I have had more that one person tell me that they were confused by all the nutrition information they hear. I do understand that. It does appear that the “experts” contradict each other. Who are these experts? If I successfully lose weight, and write a book about it, do I qualify as an “expert”? If I read a lot about nutrition, and pull all that together into a book, am I an expert? Am I only an expert if I am a scientist, or a nutritionist? If I am a journalist, and I see a paper written on a certain aspect of nutrition, and I have no background, but I put out the synopsis of that paper, with whatever my understanding of the paper is, correct or not, am I an expert?
That is only problem one. Problem two is: what are we talking about? Losing weight? Heart health? Cooking? Cancer? How are we talking about it? Anecdotal evidence? A scientific paper? Someone’s opinion? Are we getting a sales pitch for the latest diet, supplement, magazine, or just someone wanting to be right?
Further complicating this is you. What level of basic nutrition/human biology knowledge do you have? How badly do you want to believe whatever someone is telling you? Especially when it comes to weight loss or cancer, there is a strong motivation to believe something that might help you.
So what is the prescription? First, common sense. Is there anyone out there that really thinks donuts are good for you? If it sounds too good to be true, it
Second, What source are you listening to? What are their credentials? While everyone writing about nutrition or fitness has a horse in the race, some sources are more trustworthy than others. I would trust the Mayo clinic over some dude selling supplements. I would trust someone who can cite studies over someone saying, “Well I think…” or “In my experience…” I wouldn’t completely discount experience, but it is similar to anecdotal evidence. Maybe something works for you, but will it work for a larger population? In Supersize Me, they interviewed a man who ate at McDonalds nearly every day, and he was skinny. That won’t work for most people. Find trustworthy sources. Listen to debates about sources, find out what other people think. Criticism might not be deserved, but at least you’ll know why people trust or don’t trust some sources. If something is massively popular, be suspicious. Just like the “narrow path” to heaven, sound nutrition and fitness advice is not sexy or full of mass appeal.
Get some basic nutrition information. Read, either on the net or get books. Compare new information with what you’ve learned. The Mayo clinic has a nice basic here. Here is another one, at About.com. This is one of my favorites, Nutrition Data.
Having said all of this. It is true that information changes. We have only been scientifically studying nutrition for a relatively short time. It is EXTREMELY difficult to study nutrition. You can’t put people in laboratories, you can’t deprive them of vital nutrients, you have to trust them to be honest. Clever people are trying to come up with experiments to eliminate confounding variables, and the better they get at it, the better the information is.
Ok, this is too long as it is. Maybe I’ll do nutrition 102 soon.