Food Studies: What are they really telling us?

One of TIME magazine’s most recent publication features strips of bacon across the front page with the title, “War on delicious.” Featuring the study in a famous publication draws attention to the issue however, the result from the issue don’t tell us anything revolutionary.

We all like that we know what we should put into our bodies. We know that consuming foods in excess is bad for us, and that we need to eat our vegetables. Food studies from groups like the World Health Organization mostly just remind us of the nutrition maxims we already know.

The most recent example of an unsurprising observation came in a study that was released Monday, October 26. The World Health Organization shocked the world by telling us that bacon is actually bad for us. Sure, the study specifies that the consumption of all processed meat is classified as carcinogenic under group one of WHO’s classifications. But other items also found in group one include salted fish, wood dust, and sunshine.

An article by the New York Times about the study also mentioned the Cancer Society’s most recent nutrition and health guidelines that generically stress “choosing fish, poultry or beans as alternatives to processed and red meat, and for those who eat red meat, the guidelines urge them to choose lean cuts and smaller portion sizes.”

Again, doctors have been telling us this advice for years now. It’s no surprise that the secret to a healthy life is eating in moderation and exercising daily. But the public seems unwilling to accept these guidelines. Instead, they look for other things, such as sugar, fat and carbohydrates as scapegoats.

Dr. Lustig, a self-proclaimed expert on how sugar affects the body, conducted a survey with the University of California’s pediatrics department to analyze how the complete eradication of sugar affected children who were overweight.

The experiment observed a group of overweight children and how their body reacted to the absolute cessation of sugar consumption. The results of the experiment were positive, with Dr. Lustig’s overall claim that “Everything got better.” More specifically, the children lost weight, and their insulin levels backed off from the threat of diabetes.

Dr. Lustig makes a point of saying that what they replaced the sugar with, was not much better; instead of meals concentrated with sugar, they were full of carbohydrates, and the kids still lost weight. I admit, this observation is a legitimate result of the study and makes a point of stressing the impact that sugar has on one’s body. However, completely cutting sugar out of one’s diet does not prevent you from becoming obese. And it certainly does not ensure good health.

And the article on Dr. Lustig, in the end, addresses the solution that we already know. University of Tennessee’s Dr. Mark Corkins reminds us that, “Too much calorie intake is still the biggest problem.” A harsh and more complex reality that requires more meticulous planning and dedication than the media just blaming one specific ingredient.

Alex Schuler, a fourth year nutrition student at NC State University, stresses that the media is to blame for the public’s tendency to focus on one specific ingredient.

“It’s very easy to pinpoint one specific thing, like saturated fats, and write articles in magazines and do TV specials on Dr. OZ telling everyone to avoid saturated fats and all the health issues will be solved. When in fact health issues today are all multifactorial. People (especially the media) love oversimplified solutions for very complex problems,” said Schuler.

The studies tend to pinpoint one specific ingredient. When health organizations release a new food study, take it with a grain of salt; the majority of what the studies claim are principles that other observations have already established. Instead, focus on cutting out calories by eating in moderation and exercising. It is a bigger challenge than just blaming one ingredient, but the overall result will be a lot better, and that’s something that you don’t need a food study to tell you.


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