Is it me, or is today’s modern food science all crap?
Yesterday I found an article which addressed seven foods, specifically. These seven foods were considered healthy long ago, then deemed bad for us, and now healthy for us to eat again. I’m glad the article dispels the myths about these healthy foods, of course. But it bothers me that it doesn’t address why, over the last 50 years, these foods fell out of favor in the first place.
Nutrition science seems more about guessing than actual science. Gary Taubes, a science writer and author, has written at length about the quality of research done in nutrition. He rarely calls people researching nutrition and obesity “scientists” because what they do isn’t recognized as science by scientists. As he describes in this blog post, these researchers tend to skip over the hardest step of science – the proving a hypothesis wrong step. Many skip this step and go straight to the conclusion, followed by media fanfare, followed by, invariably, more grants.
Remember when Oreos were as addictive as cocaine? In this study, rats were given a choice between an Oreo or a bland rice cake. Guess what they chose? The university that conducted the research trumpeted its unconfirmed results. And a lazy press picked up the story and ran with it like lab mice through a maze (if you will).
Of course, once the study was peer-reviewed, turns out: the evidence for addiction was seriously lacking. Surely the press approached this news with the same gusto? Nope, and why would they? The truth is rarely sexy enough for maze-running journalists. Instead, we now have a steady stream of stories about “food addiction” (a follow-up post about this is coming later this week).
Just recently, the Center For Disease Control issued a big oops about salt intake. Turns out: the government’s recommended daily intake levels were not just wrong, but so dangerously low that they could cause health problems.
We have never been more chronically ill than we are today. The obesity rate has doubled since 1970. Over that same time the number of Americans with diabetes increased from 4.2 million to 25.8 million people. Because the government’s dietary guidelines (with little science validating those guidelines!) of low-fat/high-carb diet is the “healthiest,” we’ve been told the same thing again and again: the science is settled — it’s about calories in/calories out so just eat less, exercise more. “Let them eat rice cakes,” our government told us…and we did.
But real science is never settled, and it’s time to start questioning the food authorities.
When I started my weight loss journey this time around, I did the same old routine that didn’t work the first, second, third, fourth, etc., etc., time around: a low-fat, high-carb diet with lots of chicken, and a drastic cut in calories. But because nothing had changed in my personal experiment, I doubted my chances of success…almost like a real scientist would. I thought about all those other times I’d tried the settled-science approach and failed and decided to challenge the original low-fat hypothesis…almost like a real scientist would. Then I started researching and trying new things…almost like a real scientist would! And me without a lab coat or grant money or nary a stethoscope to help me.
I was open to the idea that maybe all I knew about nutrition was wrong. What if my nutritionist-approved, low-fat diet was making me fat? Once I started questioning conventional wisdom I stumbled upon Taubes’ Why We Get Fat.
What an eye opener! Once I learned how the human body processes food, I made better food choices and became skeptical of media reports about the latest Food Danger(s) Of The Week, as well as stories that supported my historical thinking on food.
The problem for most people is they can’t walk away from their jobs to get healthy, as I was able to do. In my case, I was lucky enough to have the time to focus all my energies on my health. Most people get their nutrition information from sound bites, bumper stickers, and more than 50 years of pseudoscience pushed in K-12 by the same people who suggested we “duck and cover” in the event of a nuclear blast.
Thankfully, there are a few bloggers, science writers and doctors working to debunk a lot of this nutritional noise. Some of them are very technical in their breakdown of the data in nutrition reports and studies:
Also, check out the Nutrition Science Initiative, a new foundation started by Taubes and Dr. Gary Attia. NuSI’s goal is to reduce obesity by improving the quality of nutrition science and obesity research.