Where we get fit and spin (wool)

Posts tagged ‘science’

There’s One Born Every Minute…

And your evidence is?

I was a strange kid, instead of reading romance novels or whatever passed for kid lit in our day, I read books written by naturalists and zoologists.  This gave me a strong bent towards science. During my teen years, I got interested in the occult, and read books both embracing it and debunking it, which led to a habit of always trying to find both sides of the story. I say all this to tell you that whenever a new health craze comes out, I’m interested, but skeptical. I like to wait and see what evidence supports the new claim(s). When faced with some new diet craze or exercise fad, I try to apply some common sense principles to cut to the heart of the matter.

  • Could applying this hurt me?
  • How costly is it?
  • How does it fit in with the general body of knowledge?
  • Does it contradict things I know to be true?
  • Does it claim too much?

So, if a new claim comes along, if it won’t hurt, isn’t costly, and I can’t see anything glaringly wrong with it, I might give it a try.

Real Life

So now that we’ve laid the framework, lets look at some real examples. This post was prompted by a Washington Post article stating that there is little evidence that alkaline water promotes health claims. I had heard some ads for the water treatment devices, and they are very costly. Like most of these things, they start with word of mouth advertising, along the lines of multi level marketing. Right away, anything that is sold that way makes me very leery. Especially when the people selling it are “true believers”, coming across like converts to a religion. The whole idea of acid imbalance in your body flies in the face of science. Your body is very delicate, and very good at regulating itself. That is part of why your electrolytes are so important, calcium buffers the ph in your blood, so it doesn’t get too acid when conditions warrant it. So getting back to my principles, it violates three of the 4 , as it won’t hurt you to drink it.

Some Fads go Mainstream

Lets look at some recent fads that are gaining traction. Low carb diets, vegan diets, gluten free diets, coconut oil, and blenders. Low carb diets started with Atkins, and have gone through many permutations. I don’t recommend any of the more extreme forms, and I don’t think they are a lifestyle diet, which is the real goal of a “diet”, to created a daily way of eating that benefits your weight and health. However, any diet that gets you to eat less white flour and sugar isn’t too bad. Just when they say to cut carrots- that’s getting foolish.

Vegan is popular, and it is too extreme to be very healthy. You can’t do it without modern supplements for your B vitamins. Also, any diet that extreme makes most people fall off it rather quickly. Done wrong, without paying close attention to the nutritional value of what you are eating, it can be very harmful.

Gluten free is one that I think will fade over time. There are a percentage of people who are gluten intolerant. It can be tested for. The rest are on a bandwagon. Most of the health benefits people claim who are not suffering from celiac disease come from cutting the empty carbs, which does benefit everyone. Cut baked goods- cookies, pie, pastry, bread- out of your diet and you’ll see the same benefit.

Coconut oil is now touted as the cure-all for everything. I’ve even started allowing a small amount into my diet, and will see if my cholesterol jumps next time. I doubt it does everything people say it does:

The health benefits of coconut oil include hair care, skin care, stress relief, maintaining cholesterol levels, weight loss, increased immunity, proper digestion and metabolism, relief from kidney problems, heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV and cancer, dental care, and bone strength. These benefits of oil can be attributed to the presence of lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, and its properties such as antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial and soothing properties.

That is from organicfacts.com. That goes against the last principle, of claiming too much.  I’m trying some, without going nuts on it in case it proves not to be true. I look at that one like vitamin D. Right now, people are claiming way to much for one lowly vitamin. Do I think vitamin D is good? Of course, but to hear some people talk, it is the cure for anything that ails you. All diseases don’t have the same root cause, so all can’t be cured by the same product.

People are buying blenders for their health. Think about it. You can’t eat these foods unless they are predigested? Sorry, I like blenders, but if you need a $500 blender to eat strawberries and spinach, there is something wrong. I blend my kale in a $25 bullet knockoff every morning and it turns out fine. Besides, I like chewing my food. The only reason I blend my kale is it is kind of tough, especially in my oatmeal. I wouldn’t do that if I was sautéing it. Enough said.

So, every time a new product, diet, or any other type of fad comes out, hear it out, weigh it against what you already know, and decide if the proposed benefits out weigh the risks. Just remember – the person selling it is a true believer, and often is making money off it, so of course they are all on board. Also, before you go buying products to improve your health, look at your baseline – what is your current diet and exercise regime? Could you just improve that, rather than go to some extreme diet?

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Nutrition 101

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 probably is.

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.

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