had to use several complicated words to explain my point.  I also have longer sentences with more than one idea, which raises the reading level.

Also, if you feel I am picking on the lay-person, keep in mind I am the lay-person in several topics.  There have been times when friends and family have talked about something outside of the food and nutrition realm and I have been like “huh?”

Any other ideas you guys have for improving the readability of documents?  Any advice a non-medical person can give to a soon-to-be medical professional to make documents easier to read?

Stay Bullet: Why I Don’t Believe in Silver Bullet Miracle Foods

Why I don’t believe the media hype involving certain foods.

Recently, Time magazine posted an article about how the spice turmeric might not be a “miracle spice” after all.  A recent research article reported that there has not been a well-designed research trial done on the spice yet.  So, what gives?  Why is this even a big issue with food?  Can’t people just enjoy their food in peace without some asshole on the internet blogging about it?

To answer the lattermost question:  No, I blog about food, it’s what I do.  Secondly, the term “miracle food” or any derivative gets thrown out there like it’s no big deal.  Anything that might have some semblance of increasing metabolism or being incredibly rich in vitamins and minerals causes media to latch on and blow up its properties to hell.  Even Googling “miracle food” turns up results that things like chocolate are a miracle food.

The issue with proclaiming foods have mystical properties can have a variety of effects.  In the best situation, some foods can be found to be beneficial, in worst cases, it can have harmful effects.  For example, news media lists several health benefits of drinking beer.  A Huffington Post article lists some of these benefits as being high in some micronutrients, such as vitamin B, and healthier aging in women because it might play a role in improving blood circulation.

Now, I love me my local brews.  Being an Oregonian, I have access to several craft beers.  Not a hipster, though, as much as I can sound like one.  However, alcohol does have several downsides.  Alcohol can be addictive, which can lead to alcoholism.  Alcohol can also cause issues with the liver, which for those of you not familiar with human anatomy, the liver is a detoxifying organ.  Alcohol also inhibits a hormone in the body that helps regulate hydration, which means over consumption of this “healthy” beverage is detrimental.

I also hate the term “miracle food” or “silver bullet to combat _____.”  Might be because I am a hypercritical douche, but that’s beside the point.  To me, the terms imply that the food is a be-all-end-all to becoming healthy.  Imagine, a world in which all you need to do is eat turmeric (a spice in curry powder) and drink beer, and suddenly you become the pinnacle of human health!

What do you guys reading this think?  Am I off base here, or is “miracle food” an overused term that overemphasizes the benefits and downplays the negatives of certain foods?

The Name Game: Alternative Names for Sugar

Food labels can be complicated. Here is a reference guide to added sugars.

I had mentioned in a previous post (which can be found here) that added sugars have different names.   This week, I am going to give you a handy guide to finding the sneaky little bastards (as in, grams of sugar) in your food.

Added sugars generally are carbohydrates added to something that are not naturally there.  Foods like fruits, vegetables, and plain milk (as in not flavored milk, like chocolate or strawberry).  So something like unsweetened tea would most likely not have added sugar, but if the tea is sweetened with a nutritive sweetener (as in it provides Calories or energy the body can use) then it has added sugars.

UHDS has these listed as names recognized by the FDA for added sugar:

  • anhydrous dextrose
  • brown sugar
  • confectioner’s powdered sugar
  • corn syrup
  • corn syrup solids
  • dextrose
  • fructose
  • high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • honey
  • invert sugar
  • lactose
  • malt syrup
  • maltose
  • maple syrup
  • molasses
  • nectars (e.g., peach nectar, pear nectar)
  • pancake syrup
  • raw sugar
  • sucrose
  • sugar
  • white granulated sugar

Now, these are only the ones recognized by the FDA.  More names are appearing on food labels such as:

  • cane juice
  • evaporated corn sweetener
  • crystal dextrose
  • glucose
  • liquid fructose
  • sugar cane juice
  • fruit nectar

So why does all this matter?  Well, the FDA cites that diets higher in added sugars are often lower in nutrient dense foods, meaning the foods with a lot of added sugar have little nutrients.  Often, they are called “junk food” or “shit food.”  Diets lower in added sugar also appear to have less risk of developing cardiovascular disease.  On the new food label, as I wrote about prior, there is a new section dedicated to added sugar, because of this reason.

Have you found any other names for added sugar?  Please comment them below!