Tell You What to Eat

Don’t Let Science Tell You What to Eat

Here’s the thing: although science is awesome and helps us advance in many ways, we need to have an honest discussion of where it’s led us astray.

Mainstream science, as it’s practiced now, has provided us with a ton of information about health, but it has also produced a whole lot of bad information solely designed to sell products to consumers.

I want to discuss how this happens, then debunk some common food myths that are likely steering you off course and preventing you from reaching your health goals.

SCIENCE AND FOOD: THE FOUR BIG PROBLEMS

Big Problem #1: Two thirds of scientific research is funded by the food industry and pharmaceutical companies (both of which profit immensely from the products and prescriptions sold as a result of the scientific findings).

I could write an entire separate post on this topic, but that startling statistic from the OECD says a lot all on its own.(1) And, even worse, those same studies are likely to produce results that favor the food and pharma industries, due to biased reporting and/or interpretation. (2, 3)

This not only affects the prescription drugs that get approved, but also the foods that are approved for you to eat and the pesticides, chemicals, additives and genetic modifications that get applied to those foods.

This is a huge stain on the scientific community – as well as the government, who is in charge of providing the public with general diet guidelines.

Big Problem #2: Much of what we think is current science is actually outdated.

There’s a huge difference between the massive amount of scientific research conducted all over the world and the small portion of it that you hear about (and that actually informs our government and healthcare system, not to mention your doctor’s office).

Not only does sound research get ignored if it challenges the “system,” but it’s estimated that it can take up to 20 years before research begins to change how your healthcare provider practices. (4) (And sometimes it never does.)

Big Problem #3: Because humans aren’t lab rats, we rely on observations instead of experiments.

Health and nutrition research constitutes one of the least “exact sciences” in terms of our ability to observe and make any credible conclusions about human diets and lifestyles. Most nutritional studies are observational (which usually means a lot of fallible surveys), not controlled experiments, so they give us very little in the way of conclusive results.

This type of study has been proven to be inaccurate far too often. (5) The loose correlations they do give us have been mocked many a time, and for good reason: observational data can be wildly misinterpreted, spawning unnecessary and damaging paranoia – and sometimes decades of widespread cultural brainwashing.

Big Problem #4: Nutritional studies rarely make a distinction between low-quality and high-quality foods.

We tend to lump what we eat into big categories – meat, fat, carbs, etc. – and tend to think that all the foods in these categories are the same.

There are huge differences, though, between grass fed meat and conventionally raised (i.e. corn fed and confined) meat. And between natural fats like olive oil or butter and processed vegetable oils, sprays, or spreads. And between refined grains and the whole versions in nature – potatoes, rice, beets, turnips, oats, etc. And between salt made in a factory and sea salt. Those differences are significant in terms of the nutritional value they indicate, as well as how they affect our health in total. And nutritional studies rarely differentiate between them.

The Takeaway

I’ll say it a million more times: you can’t solely rely on scientific research to inform your approach to health. Sure, it’s good to pay attention to what the experts say, but take it with a grain of salt (ha!) – and remember that just because something might work for someone else doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. The only way to really know what your body needs is to develop the ability to really listen to it. More on that in future posts.

Until then, stick with these foods to establish a healthy baseline diet that will ensure you’re not falling prey to bad information that may prevent you from reaching your goals.

(1) http://www.oecd.org/gov/budgeting/43494478.pdf
(2) http://www.bmj.com/content/326/7400/1167
(3) http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124
(4) http://archive.ahrq.gov/research/findings/factsheets/translating/tripfac/trip2fac.html
(5) http://www.nature.com/ijo/journal/v39/n7/abs/ijo2014199a.html

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