Saturday, February 23, 2008

Nutritional Spin

There is a myriad of advice and proclamations having to do with diet and health out there today. Much of it is contradictory. While some doctors are recommending "heart healthy" diets that are low in fat and high in carbohydrates, others are saying that such a diet is a recipe for heart attacks. It's not as if food was just invented last year. How can there be such diametrically opposed views among "experts"?

First of all, when you watch commercials and listen to statements from researchers, listen for the qualifyers. My favorite was from a commercial for a product containing lycopene, the chemical that turns tomatos red. There pitch went something like this "Emerging studies suggest that lycopene may help reduce the risk of some forms of heart disease." I've bolded the qualifyers in case you didn't catch them. What this statement actually tells you in terms of facts is that there does exist a chemical called lycopene and someone is in the process of studying it. As it turns out, when the study emerged, the data showed lycopene to do little more than turn tomatos red.

Other qualifyers that can tip you off to the fact that what your about to hear is completely worthless include: "tied to" "linked" "may play a role in" "some experts believe" and the word "studies" being used without referring to a specific study.

It may surprise you to learn that there is no evidence that overall cholesterol levels have anything to do with heart disease. Cholesterol is in the membrane around the little buggers that transport triglycerides, which largely come from processing carbs. These cholesterol coated carriages come in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on what you eat and how much of it. It's the size and density of these vehicles that determines whether or not they are dangerous. But I digress.

The reason for the wide divergence of opinion is elementary, in fact, something you'd expect to find in elementary school: the desire to be accepted. It happens in many sciences unfortunately. A strong personality champions a hypothesis which becomes the generally accepted conclusion. If you want to seem smart among your peers, you now have to demonstrate your understanding and grasp of the now "conventional wisdom". To suggest that it is complete BS is heresy and will not advance your career. Fortunately there are a few brave souls that buck the trend and dare to speak the truth on behalf of the objective evidence. Normally, they are not recognized until after their deaths, if at all. More commonly the scientific community comes around to the truth very gradually and acts as if they worked it out for themselves through decades of hard work and study. In reality they fight change tooth and nail until the truth becomes too overwhelmingly obvious to deny.

I'm not going to proclaim to you what is truth and what is not. I'd just like you to be more aware of the way data is being presented. How many outs did the "expert" leave him or herself? Find objective data. Decide for yourself if it makes sense. If you're eating a diet high in carbs and your overweight, guess what? Fat wasn't the problem. Your not lazy, it's not lack of will power, it's bad information.

Do some research (obviously you have internet access) analyze your own experience, use your head. A bunch of letters after someone's name doesn't make them right, and the lack of them doesn't make you wrong.

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