Take nutrition-based research with a pinch of salt

Kavita Devgan
Kavita DevganSep 20, 2016 | 11:37

Take nutrition-based research with a pinch of salt

The biggest nutrition buzz these days is the expose published on September 12 about how the sugar industry in the US paid three very influential scientists in the 1960s to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat (SF) as the devil instead.

Similarly, sugar (and soda’s) link with obesity was downplayed too. It’s been 50 years since and only lately, in the last decade or so, has the tide begun turning against this faulty line of thought (about fat being a bigger devil than sugar).


Finally, sugar is back to being the devil and SF is being exonerated. Imagine the amount of time, effort and lives wasted… and of course our hearts and health have been sitting guinea pigs, played with ruthlessly, all along.

But then why does this surprise anyone! The fact is that most research, nutrition research included, is funded by someone or the other, and that (should not but…) tends to influence results, sometimes subtly, sometimes outright.

It’s a sad fact that science sometimes doesn’t discover knowledge, it “constructs” it, and then the marketers market it smartly.

Another fact is that the dark underbelly of nutrition advice is often made of food politics, egos of people in power, flawed/half baked research and heavy corporate investment; we can’t just wish it away!

Then there is this constant yo-yoing of what research says and then unsays! Today X is right. Y is wrong. Then suddenly the opposite is true.

We are bombarded with conflicting nutrition advice every day. Drink milk; no, stay away from dairy… Earlier chocolates were poison for us, now they are the sweetest health news around, saving us from everything from cancer to… you name it.

Sugar is back to being the devil and saturated fat is being exonerated. (Photo credit: India Today)

Eggs got rapped for years and now they are suddenly good, cholesterol et al; ditto with ghee. And coconut oil, which was discarded in the "bad for you" bin by westerners now looks all set to dethrone olive oil from its superoil throne.

Do I see a lot of heads from down south nodding with me here? So, the truth is if we begin basing what we eat on what research covers or uncovers, on a daily basis, we’ll probably never be able to eat anything ever! And might just end up becoming a food schizo.

So what does one do?

For starters it helps to understand that nutrition is not a settled science. It is ever evolving, and things (facts) change at breakneck speed.

Plus, mostly, nutrition researchers have to rely on observational studies - which are rife with uncertainty or with food surveys, which are imprecise.

Not their fault, this is how it works. So to safeguard self-interest, do read the "breaking news" but take it with a pinch of salt; use it only as a guiding light not gospel.

Secondly, whether you are skimming the study itself or reading its report on websites, newspapers, or magazines, don’t get swayed by the hype and confusion around it.


Read sensational headlines (like xx extract will helps you dodge Alzheimer's) objectively and apply common sense before following anything.

For example, agreed research says wine is good for our heart, but that doesn't mean you must begin downing a glass or two everyday!

Maybe the exercise you are doing in the morning and the two fruits you are snacking on are keeping your heart in the pink already, and it doesn’t need any extra help.

Actually, too much information can often do more harm than good. So listen to your gut, and the golden rule of moderation - no food is bad per say, it is only bad in excess - and you’ll be fine.

Plus, if you stick to whole foods, the way nature made them, then there is less possibility of you going wrong. For example, if you stick to having turmeric instead of its component curcumin’s capsule (just because research says it is what is giving turmeric the benefits), you’ll continue to do fine.

That’s because whole foods are not a work of progress (like research) - they are tried and tested to be good for us.

Last updated: September 20, 2016 | 19:59
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