Everyone is selling something

First of all, today’s my 20th birthday, which for me means indulgence! I celebrated with a bunch of my friends last night, and we shared about 20-25 individual desserts. Maybe that lessens my credibility as a nutrition aficionado, but I maintain that it’s all about balance. And I gotta tell you, after all this stuffing my face, I feel pretty gross. I don’t think I’ll be touching sweets for a week. 

Anyway, now for today’s topic. I’ve been wanting to write about one of the reasons why people are so confused about nutrition. Who knows what they’re supposed to eat when every day something different is bad for us (fat, carbs, gluten, etc), and something different is good for us (protein, chia seeds, fish oil, etc), according to the media. 

I firmly believe that everyone should just follow Michael Pollan’s three simple rules at least 80% of the time, and your health will pretty much fall in line: 1. Eat food (as in whole, real, minimally processed). 2. Not too much. 3. Mostly plants.

But you’d think that if it were that simple that the advice wouldn’t be this confusing and conflicted. And there has been years and years of research to back up the benefits of a whole foods, plant strong diet. Here’s the problem: science that everyone already knows is true doesn’t sell. You’ve gotta be showing something new. We hope that academia exists to advance our knowledge of the world and of humanity, and to a great extent that is true, but it is also a business. Researchers want their papers to get published, and media wants to buy the stories that will make headlines. 

It’s kind of terrible that the system works that way, especially when it comes to our health. Of course, it’s true that some people lose weight on a low-carb diet, but it’s also true that some people lose weight on a high carb diet. This focus on individual foods and individual nutrients is getting us nowhere, it’s only making the people selling those foods richer. I have a hard time blaming people for trying to make money though; the pursuit of immediate gratification is human nature, after all. No one is saying “let’s just make up something crazy to attract attention and make money.” For instance, I’ve noticed this in the research lab I’m with which I’m involved. The leaders have honest and good intentions; they want to change people’s eating behavior to improve public health. But if the most logical explanation for some observed behavior is too obvious, they look for something else to explain it in the hopes of being more likely to get noticed and published. Of course, if they can’t find an alternate effect they don’t lie or anything, but I still can’t see how this kind of attitude wouldn’t bias their findings to some degree. 

Let me be clear that I’m NOT saying that every researcher is a money/fame-hungry fraud. Most of them are in fact doing honest, respectable science, but the system is against them and against the public, in my opinion. 

Here’s the bottom line: stop looking for some unique cure and fund research that will actually help us change people’s behavior into doing what we have always known works. And take every article you read reporting on nutrition research with a bowl of salt (not literally, of course, that would be bad nutrition 😉 .) 

Anyway, as always, please let me know your thoughts. Happy birthday to me!




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