It’s really no wonder all of us have trouble eating a healthy diet. With the wealth of information that is available in today’s connected society, you would think that we have all the information we need to make the right choices, if we choose to eat healthy. The problem is, as easy as it is to publish information to a large audience today, almost any information can get published. That means, if there’s something you want to learn about, you’re likely to find articles arguing both sides of the question.
In addition, web sites, news reports, and articles all want to grab your attention, so they invent headlines to do just that. These headlines though, aren’t necessarily accurate at conveying the truth of the subject. This is particularly true when reporting on the latest health research. As an example look at this list of headlines and comments on nutrition that I pulled from the internet, using just a quick search.
“Counting calories: Get back to weight-loss basics”
“Don’t Count Calories, Count Cups”
“Why You Don't Need To Count Calories Ever Again”
“Why White Rice is Healthier Than Brown Rice”
“Why Brown--But Not White--Rice is One of the World's Healthiest Foods”
“The Role of Raw Sugar in Health and Beauty”
“Sorry, Raw Sugar is No Better For You Than Refined”
“The saturated fat found in butter, whole milk, cheese, and other dairy products increases LDL levels the most”
“Overall, saturated fats do not harm the blood lipid profile like previously believed.”
“5 Healthy Whole Grains To Add To Your Diet”
“How Grains Are Killing You Slowly”
“The health benefits of agave nectar”
“Agave: Why We Were Wrong”
“Why is salt bad for our health?”
“Shaking up the Salt Myth: The Dangers of Salt Restriction”
While some of these differences represent honest changes in our understanding of what’s healthy, most are due to different slants on the subject, biased research, or sensationalism in headline writing.
So, what’s a person to do?
The first thing, stop believing the headlines! Read beyond the headline to see what evidence is actually being presented and then see if it rings true.
Look at the probable biases of the presenters of the article or the researchers involved. When I read highlighted text in an article that says; “Plain grains -- from brown rice and quinoa to wheat berries –– and whole grain pasta should be a regular feature on your table,” I should take that with a grain of salt (no pun intended) when I see that it is on the web site wholegrainscouncil.org.
When you read in an article about lowering LDL cholesterol saying; “[The study] suggests that lowering LDL-cholesterol levels to very low levels results in a significant reduction in cardiovascular events,” would it surprise you that one of the authors of the study works for Pfizer, the maker of Lipitor and other statins? That doesn’t mean that drug company researchers are automatically biased, but it should make you think twice.
Look for telltale signs in the article that should tell you that the evidence is weaker than the headlines claim. Look for words like “associated with” or “researchers believe.” I’ll get into more about what an association is and why it doesn’t mean what you think in a later article, but for now, beware.
Moreover, find a couple sources that you trust that can do the research for you, and who read the actual research papers to determine how strong the evidence really is. The ones I generally trust, who seem to study the claims, and give honest assessments are;
Test things yourself. If you’re puzzled about the truth of a specific claim, try it yourself. Change that one thing in your diet and lifestyle and see if it works for you.
It’s hard to navigate the flood of too much conflicting information, but with a little critical thinking, seeking trusted advisors or coaches, and seeing what works for you, it can be done successfully.