The well known expression, you are what you eat, is even more true as we get on in years. If we had eaten the food that was good for us in our younger years, the chances of staying healthy longer will improve as we get older. Also, the likelihood of maintaining a high quality of life throughout our senior years increases. Reading nutrition columns in newspapers and magazines or from other media sources is a good way to keep updated of current food and health related discoveries. How can we be able to estimate and gauge the truthfulness of scientific studies about food?
Linda Kulman gives us good advice about how to do just that in her article, Food News Can Get You Dizzy, So Know What to Swallow. I believe that for a person to be able to make healthy dietary choices a person needs to be educated as to the credibility of healthy dietary options. Primarily, to achieve and maintain good health, food from all the major food groups should be eaten in proper proportion and regularly. Therefore, no one food is able to maintain good health when eaten alone.
For instance, “No foods are so good that if you ate them to the exclusion of all else, you would be healthy,” says M. R. C. Greenwood, a biologist and chancellor of the University of California-Santa Cruz (Kulman, 2012, p. 141). Making the correct dietary choices was, and continues to be a difficult one. Confusion can turn to frustration when many reports and studies contradict each others findings. Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating will give us the basics on what constitutes a healthy diet. The food guide basically recommends to eat in moderation and to eat a large variety of foods.
The flip-flops of nutritional recommendations by the scientific community are causing bewilderment with many people who are trying to achieve and maintain a good healthy diet. Furthermore, the tale of fiber and its claimed shielding effect against colon cancer show how uncertain science can lead to confusion. Fiber helps food go through the digestive track faster, reducing the time carcinogens make contact with your intestinal walls. Studies of high fiber eating population and experiments with mice and rats resulted in giving the fiber hypothesis some credibility.
Even though the evidence for higher fiber consumption reducing cancer risk remained uncertain, in 1984 the American Cancer Society made its first specific recommendation to eat fiber to help prevent colon cancer. Researchers with the Nurses Health Study in Boston tracked the diets and health of more than 88,000 American female nurses since 1980 and found that nurses who ate about 30 grams of fiber a day got colorectal cancer just as often as the average American, who consumes just 13 grams (Kulman, 2012, p. 143).
Two additional study results showed that eating more fiber does not reduce the risk of getting colon cancer. These studies show that there was no significant difference of colon cancer risk between man and women. Researchers continue to suspect that whole fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains are protective against colon cancer. In conclusion, the fiber story is an example of how reporting results of scientific food studies while the studies are incomplete, can lead to many people becoming discouraged from believing future reported food study findings.
Usually the cause of such distortions is the incompatibility between the needs of science and those of the News Media. “The way a lab finding makes its way to the headlines is like a conveyor belt,” explains the Statistical Assessment Service’s Murray. “At each step there is a potential distortion. Where science is contingent and unfinished, journalists want something definitive (Kulman, 2012, p. 143). The most frequent complaints about news reports is that they tend to leave out information that would help readers decide how seriously to take a new finding.
The News Media should not be the only one to take the blame for the reporting of incorrect information about study findings. Scientist can get very enthusiastic when reporting their findings to the News Media and can easily be misinterpreted as to the significance of their findings. Scientists are often motivated to embellish their claims to get greater attention and more research funding. This is an unfortunately situation for those of us attempting to make an informed choice for a healthy diet.