Not many dieters realize how flawed and inconsistent the nutrition field really is. It seems like a brand new fad diet is coming out each week, promising concrete results based on the latest greatest studies. But many of these weight loss tips really tell and spread white lies based on half-truths or incomplete data. It is not necessarily the dietitians’ and researchers’ fault; however, the findings are oftentimes but a tiny cog in understanding of the infinitely complex machinery that is the human body.
Take the latest finding trending around the internet – a new study that disproves the long-held idea that skipping breakfast is bad for one’s health. How many times have the dietitians advised to always eat a fulfilling meal in the morning? It gives the energy to carry through the day, it kick-starts the metabolism, and it prevents over-eating during lunch time. Until, as it turns out, it no longer does.
Consider good old kale, a super vegetable with an endless list of beneficial effects, from lowering cholesterol all the way to preventing cancer. Except recent studies are finding that the “magical super food” can actually have devastating effects on the thyroid when eaten in huge portions. And like most leafy greens, it is not difficult to overdo it, especially when following the detoxifying juicing trend.
Eggs are an opposite example – for years dietitians have cautioned about their high cholesterol, dutifully recommending no more than two a day. As further research has shown, there are two kinds of cholesterol: one that is good for the body, and one that is produced entirely by the liver, not the food ingested. Amazingly, the egg stigma has been removed, and the American populace can go back without guilt to their favorite morning bacon-laden indulgence.
Exercise regimes, as well, have often proven questionable. CrossFit, the latest greatest fad, has been linked to rhabdomyolysis, a very serious condition where the muscles in the body become so over-strained they practically disintegrate, resulting in the proverbial noodle arms. But as funny as the imagery might be, the condition is potentially deadly if left untreated.
There are many more examples, from the low-fat craze to the questionable fear of carbs and salt. The only thing that seems to stay consistent in nutrition and diet trends is how inconsistent and contradictory they often are. What is a super food one day, turns out to be the bane of the stomach the next, and vice-versa. This often leads to the disgruntled feeling that many of the weight loss tips really just tell lies or misconceptions. Facts could be disproven any day. Why is the nutritional knowledge so volatile?
In part, it comes down to the nature of scientific discovery and the complexity of human bodies. Science has always been an iterative process, with new findings building on the previous research, and sometimes even disproving it. People used to believe the Earth was flat, after all. Now, they believe that a certain evil ingredient or nutrient is the sole reason for lack of weight loss results. A convenient scapegoat is always good for relieving the troubled conscience. It does not help that the media loves to jump on the latest nutritional findings, often blowing them out of proportion. Little consideration is given to the sampling size or statistical significance of the studies. And so, what often requires more research, quickly gets elevated to the status of a fact.
Another reason why weight loss studies are sometimes so inconsistent is the huge stake many of the food manufacturers have in nutrition politics. Monsanto, branding itself as a “sustainable agricultural manufacturer” has poured billions of dollars into researching and promoting genetically modified foods. However, little consideration is given to the fact their long-term effects on humans are unknown (thought, what most anti-GMO armchair proponents do not want to admit, it does not mean they are necessarily bad – just not yet fully understood). As another example, one of the PepsiCo board members has recently become the president of the Institute of Medicine, a research source sometimes used by government bodies such as the FDA or CDC.
Conflicts of interest are clearly issues in these cases. While it does not mean these companies would try to fabricate any nutritional data, they would most definitely promote those studies favoring their products, while stripping funding from those that do not. Looking at their research shows this very trend – how many studies has PepsiCo published that show their sugar-laden drinks are anything but healthy?
The lesson to be taken here is simple – while dieting tips are often founded on actual research, the research is not always concrete proof and may require further studies. Like the low-fat trend or the fear of eggs have shown, any of the so-called nutritional facts could be disproven any day. Some findings, despite needing more trials, get hailed as breakthroughs thanks to the media prying for a good story and the powerful food companies guarding their best interests. Business is, after all, business.
Indirectly, many weight loss tips perpetuate and tell lies or misunderstandings stemming from the lack of proper understanding of the scientific process and the human body. There are also the recent studies, touted by the fat acceptance movement, claiming the body has a natural set weight point. In this theory, the body will always gravitate towards a certain genetically predetermined weight, speeding or slowing down metabolism and appetite accordingly. If true, the entire dieting effort may be in vain, at least not without endless self-deprivation. But like most other research and nutritional findings, it is just a theory. Because no one really knows for sure how the human body actually works.
Opinion by Jakub Kasztalski