Monday, January 4, 2016

The Problems with Nutrition Guidelines

I've been sitting on this one for several days, and I just finally decided to get it out there:

I'm Completely Fed Up with Nutrition Science. You Should Be, Too.
Nutrition science is bad for your health! Not really, of course, but if you worried about every single study that linked a certain food to a negative health outcome, you'd probably go insane.

Red meat? Cancer. Grapefruit? Cancer. Cheese? Cancer. Artificial sweeteners? Obesity. Sugar?Obesity. Milk? Bone fracture. The list could go on and on, but let's get to the meat of the article.

I'm fed up with nutrition science, and you should be, too.

It was not a single study that evoked my distaste, but a nauseating status quo that's become too much to bear.

The problems with nutrition science begin with how most of its research is conducted. The vast majority of nutrition studies are observational in nature -- scientists look at people who eat certain foods and examine how their health compares with the health of people who don't eat those foods or eat them at different frequencies. But as I reported earlier this year, these sorts of studies have a high chance of being wrong. Very wrong. . .
Many familiar examples follow. But the problems go further.
Muddying the waters further is the stream of cash pouring into nutrition science from corporate interests. Nestlé funds research, as does Dannon. Coca-Cola has recently been accused of funding scientists who focus on physical activity as the primary cause for obesity rather than the copious amounts of sugar found in their undeniably unhealthy soft drinks. Many of the members of the advisory committee for the federal government's dietary guidelines also have ties to industry.

The ultimate point of nutrition research is to apprise the public of what they should and should not eat. What really is healthy? What isn't? But this endeavor may have been doomed from the start. As was recently showcased in research published to the journal Cell, what's healthy for one person may not be healthy for someone else.. . .

But beyond what companies try to push, the government, which has a whole additional method of persuasion, legal sanctions backed by the power of imprisonment, and ultimately, the gun, has been notoriously wrong on numerous recommendations on diet, salt, carbohydrates, meat, you name it, they've promoted bad ideas with the force of law. I can ignore a company, but I cannot safely ignore the state.

An interesting article in the Washington Post this morning on the diet guidance that ancient mummies are providing us. In a nutshell, not much:
But examinations of the bodies of the Unangans from Kagamil Island and other pre-modern people indicate that, in fact, the modern scourge of heart disease is not at all new, and that people who exercised more than we do as a matter of necessity, and whose diet was free from modern temptations, also suffered striking levels of heart disease, according to the researchers.

In recent years, X-ray based scans of mummies from around the world - including the hunter gatherers of Kagamil as well as those from ancient Egypt, Peru and the American Southwest — found signs of heart disease or atherosclerosis, the plaque lining the arteries near the heart.
. . .
Randall Thompson, a cardiologist at St. Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City and a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, said the research has changed the way he views what we can do to prevent heart disease.

”I’m a clinical cardiologist and I want people to eat a healthy diet, but this puts all that in perspective. ... At least part of this disease is not explained by traditional risk factors. These ancient people didn’t have preservatives, everything was organic, they didn’t smoke and they got plenty of exercise. But ... the amount of atherosclerosis in ancient times isn’t much different from what you see in modern times. If you account for age, it looks like we’re in the same ballpark.”
My motto: Eat what you want (in moderation), die anyway.

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