Do We Know the Healthiest Way to Eat? Part 1
We are inundated with headlines saying that science has now proven this is how we should eat to be healthy. No, no this is what we need to do. Why can’t the “experts” agree? Here’s my limited understanding of why we don’t know the healthiest way to eat. Because it seems like it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out right? We’ve sent men to the moon; we should know this.
Now, I am not a scientist. I took just enough science to pass high school and to move from community college to a state college. But even I know that to know that your scientific hypothesis is correct you do an experiment. You have a control group where nothing changes and then you change one thing and see if the result of your experiment agrees with your hypothesis. If you do enough experiments then you get to call your hypothesis a theory. Hmm not remembering how you go from theory to fact…it was a long time ago. I’m pretty impressed with myself that I remembered that much. So anyway when I read that the experts say we should do x, y, and z to live long and prosper, I assume they have scientific experiments to back those conclusions up. But what they have are epidemiological studies to back it up.
Huh? What’s that? In a nutshell epidemiologist take surveys and study correlations. Ie what do you eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner? How much do you exercise? Then they check these people’s lipid profiles and heart health history or stroke, cancer, history and make correlations. But unfortunately the media tends to make cause and effect conclusions when that hasn’t really been proven.
Gary Taubes wrote an article in 2007 about Hormone Replacement Therapy for women. In it he explains, “This science (epidemiology) evolved over the last 250 years to make sense of epidemics – hence the name - and infectious diseases. Since the 1950’s it has been used to identify, or at least to try to identify, the causes of the common chronic diseases that befall us, particularly heart disease and cancer.” He then goes on to demonstrate that that is why there have been such wide swings in medical treatment, from H.R.T. is very beneficial for menopausal women to oops no it might actually increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and other nasty things.
So in my limited understanding of epidemiology studies observational evidence, they observe an association between two events and come to a conclusion. Luckily with H.R.T. they then went on to do experiments. That’s why we have the flip flop in science. Epidemiology suggests a correlation between x and y; then the results of the true experiments, with a control group etc., come out and say nope.
Why am I going on and on about this epidemiology stuff? Because if we don’t understand the way that the “science” is done and the way the media draws conclusions and headlines from those studies we will never understand that NO ONE really KNOWS how to eat healthy, i.e. what is the best way to live a long and healthy life by the food choices we make? All of the nutritional advice we get, no matter who tells us this advice, even the government, is based on epidemiology. They ask a bunch of people what do you eat and track them for years. Sometimes lots and lots of people and years and sometimes not so many. The problem is there are way too many variables to make any logical conclusions. Is it simply saturated fat that is a problem or the source of saturated fat? Grass fed beef and cage free organic eggs vs. Twinkies and cookies? The studies don’t really go into those details and really doesn’t that seem important to you? It seems important to me!
Here is Gary Taubes article on the H.R.T. study and epidemiology. Please read it as he makes so much more sense on this important topic than I do.