We are all acutely aware of some controversies, marketing schemes, Fad Diets and the ever changing recommendation. Many of you have likely tried at least one diet, cleanse or supplement. If not just take an informal survey of your family or coworkers and you will find the great majority have. If you love nutrition like myself you have had a many conversations with people about various dietary topics. If I have learned anything from these conversations it is this. They most people harbored many contradictory, outdated and false beliefs regarding nutrition and its relationship to Health, fitness and weight-loss. More concerning is many of the foods/ food groups they believed were healthy have now been proven to be quite harmful to their general health. Furthermore their are many food/ food groups that are beneficial to optimal health and being avoided on false premise. In order to discover the truth we must fist identify the myths and understand how they came to be regarded as truth.
The confusion we share spans all demographics, gender and race. Many highly educated people such as the Physicians I once worked with are uncertain or falsely certain as everybody else. At a time I was no exception. I kept coming across contradictory claims about meat and egg consumption.The reason I began carefully reviewing the methodologies of studies referenced by the authors, experts and gurus of fad diet, detoxes, etc. The only way I could confidently come to a conclusion was to go directly to the source. The devil is absolutely in the details.
To be very clear, I do not claim to be a nutritional expert. I have more questions than answers. However I have learned a great deal and believe it is important to share what I do know to be supported by the strongest, most current scientific evidence currently available. Before I begin a massive blog campaign I feel compelled to explain my position for such bold statement.
Nutritional science is in its infancy. Like all new sciences there are many false assumptions or inferences that are held as truth until proven otherwise. This is the natural progression of all scientific inquiries. The greatest insights are generally derived from disproving hypotheses. Consider Medicine in the late 19th century, I think we can all agree that a Surgeon who performs an amputation and then immediately delivering a baby with unwashed bear hands is dangerous practice based on a serious knowledge deficit. It’s obvious to us now but the expert opinion at the time was there was no need to wash. Many Mothers and their babies died of infection/ sepsis. I realize this is an extreme example and technology, knowledge and the scientific method have vastly improved. The improvements have been so great that human knowledge is increasing at an exponential rate. In 1900 the accumulation of Human knowledge would double every century. The average rate today is every 13 months. Unfortunately that knowledge is not given to most. It must be sought. The rate of mass dissemination has not seemed to catch up. Therefore, If you are following a specific diet or guidelines you were taught three years ago then It is based on outdated and probably invalid information.
The second and likely the most influential factor is pseudoscience. The Food, Diet, Supplement and Wellness industries are multi-billion dollar markets. There is virtually no oversight and regulation provided by the FDA or USDA . The corruption and conflicts of interest within these agencies is a topic for an entire book. The important things to know when evaluating a diet, product or likewise is to consider the source and verify claims before accepting them as true. Discover what type of evidence are they basing their claims on? Truth, Lies and BS come in many forms. If Scientific studies are cited then find the study and find out who funded it and the methods used. Often the company, Author, researcher or whoever else has a financial incentive to mislead you of something are the financiers. A close look at the methods section of such studies will likely reveal variable manipulation to achieve their desired result. Its deceptive but logical from their perspective. If you were selling a product, spending money on a study to prove its value, had no personal integrity and or knew your product was crap, you would likely do the same. A great example of this is the “Superfood” Acai Berries, known for their superiorly high anti-oxidants, polyphenols and price. If you are not familiar they are generally sold at health food grocers in frozen packets, a 24 pack (3.4oz servings) costs about $90 dollars. They are very popular in more health conscious free spirited parts of the country. If you were to throw a rock in San Diego it would likely land in an Acai Smoothie or Bowl. Polyphenols are present in many whole plant based foods and are associated with many protective and healing properties such as decreasing the risk of Dementia the independent studies found that Plums, Black berries, flax seeds, dark chocolate and even ground coffee had more per serving than Acai. Acai berries do have 10 times the anti-oxidant count of some fruits like peaches or apples but similar quantities to other berries and less than black and raspberries (3 bucks for 16oz bag). Acai berries are often renowned for improving emphysema and improved circulation from a vasodilation effect. Sounds amazing but only if you are a heavy smoking rat or have the mesenteric artery of a rat in place of your descending coronary. The author of these studies only focused on Acai (variable manipulation) compared to placebo. He also owns a patent to an Acai based supplement. When a publically funded human study of Acai berries found that it did have a positive temporary effect on arterial elasticity. Then again so did other berries with grapes and green tea (2-4 bucks a pack of 24) being the most substantial. A side note of this study was the effect an egg Mcmuffin had on arterial elasticity (decreased it which increases risk of heart attack and stroke), it responded as expected increasing the rigidity of the vessel, but when eaten with grapes the vessel remained neutral. Perhaps McDonalds will offer grapes on their menu and market them as means of surviving their food. Acai berries are of coarse a very healthy natural food and I am not suggesting they be avoided, unless you are concerned about money or on a budget. In that case I would suggest the multiple other fruit options available. Ninety dollars buys a lot of less exotic fruit. Perhaps some mixed berries and green tea!
