WEED OUT BAD SCIENCE

How Do We Weed out Bad Science and Over-Simplification?

“At its core, science is objective. It is the questions that are asked during the scientific process, and the way those findings are reported and framed, that can affect our understanding. In order for nutrition science to maintain its integrity, it is important to remain mindful of conflicts of interest.” – Andy Bellatti, Conflicts of Interest; Real, Important, and Undeniable

If you are bewildered and frustrated while you navigate the field of nutrition, you are not alone. Deep down, your instincts probably tell you that whole, real, fresh fruits and vegetables are safe, but what about the rest of the food supply? And what about agro-chemicals, preservatives, additives, and genetically modified foods? How much carbohydrates, protein, and fat should you be eating? Does eating fat really make us fat? The list of questions goes on and on. We won’t answer all these questions in this article, but what we can do is give you some reliable strategies and tactics to help you find the answers you need.

One easy way to start would be to view the PBS program: Sweet Revenge: Turning the tables on processed foods.

The title is a giveaway for our first piece of advice: Avoid processed foods. Since World War II, we have seen the proliferation of processed foods and also a meteoric rise in diet-related disease. While this has been a fascinating and well-intentioned phase in human food history, it has been a disaster for human health.

A new integrated science is emerging called “nutritional biochemistry”. This is a mouthful, but we believe it is essential that you learn more about what it means. In a nutshell, nutritional biochemistry recognizes that the human body is a complex of systems and requires understanding from multiple sciences such as physiology, medicine, microbiology, chemistry and biology and applies these sciences to the study of health, diet, nutrition, disease and the connections that exist among them.

While with good intentions, oversimplification in the field of nutrition has generally not yielded very good results for human health. For example, two numbers dominate our understanding of nutrition; the calorie and our body weight. While these numbers aren’t irrelevant, they are often misleading.

The concept of the calorie is based upon a thermodynamic measurement of food that is made by burning substances up in an oven-like machine called a bomb calorimeter. The problem is that the human body is not an oven. It is a living, biological, chemical organism and is supported by a community of microbiota (trillions of microorganisms that outnumber human cells by 10 to 1). The human body is complex. In order to properly measure the value of our food, we must go beyond the caloric content and consider nutrient density, fiber content, and the level of processing. Our bodies simply don’t need most of the crap that the food industry in throwing into the food supply… evidence shows it’s killing us slowly in epic numbers.

Body weight also dominates the conversation about diet and health. You will also benefit from knowing your waist circumference, your percentage of body fat, your body mass index (BMI), as well as other biomarkers that will tell you something about your metabolic health from the inside out (liver health, blood sugar, cholesterol, etc.).  

Simplistic, one size fits all nutrition, is simply not science – it is propaganda. Anyone who tries to sell a diet to you without having considered some very specific data points about you and your health, should be received with a high degree of skepticism. Sadly, financial interests and fanaticism often cloud the landscape of food and health.  It is unlikely that any packaged food product or proprietary diet is going to assure your health.  

“You are what you eat.” This sounds good, but simply isn’t true. You are what you metabolize. Calories from sugar sweetened beverages and calories from almonds are metabolized entirely very differently. One source of calories puts you at risk for type 2 diabetes and another protects you against heart disease. Real food is only thing that will help you. But, what is real food? It usually has only one ingredient, or it has very simple ingredients that you can easily recognize and pronounce, hasn’t been processed, or is minimally processed. It doesn’t have non-food ingredients in it. When you see real food, it is often not in a box, bag, or provided with a label. If it has a label, consider it a warning label.

So where do you go for unbiased information about nutrition, that is based on contemporary science and free of commercial interests? There is no single source of information.  However, there are many scientists and professionals in the field of nutrition providing unbiased information. The Hypoglycemia Support Foundation is committed to helping you navigate the field by identifying some of the leading voices in nutrition science that are providing reliable and actionable information, and bringing them to you.

Health and diet is a team sport. Part of the HSF approach is building a robust network and community. This keeps us honest, because we regularly get “reality checks” from our constituents and from a robust group of scientists who aren’t timid about providing healthy criticism and constructive feedback. We have five medical doctors on our board of directors, each with very distinct specialties in medicine and perspectives on nutrition that keep our filters relatively unburdened with dogma and opinion. If you seek the unmitigated truth, don’t hang around with folks that always agree with you!

In closing, here are a few simple tips for making sense of nutrition information:

  1. Consider the source. Is it coming from an individual or organization that has credibility in the nutrition science space? Does this individual or organization have any special interests (e.g., the Gatorade Sports Science Institute), and are they declared? Does this source have an established track record and position in the nutrition science field? Are they trying to sell you a product, service, diet plan, philosophy, etc.? Are they making their point at the expense of others in the field? 
  2. Content is king. What is the nature of the content? Does it start with a sensational headline, a list of the top ten things you should or shouldn’t eat, or use hyperbole to make its point? Are there any references to real data, peer reviewed science, or an established field of study? Are scientific elements referenced, or is it entirely opinion? Is there reference to a “study” but no original sources provided?
  3. Establish reliable relationships with sources you can trust and pay attention to what they are saying. Establish the context of their work (medicine, nutrition, diet, policy, etc.). Truly effective food system change is about establishing and re-establishing relationships with primary sources of real-whole-natural food and those who have knowledge about food (farmers, chefs, nutrition scientists, doctors, public health advocates, etc.).
“IT IS DIFFICULT TO GET A MAN TO UNDERSTAND SOMETHING, WHEN HIS SALARY DEPENDS ON HIS NOT UNDERSTANDING IT.” – UPTON SINCLAIR
WHERE NOT TO GO FOR NUTRITION SCIENCE

SOURCE

DESCRIPTION

Gatorade Sports Science Research institute

Industry front, trying to sell their products with spurious science

American Diabetes Association

Takes money from pharmaceutical and food industry interests

USDA

Food Industry Special Interests Dominate

School Nutrition Association

Accepts money from Big Food Interests

American Society of Nutrition

Accepts money from Big Food Interests

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Accepts money from Big Food Interests

SOLID SOURCES OF INDEPENDENT NUTRITION INFORMATION

SOURCE

DESCRIPTION

Nutrition Science Institute (NUSI)

Funds independent nutrition research

Sugar Science.Org

Archives of over 7,000 studies on sugar. Excellent translation of the science on sugar.

World Health Organization

Leading global institution that seeks a healthier humanity.

American Heart Association

Of the leading medical organizations, this one seems to be the most progressive.

Independent nutrition scientists, doctors, dentists, registered dietitians, etc. such as Dariush Mozzafarian, Christopher Gardner, Steve Phinney, Jeff Volek, Robert Lustig, and more.

None of these folks are trying to sell you something – just offering science produced with rigor and no commercial $

Independent academics, journalists and writers: Gary Taubes, Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Michele Simon, Alice Waters, and more.

Again, these folks have nothing to sell you and maintain fiercely independent voices.

 

10 RED FLAGS OF JUNK SCIENCE (ADOPTED FROM DUYFF 2002)

1. Recommendations that promise a quick fix.

2. Dire warnings of danger from a single product or regimen.

3. Claims that sound too good to be true.

4. Simplistic conclusions drawn from a complex study.

5. Recommendations based on a single study.

6. Dramatic statements that are refuted by reputable scientific organizations.

7. Lists of ―good and ―bad foods.

8. Recommendations made to help sell a product.

9. Recommendations based on studies published without peer review.

10. Recommendations from studies that ignore individual or group differences.

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