Don’t take research studies at face value

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I lost faith in health research studies when I started taking nutrition science classes and reading medical journals as part of the curriculum. What stunned me were how many studies were nonconclusive. Many ended with the conclusion that more studies were needed. So when I hear people defend their dietary choices with studies as the justification for what they choose or choose not to do, I roll my eyes.

OK, so you read an article that recapped a new study on how there is no link between food and cancer after all. What a relief – now I can go eat that triple-layer corned beef/pastrami/smoked ham hoagie I’ve been salivating over. Or studies have not proven vitamin supplements are beneficial, so let’s spend our money on steak and scotch instead. Do we ever question what population groups were tested, over what period of time, how the variables were isolated, and who sponsors those surveys? Maybe we should.

If you’re wondering what triggered my little tirade, read the New York Times article, “How the  Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat.”  According to this article, three Harvard scientists were bribed to write an article that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which targeted saturated fat as the malefactor in heart disease and downplayed the role of sugar. Warnings today from the American Heart Association and World Health Organization say otherwise. Apparently, these scientists slanted research results to oblige a sugar industry executive who cleverly orchestrated the strategy to make saturated fat the bad guy. How did they get away with it? The article was written about 50 years ago, before medical journals required researchers to reveal their funding sources.

Just like real estate is all about location, nutrition science articles are all about where they are published. Because the review was published in a prestigious, well-respected journal, it had an impact that lingers to this day and may have even contributed to the obesity epidemic. When low-fat diets include high-sugar foods, people undermine their own efforts.

All I know is that when I pay attention to my body, I feel better. When I eat certain foods, I know from experience that it will impact my energy level, freedom of movement and overall mood. After I put together a meal from farmers market produce, I’m ready to take on the world. I don’t need a research scientist to tell me that, and if they did I wouldn’t believe them anyway without my own trial and error.

Put that in your petri dish and smoke it.