For the companies unwilling to spend the money on misleading research, there is another method. The most common, least reliable and often most effective method of evidence provided is antidotal. The subjective experiences of those following a fad diet, supplement, detox etc. This is sometimes dressed up as science when in the form of surveys polished up with graphs and percentages, they are not held to statistical rigor or variable/ sampling control. This type of evidence is both the most difficult and the easiest type claim to evaluate. As human beings we are social organisms. We traditionally learn through the stories and experiences of others. We empathize and share many of the same struggles. When the person is sincere and appears genuine it is easy to assume their experience is valuable and you feel like their diet or whatever will fix your problem as well. A few common problems with following the herd. Generally we are terrible at following good advice, especially when it comes to diet and health (I don’t feel arguing this point is necessary). The individual reporting the benefits of their diet or detox is obviously convinced it is beneficial or they would not be doing it. Therefore the placebo effect is very likely. There is no way to know if the individual inaccurately believes their dietary changes, supplement or whatever is actually doing what they believe it is intended to or not. Unless of coarse there are objective signs such as weight loss. Most fad diets will result in weight-loss. The problems are they focus on numbers and not health, they are not practical (only 8% compliance rare) and they are not sustainable (65% gain their baseline weight back plus 5lbs within two years). Chronic dieters gain weight progressively overtime. The question becomes what does one do?
The only option is to research and educate yourself while avoiding the mountains of BS or find a great source. If you don’t like or trust me then I recommend Dr. Gundry’s Nutrition Facts, great Podcast and all science based. All he does is review studies acknowledging the good while humorously ripping the bad ones apart. I cite the above Acai studies to his podcast. I will be releasing a Ton of Blogs (one to two a week), initially focusing of nutrition facts (real ones), also tips and methods to guide dietary choices without extreme deprivation and restrictions. I have developed a quality (health benefits, micronutrients, etc) focused food choice method in contrast to the quantity (calorie and macro) diets of old.
The new way of confusing people about food are the different lifetime religion type diets that continue to rise. Such as Paleo, Gluten-free, Paleo; low-carb high protein diet. If you would like to know the benefits and misconceptions and dangers of each of these diets please comment below. The overall problems with diets of these types is they are created by people who seem to cherry pick studies in the attempt prove a hypothesis (or sell books, supplement, whatever). They mistakenly attribute all or most of human health problems to a particular food group. They set a dietary rule or rules and infer your health problem will resolve if you follow them. The problem is their is some truth to what they say at times (half-truths) and they cite a lot of research and data and many people are persuaded to the cause. Some people tend to take their words as gospel and like some religious organization they believe passionately that their way is the only way to salvation. They have told everyone they know and proudly tell you that they are Gluten Free and your diet is the reason for your life/ Health problems. Therefore they are highly unlikely to admit they were wrong or even consider contradictory evidence. Its like convincing an Evangelical that evolution is real. Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence they stand by Wheat Belly. To put it simply they all make big assumptions and disregard contradictory evidence. For example, Paleo proponent once reveled in the idea that the insulin response from eating grains (despite the type) was a major factor for human heath problems. However a recent study testing the insulin response to various foods found that meat (hamburger patty) in isolation caused a significantly greater (almost double) blood insulin level compared to a bowl of white pasta and sauce. Furthermore there are many studies associating meat ad egg consumption with decreased testosterone, multiple cancers and heart disease that aren’t mentioned or considered. (I discuss meat consumption pros and cons in future Blogs).
A recent study investigated the nutritional knowledge among teachers charged with educating disadvantaged children in public schools about diet discovered that 4/5 could not correctly determine which macronutrient; protein, fat, or carbohydrate had the highest calorie content……It is fat with 9 calories per gram. No disrespect intended to nutrition teachers but this is basic nutrition 101. What does that say about their education and information they provide students. We are the fattest, sickest (of developed nations) and most unhappy people on Earth. Its time to stop fucking around America.
Thanks for reading and please don’t forget to share with someone who may benefit from this information. Check out my Blog site at Auxano-Aletheia.com for more Nutrition, Fitness, Health, Life, Spiritual truths and Assistance.
With Love and Empathy.
I am Dan McGinley RN BSN.