Why You Can't Trust Nutrition Studies

How many of you get super fed up with all of these nutrition studies that you see on a daily basis? Scroll through Facebook on any given day and you will see headlines that scare you into thinking everything you are eating will kill you.  Or that the foods we thought were healthy are actually poison (the coconut oil scandal!).  Or how many times have we as a society decided that eggs are good for you, oh wait, they are bad for you, oh wait they are good for you!  At best it's exhausting, and at worst it's dangerously confusing.

Coconut oil, eggs, and steak. Will they kill you or save your life?

So today I want to discuss why you shouldn't really worry about any of those studies at all- because none of them are really truly trustworthy.  And this isn't because of evil scientists or big pharma money (although that IS a problem).  This is simply because of how nutrition studies are conducted (through no fault of anyone's).

Think about how you would conduct a nutrition study. The most accurate way to gather data is to completely control all variables, right? Can we do that with nutrition? NO. You cannot lock a group of people up and have 100% control over everything they eat for 30 years.  

So instead, what they do is gather data through surveys. Which means we are COMPLETELY RELYING on individuals "accurately" reporting what they ate over the last, say month, or year. Or even every couple of weeks.  How many of you could report your food intake with 100% accuracy over the last 2 weeks?

So that's the first huge problem...simple reporting accuracy.  The second problem is called the Healthy User Bias.  the kind of subjects that voluntarily enroll in a clinical trial and actually follow the experimental regimen are not representative of the general population. They can be expected, on average, to be healthier as they are concerned for their health and are predisposed to follow medical advice, both factors that would aid one's health. 

A good example of this are studies that have been done on the effect of the consumption of meat, specifically red meat.  Up until recently, red meat was considered "bad" for you, right? It's high in saturated fat, which was poison! The purpose of these epidemiology studies were to determine if people who ate meat had better or worse health than those that did not consume meat. 

But because meat was widely considered to be "bad" for you, the people in this study who ate meat in general were not as concerned about their own health (because everyone thought meat was bad!)- so they did other things that were also not great, maybe they also ate processed foods/sugar, they didn't exercise as much, etc.  Those who consumed less meat or no meat thought they were being super healthy by doing that- so they also did other things that were super healthy- they exercised more and ate more vegetables. So you can see how the conclusion of this study is wildly inaccurate- meat eaters had poor health in comparison, but was it because of the meat?? 

I tell you all this not to discourage you, but to help you realize that the best thing you can do for your health is to realize that we are all individual.  No matter what any "study" tells you, you must learn what is healthy for YOU and what isn't.  In general, my advice is to eat REAL food and eliminate processed food.  From there, do your OWN individual nutrition study!

Jennifer Ostman