The Latest Scientific News on Nutritional Advice—Basically Bogus!
I thought you might be curious on how I’m doing on the weight loss campaign.
I’ve lost a stone (13 pounds). I have also lost two inches around my waist and two off the hips. So, it’s all heading in the right direction, slowly but surely.
When I saw the July 13, 2019 issue of New Scientist’s cover story, Why Everything You Know about Nutrition is Wrong, by Clare Wilson, I had to read it. Sure enough, it confirms what I’ve been suspicious of for years—scientific nutritional advice is highly flawed. “We should be skeptical of all dietary advice” according to data scientist John Ioannidis at Stanford University.
I was first suspicious when nutritional advice declared the simple egg as “bad” because it could raise your cholesterol.
The egg was maligned for years until that fallacy was debunked. Thankfully, I always liked eggs, didn’t have a cholesterol issue and carried on eating them.
Then the next bit of nutritional advice we’re given is that fat was bad for you, especially saturated fats which could clog your arteries and give you a heart attack. I remember the good old days when you used to be able to get cream with your coffee. That was soon replaced with milk, or even worse, skimmed milk. Now, we’re full circle back to fat but with coconut oil. Ugh! I wonder if we weren’t better off with the cream?
I clearly remember the first fat-free chocolate cake my friend Kate bought. We both tucked into it with glee, thinking we could now eat the whole entire thing guilt-free. Ha! We all know how well the fat-free experiment turned out. Americans are fatter than ever. Well, now it appears fat is our friend, not our enemy. Further, nutritional advice claims like saturated fats in red meat and butter lead to heart disease are just that– claims.
Then there is the whole diet industry with many diet books saying you can’t eat grains, but you can eat lots of healthy fats, the other camp says you can’t eat fats, but you can eat grains. Both camps will have qualified doctors and plenty of scientific mumbo jumbo in their books to make you think they know what is going on. I’ve read enough of these diet books to now be completely and totally confused. How can both be right?
Well, any diet, even the Twinkie diet, will enable you to lose weight by running a calorie deficit.
Apparently, nutritional science just doesn’t know what is going on. Clare Wilson reports that out of roughly a million research papers on nutrition, only a few hundred are based on quality randomized trials. “The rest are mainly observational studies, small, poorly designed trials, opinion pieces, or reviews that summarize the results of other papers, with all their potential flaws.” Yes, this goes for the government guidelines as well. Did you know that different governments have different guidelines? That in itself suggests a certain bias is present in any food pyramid or recommendation.
Why can’t nutritional science figure this stuff out?
You’d think that in this day and age we’d have the science to crack nutrition once and for all. It turns out that there are just too many variables. For example, it may appear that eating blueberries will extend lives. But is it because upper-middle-class people consume more blueberries and it is their wealth that contributes to their longevity? It is hard to eliminate all these variables to create a clean study over a significant number of years.
Are the Okinawan’s long-lived because they walk a lot or because they have strong social connections or eat pork or a particular type of local sweet potato? Or is it a combination of various health-enhancing and longevity-promoting behaviors (walking, strong social connections, a social safety net financially)? It is impossible to say, although instinctively I’d think that a combination of health-promoting factors is probably the key to a long life and that it does no good to focus on the latest trending miracle food whether it is the sweet potato, the goji berry or coconut oil.
And biases are rampant.
In studies looking at long-lived people, the authors put emphasis on eating lots of vegetables, but some of the world’s longest-lived people’s, the Okinawa’s of Japan, eat a lot of pork as well. This fact is conveniently over-looked. Apparently, there is no solid evidence that eating lots of vegetables extends life. (I’m still going to eat vegetables because I like them, just like I continued eating eggs).
So what are we to do?
The article concludes that nutritional science hasn’t been a total loss as it has helped us with deficiencies. We know that if you don’t get enough Vitamin D, you’ll get rickets. Folic acid prevents spina bifida in babies so pregnant mothers should definitely take it. On the other hand, fish oil supplements have been shown to have no benefit in clinical studies.
As for diet, I’m going to eat whatever I want in moderation.
And I’ll eat what makes my own body feel good, which means some sort of protein at every meal.
For weight loss, I’m back to the old-fashioned 1950’s diet of counting calories. I can eat a Big Mac, but count the calories. I like the freedom of this plan. You can have whatever you want as long as you manage to run a calorie deficit over the space of a week. I’m also going to take all dietary advice with a grain of salt, after all, who said salt was bad for you?