So, it’s pretty much the understatement of the 21st century to say there’s a lot of conflicting information out there. Thanks to the interwebs, everyone’s a freaking expert. And I’m talking EXPERT. They know everything. EVERYTHING. And, they’re RIGHT, you’re WRONG (and FYI you’re an idiot for disagreeing with them). It’s getting real in the Whole Foods Parking lot, if you know what I’m saying...
But, one thing that I’ve learned about science is no matter how much you think (or want) something to be true, if the data does not support your theory, it’s simply not true. Get over it, adjust and move on. Moreover, if you’re going to make a public declaration about a certain health claim, you better make damn well sure it is water tight - based on original evidence and then backed up by more original evidence. A single study does not a revolution make! Anecdotal theories are great, but then go do your homework! If you see an interesting claim and are ready to make a big change in your life, your first move should be to check the source. You don’t need a PhD to do the reading. Because, as I’ve mentioned before, data is data but the interpretation of the data by the mouthpieces is often woefully skewed. So, go to the original source and read what the scientists write in the discussion of the paper, because more often than not, they acknowledge the limitations of their study and will usually state if more work needs to be done to corroborate their findings. Then, if you want to be really really sure about a certain topic, double check their sources. At the very least, you’ll get a more solid picture of what the research is really saying as a whole, not just what some interesting new finding is. Because, like political polls, research is best understood in trends, not flashes (I’m looking at you, Herman Cain circa 2011).
The thing is, when it comes to my health, I am NOT willing to blindly trust the next “expert” that comes along with a revolutionary theory. So let’s take a few flashes from the recent news media and check some sources, shall we?
Meat is bad for you: I’ve mentioned before that I don’t eat meat. But, for me, it has more to do with the processing and handling of the crappy factory farmed meat available at grocery stores than the actual health implications. Based on the data, eating GOOD (read: expensive) meat is fine, and actually an evolutionary necessity if you don’t want to live on a B12 supplement for the rest of your life. BUT...and this is a big BUT...meat eaters do pretty poorly in the health research. There are a few studies here and there that show that meat eaters are just as likely to live as long as vegetarians -- but this seems to only apply to the carnivores that shop at health food stores (true store...and FYI, if they're shopping at Whole Foods, they’re probably pretty health conscious outside their meat eating habits too). Otherwise, there is a significant trend in the literature that shows that eating meat is pretty tough on our systems. From an imbalance in the gut microbiome that may lead to atherosclerosis (new research that just popped on the news media scene a few days ago) to a decreased life span to an increase in cardiovascular disease and cancer. Ok, so, that looks pretty dire...what’s the right thing to do? Well, based on the data, eating a little meat is ok, as long as you splurge on it (spend the money on a good cut of well grown beef and make it a treat). Balance it out with fresh fruit and veggies (lots of them) and then do other things to take care of yourself like exercise and lay off the smokes.
Wheat is bad for you: You've heard this one a LOT lately right? Wheat, gluten, carbs...they're making you fat and diabetic and ugly and short (I made those last two up). Well, if you have a gluten intolerance or Celiac Disease, yes, wheat is bad. But, if you don't (estimates state 1:133 have Celiac and ~6% may have gluten sensitivity), then whole grains are actually kind of superstars! Despite what you may have heard, whole grains are chock full of incredibly important nutrients including dietary fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, copper, and magnesium. The problem is, most people don't actually eat WHOLE grains. Most people eat crap-in-a-box that food companies want you to think is whole grains. Seriously, when was the last time you cooked and ate pearled barley, or quinoa, or steel cut oats? THOSE are whole grains...not a FiberOne bar or even a bowl of Cheerios. Those are refined grains, and are potentially the grains responsible for a large portion of the obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome crises we are facing today. To find real whole grains go to your grocery's bulk food section and make some time to cook them at home!
Eating Carbs at night is good for you: I know, this one totally contradicts the previous wheat myth. Are you really shocked or does is this back and forth look familiar?? Thankfully, this is not a very common misconception, but it popped up on my screen a few weeks ago and I almost hit the roof! A local blogger I follow put on their facebook page that eating Carbs at night is, in fact, good for you...great for recovery and rejuvenation of pooped out muscles! Woot!! Who knew??!! I was pretty surprised to see this too (considering this person is marketing themselves as a local fitness and nutrition “expert”) and went on a search for confirmation that this is in fact, truth. (n.b. As I started out in this post, until you do the reading, you aren’t qualified to argue.)
Turns out, it isn’t true. When I cited two scientific articles suggesting that they may be mistaken (I was very respectful) and that researchers actually discovered that carbs right after your workout are, in fact, the best time to replace stores of glycogen and that carbs at night contribute to increased BMI, I was told that “more recent research” demonstrates the opposite affect. Immediately, I took a step back, thinking, “Wow, maybe I missed something on my search...I’ll check again.” I spent a good hour on PubMed searching for articles...no dice. Then, sure enough, I Googled “carbs at night good for you” and came up with ONE lone study, completed in 2011 (can someone say "flash"?) that showed that obese Israeli cops that ate two extra pieces of bread with dinner lost more weight than those that did not (note, they all lost weight because everyone was on a calorie restricted diet, but that's beside the point, right?). And...if you dig a bit deeper into the study, you see that the group that ate more carbs actually started out with a higher BMI and more fat mass than the control group...thus, had more to lose! When I brought this up to the blogger, they stated that they like to use anecdotal data, rather than scientific studies, and then pointed me to an article written in Testosterone Magazine (T-Nation) as their “source”. Now, I have nothing against the T-Nation, but the article had no research cited and was really a lot of supposition and wanting of things to be true, rather than conclusions based on real evidence.
Ummm...does anyone else think this is a huge problem?! It’s like a giant game of internet telephone! T-nation author reads a few New York Times articles, proceeds to write their own article, that is picked up by a bunch of local blogger experts, that tell hoards of diligent followers that scarfing white spaghetti before bed is going to help them recover from their spin class. Tada! (Enter obese spinner.)
So, here’s my message to you. Your body and your health are too important to entrust into the hands of the screamers. The beauty of the interwebs is that, in addition to constantly receiving information, you can also seek it out. You have access to pretty much any scientific data out there (...hopefully more soon, thanks to advocates like the late Aaron Swartz). Use the power that you have available to you. Check. Double check. Triple check. Find the original source and read it. Really read it. Because it’s only through educating yourself that you can decipher “flash” from “trend” and start wading through the constant barrage of contradiction you read on your twitter feed.