FOOD, FACTS and FADS

Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health


Leave a comment

Websites: How reliable are they?


 

The article provides good advice for any website, but especially medical or nutrition websites.  They often seem to promote misinformation that sometimes borders on the absurd or at the least,  unsubstantiated by sound research.

Who can you believe? The term “nutritionist” is not legally defined and is used by a wide variety of people from those who seek a PhD from a non-accredited school to health food store representatives with no formal training. Registered Dietitians (RD) are nutritional professionals who have completed a a four year college degree and additionally  have met established criteria to certify them to provide nutrition counseling. The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Medical Association and the American Institute for Cancer Research are non -profit organizations that provide reliable sources of nutrition information.

CLICK HERE.


Leave a comment

Gluten-Free?

 

The recent gluten-free food fad has some nutritionists concerned. When people eat gluten-free foods, they may be missing some important nutrients. It is generally recommended that if you do not have celiac disease, you do not need to avoid gluten. However, some people have given up wheat and other grains due to a real or perceived benefit. Many report that their digestive symptoms improve or “they just feel better.” Non-celiac gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance has been suggested but as yet there is no definitive test for its diagnosis.

Research has shown that avoiding FODMAPS can help people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Wheat and other grains (rye, barley) (containing gluten) are sources of fructans that aggravate symptoms of IBS. So it is advised to eliminate these grains for a time from the diet to see if symptoms improve. See a previous post HERE.

If you choose gluten-free foods, you should definitely read the Nutrition Facts Panel as well as the ingredient lists.

CLICK HERE.


1 Comment

What is a Healthy Diet? An Update

The following post is an excellent source for links to the discussion of healthy diets.  It is a brief summary of what nutrition science “knows” at the present time.

CLICK HERE.

For the complete discussion found in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (March, 2017), click HERE. It is a long article; however, it provides a lot of details on the latest recommendations about “healthy” diets and the research behind them. It can be read as a PDF.


Leave a comment

How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition Research

Industry funded studies are becoming a major influence on nutrition research that is already considered by some to have some important design limitations.

Headlines often proclaim that certain foods have healthy benefits not supported by science. These are used as marketing tools by the companies to describe their products in terms of what is described as a “health halo.” This practice contributes to false claims and the dissemination of nutrition misinformation which is already abundant.

One reason is that research in nutrition is not very well funded by very many sources; therefore, food companies often do provide the funds and at the same time gain their own benefits, i.e., increase their profits.

CLICK HERE.


Leave a comment

Nutrition Research 101

Why is Nutrition Research so Difficult?

The Scientific Method 101

Ideally advances in nutrition are made using the scientific method. In case you can’t readily recall your last biology class, here it is in its most simple form:

  • The first step is to make an observation, e.g. more people get colon cancer in the U.S. than in Japan
  • Next, explanations are proposed and called a hypothesis, e.g. The lower incidence of colon cancer in Japan compared to the U.S. is due to diet differences.
  • To test the hypothesis, experiments are designed. Compare the diets and incidence of colon cancer in a Japanese American population compared to a U.S. Caucasian population.

If the results from  repeated experiments support the original hypothesis, a theory can be developed. if not, the hypothesis is rejected.

Simple, right? Not in nutrition. Why is nutrition information so confusing or contradictory? Here are some reasons why. This post only presents a few basic problems in nutrition research; it is not meant to be a comprehensive guide.

  1. You cannot keep people in a bubble.

Evidence-based nutrition should ideally be based on the randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial using large population samples and extending the intervention for a reasonable time to measure health outcomes. Typically, one group is given a certain diet to follow; another group is given no particular diet but allowed to eat anything they choose. A randomized controlled trial (RCT) can provide sound evidence of cause and effect if the many variables are controlled.  These studies are just not practical for long-term nutrition interventions.  They are expensive long-term and have another important limitation. People are notorious for cheating on their assigned diets, and compliance is always difficult.

  1. Most nutrition information comes from observational studies.

Many nutritional studies are observational studies that attempt to assess how changes in diet affect health by looking at correlations or associations between what people report they eat and how many develop a particular disease.  When many observational studies reach the same conclusions, there is enough evidence to suggest  dietary recommendations. These types of studies only show correlation or associations, not cause and effect.

There is another problem with observational studies. They typically depend on surveys where people report what they ate the day (or week) before. This type of data reporting is known to be extremely unreliable. Researchers have long known that people misreport or forget, intentionally and unintentionally, what they eat.

 3. People and foods are different.

People obviously differ physiologically, psychologically, and genetically. This is shown in studies that measured people’s blood sugar responses to the same foods and found vast fluctuations. Also foods  differ in quality, content, preparation and other unknown characteristics, e.g. how they were grown or processed.

4. Conflict of interests and bias add to the confusion.

Food companies often try to conduct studies that promote the claimed health benefits of their products. They often use studies that support their claims as major marketing tools.

  1. Replication as part of the scientific method is often neglected.

There is always a chance that the original results may have occurred due to error. To alleviate this possibility, it is common if possible, to repeat the original experiment multiple times. This also is prudent when the original results are significant or surprising.

What Can You Do?

So, should you just give up on listening to anything about the food you eat? We should be reminded that “all scientific knowledge is subject to change. We learn from it.” We can learn from both negative results as well as positive results.

By looking at the big picture of  many studies (meta-analyses) and not just a few on a certain nutrition question, you can begin to see patterns that point to the same direction. It is extremely important to not dwell on single nutrient studies, but on studies that examine the total diet.

Pay attention to the source of funding and the potential biases of the authors. Do not pay attention to bold statements or scaremongering headlines that are not supported by the current research. Is it selling something? Is it based on someone’s personal story (anecdotal)?

Was the information interpreted accurately? Compare the news headlines with the peer-reviewed conclusions of the study information. Did the study discuss its limitations? Were the results or the conclusions of the study twisted in a way to support the bias of the author(s)? Has the importance of the study been exaggerated? Does it make sense?

 

 

 

 


Leave a comment

A New Trend in Your Supermarket?

dietitian-nutritionist

This is an excellent idea but just have to speak out here for the Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist (RDN).  RD’s have been conducting supermarket tours for decades and many are employed by supermarkets. Most doctors are not well trained in the science of nutrition while RDs have undergraduate degrees in nutrition and graduate degrees in nutrition or related health fields. They are required to complete an internship and pass a national exam plus participate in continuing education activities.

CLICK HERE.


Leave a comment

The Problem with Nutrition Research

aiey8dli4

This article is very long, but it is easy to get the point. If you choose to not read the whole article, the video at the end tells us about a major problem with some nutrition studies. There is also may be the influence  of a conflict of interest and industry funding.  Unfortunately, I wish this was not a problem, but it is what it is.  Nevertheless, the quest continues to find the “perfect” diet.  Good health and longevity is based on a complex interaction of many factors, not just diet and that is why we study healthy cultures such as found in the book “The Blue Zones.”  By doing so, we can begin to understand the complex environmental and cultural factors and how they interact to keep us healthier and possibly enjoy long lives.

CLICK HERE.