Facts matter. I try to be a savvy, reasonably well-informed consumer. I research health claims rather than blindly accept them. Whether I’m reading about a particular diet, exercise, food or supplement, I lean in favour of claims that are backed by rigorous science. But even when there are scientific studies to back up health claims, you can’t always believe everything you read.
A recent New York Times article on nutrition research pointed out the importance of knowing who funded the research. For example, a pomegranate juice company invested $20 million dollars on research that found pomegranate juice to be high in antioxidants. However, when asked whether less expensive fruits were equally healthful, the company indicated that comparing pomegranates to other fruits was not among its research objectives. The lesson: Be wary of studies funded by a company or industry that stands to benefit financially from the results. https://tinyurl.com/y88ew8yk
Consumers’ decision making is also influenced by marketing spin – the so-called facts that a company or industry may put in its messaging. If you’re not particularly knowledgeable about the subject and don’t bother to do some research, you can be sold a bill of goods. Just like when politicians cherry-pick to drive home their point, proponents of fad diets – such as the paleo diet, intermittent fasting or the anti-wheat diet – make appealing claims such as that’s how our ancestors ate thousands or millions of years ago so that’s how we should eat now to be healthier and live longer. Sounds logical, but is it the complete truth?
While it’s true that our human ancestors didn’t have grocery stores and drive-thrus, didn’t eat large meals and snacks every day and didn’t have bread, many other facts are intentionally ignored, hence, the cherry-picking. For example, did people live longer, healthier lives during the millions of years preceding modern agriculture and industrialized farming? No. Lifespan was decades shorter. They did what they had to do to survive, such as foraging and seeking prey and going for days without food then eating as many calories as possible when they had the chance. We live in a modern era. We have constant access to a wide variety of foods from around the world. We can eat dairy products, legumes and grains; these foods were not available before farming but are very nutritious and should not be vilified. The underlying precept about ancient lifestyle diets is that evolutionary changes in humans ceased at the end of the Paleolithic era and therefore our bodies are not genetically designed to process cultivated foods such as starch. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, this precept is incorrect. https://tinyurl.com/yc486vdh
As for intermittent fasting – which is trendy – a year-long study of 100 obese participants randomly assigned to either intermittent fasting (alternating fasting and feasting days), daily calorie restriction or a no-intervention group found that intermittent fasting was not superior to the other options with respect to dietary adherence, weight loss, weight maintenance or heart health. https://tinyurl.com/y6vpdopv
Just because something sounds scientific doesn’t mean it’s legitimate. A November episode of CBC Marketplace questioned whether food sensitivities test kits are valid or pseudoscience. These tests identify whether your blood contains an antibody called Immunoglobulin G (IgG) to over 200 different foods. The premise: The presence of this antibody indicates specific food sensitivities. The hidden truth: The presence of IgG antibodies in your blood doesn’t mean you’re sensitive to particular foods; it may just mean you recently ate those foods. IgG is a normal physiological response.
I did some digging and learned that paid celebrity social influencers (not scientists) post testimonials on Instagram for bogus products like these test kits. Followers who are easily influenced, ill-informed or seeking a quick fix for their ailments (e.g., digestive issues, eczema, fatigue) end up spending hundreds of dollars for a test that advises them to eliminate foods – including nutritious ones – that in reality aren’t problematic for them. A list of foods to avoid can create food-related anxiety and potentially lead to nutritional deficiencies and disordered eating. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI ) states, “The presence of IgG is likely a normal response of the immune system to exposure to food” and that “the scientific studies that are provided to support the use of this test are often out of date, in non-reputable journals.” https://tinyurl.com/ybbcmcz5
The AAAAI as well as the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, and the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology recommend against using IgG testing for food sensitivities.