Healthy Eating – “Today’s nutrition science (is) filled with contradictory studies that are each rife with flaws and limitations. The messiness of this field is a big reason why nutrition advice can be confusing.”
Why We Don’t Know Squat
The Scientific Study Of Nutrition Is Hard … Here’s Why We Get So Much Conflicting Information
Well, no one said it was going to be easy. But, they also didn’t tell us that in our quest to find all the answers we can to healthy eating and dietary practices, that we would find it one of the most difficult areas to reasearch in a scientific way. The fact is, there are many factors that make our current quest for definitive dietary answers so difficult.
Most all of us have noticed the fairly common occurrance of a study or “finding” being published by a respected research journal that comes to a specific conclusion on the benefits or drawbacks of a certain food. With this in mind people readjust their eating habits. Organizations and governments issue proclamations concerning what is “recommended” and what’s not. Behavioral patterns change, based on expected benefits. A few years go by and then … boom! Here comes another study or “finding” that completely contradicts the last.
Remember the egg? A couple of decades ago we were all told that eating eggs was not such a great idea. “Too many” eggs could cause health problems we all wanted to avoid. So … what happened? Millions of folks cut down on their egg consumption. That resulted in a huge blow to the industry that had previously supplied them to us … and a few years later came the next “finding”. It said, “OOPS! Sorry about that. But eggs … well, they’re not so bad after all.
We get studies and scientific results telling us fat is bad and then that fat is maybe not so bad. We’re told by researchers that cholesterol is very dangerous, but wait … oh yeah … there’s good cholesterol. The entire field seems, at times, to be in complete disarry.
Well, there are actually some pretty good reasons for that. It is a surprisingly difficult area to reasearch. It’s difficult to control reasearch situations regarding people’s eating habits, results take a long time to show up in the health or lack of it in research subjects, and there are food industry pressures that warp nearly everything in the field.
Here’s a really informative article by Julia Belluz, health reporter for Vox. It’s a great read, and has some surprising information that illustrates just why we actually don’t know so much of what we think we do.
“Right now, nutrition science is horribly underfunded by government — leaving lots of space for food companies and industry groups to sponsor research. This means, quite simply, that food and beverage makers pay for many nutrition studies — with sometimes dubious results. More troubling: The field of nutrition research hasn’t quite caught up to medicine when it comes to building in safeguards to address potential conflicts of interest.
“So much research is sponsored by industry,” wrote nutrition and food policy researcher Marion Nestle in a recent issue of JAMA, “that health professionals and the public may lose confidence in basic dietary advice. … In general,” she wrote, “independently funded studies find correlations between sugary drinks and poor health, whereas those supported by the soda industry do not.” …”
Healthy Eating Relies On Common Sense
We all know the “Diet Jumper” or the “Healthy Food Du Jour” junkie, right? You know the folks I mean. You talk to a Diet Jumper on Monday and they are completely committed to a high-protein, low-fat diet. Two weeks later they’re telling you of the health benefits of their new Paleo diet. It doesn’t matter that they’ve only been on it for a week and a half … it’s “changed their life”! The Healthy Food Du Jour junkie is the one who is always extolling the virtues of a certain “new” food. This week it’s kale. The next week their whole “life has been changed” by eating a lot of balsamic vinegar … or whatever the craze happens to be. Sad to say, these folks are not paying attention to what’s actually going on in the field of healthy eating research. They’re following Dr. Oz and the talk-show crowd, not the actual scientific information we actually have.
The truth is that the field of knowledge concerning what healthy eating actually consists of is one of the most difficult areas of scientific research. Verified results don’t happen overnight. We … as consumers and eaters … need to be aware of these things, and make our own decisions accordingly. When someone makes a claim regarding certain foods, we need to look at that information, where it comes from, who’s funding it, and try to get a good grip of what other factors just might be influencing the person or organization to make such a claim.
We’ve come a long way in the field of food as it relates to health and healthy eating in general. But, the field is ever-growing, very difficult to navigate, full of bogus information, and we still have a long way to go.
Always check out the messenger.