Critique, science

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry


I’m always fascinated with food science. It’s only natural – I like to eat, after all. But in this world of ever uncertain nutritional recommendations, it can be a little confusing for the average consumer. And it’s ultimately the biggest ‘First World Problem’ to use that derisive phrase in a true sense. If you don’t have a lot of choices about what to eat, you don’t worry about what you’re eating. You eat what you can, when you can. In the part of the world where you can be very, very picky about what you eat? That’s where the controversies come in. Nutritional science in the United States is in quite a state, I’ve learned as I delved into the science behind the headlines over the years. Some days you can drink coffee, others ‘it’ll cause cancer!’, some days you can eat eggs, others they’ll give you a heart attack. 

Well, what do you do? First of all, always click through on the link to the actual study. Even if you can’t read the whole thing without paying for it, the abstract alone should give you enough information to begin with. I’ve seen a number of articles on food and nutrition making claims that were the exact opposite of what the study said. So either the ‘journalist’ writing the article couldn’t read and understand the science, or they were deliberately manipulating the narrative to fit what they wanted to say. I’ll leave that determination up to you. If you want to really dig into the ‘why’ I highly suggest you find out who is paying the bills. Websites with a .com ending are usually discouraged from citing in academic work for a reason (says the author from her personal .com website, knowing that all I am trying to do is provoke thought and healthy skepticism. Never just take my word for it). Websites that are full of breathless claims are, well, you should take them with more than just a grain of salt. Try a truckload to choke that down. Someone is paying the bills. 

Which leads me to the reason I’m writing on this unsavory topic this morning. You might have seen the recent headlines over the meat controversy. After years – maybe decades – of nutrition science headlines trumpeting that red meat is the WURST THING EVAR there was a little meta-analysis of actual science done and you know? Shockingly, it seems that might not be based in reality. 

The authors, who noted that their [the studies in question] recommendations were “weak” and based on low-certainty evidence, found no statistically significant link between meat consumption and risk of heart disease, diabetes, or cancer in a dozen RCTs that had enrolled about 54 000 participants. They did find a very small disease risk reduction among people who consumed 3 fewer servings of red meat weekly in epidemiological studies that followed millions, but the association was uncertain.

Good news, yes? Eat a balanced diet and you’ll live a long happy healthy life? Well, it might be good news for you. But for the lobby groups backing plant-based diets and ‘impossible’ meat substitutes, it’s terrible news. And they are willing to do what it takes to put a stop to the science, even before it’s published. By, as I see so often in these cases, indulging in a massive fit of projection. 

Subsequent news coverage criticized the methodology used in the meat papers and raised the specter that some of the authors had financial ties to the beef industry, representing previously undisclosed conflicts of interest.

But what has for the most part been overlooked is that [the critics] have numerous industry ties themselves. The difference is that their ties are primarily with companies and organizations that stand to profit if people eat less red meat and a more plant-based diet. Unlike the beef industry, these entities are surrounded by an aura of health and wellness, although that isn’t necessarily evidence-based.

You may have seen the headlines that erupted following the meat study. Which seem all out of proportion to the actual results of the study itself. And they are further eroding an already shaky trust the public have in any news media outlets. I know I take any headlines with a squinted eye and suspicious fact checking, which you should, too. The scientist behind the meat analysis suffered severe trolling, bullying, and attack after her so-called colleagues took a confidential pre-press summary and circulated it widely to drum up antagonism for her work. She didn’t back down, which is the only way to react to bullying, and says: 
“The sad thing is that the important messages have been lost,” she said. “Trustworthy guidelines used to depend on who were the organizations or the people they came from.” Today, though, “the public should know we don’t have great information on diet,” Laine said. “We shouldn’t make people scared they’re going to have a heart attack or colon cancer if they eat red meat.”
So what to do? Click through. Take a little time and read the whole story, not just the webpage in front of you. When it comes to the American diet, understand that science doesn’t have all the answers. In fact, the state of nutrition science is awful, if you read behind the headlines, and shows that science isn’t really sure why we are so unhealthy – if you look a the rates of obesity – or so healthy – if you look at the rising longevity. Me? I’m going to eat healthy. You know what that means scientifically? Moderation in all things. Moderate consumption of meat, sugar, coffee, fats… it’s all good. Just don’t get sucked into the hysteria because stress? That’s what’s unhealthy. 

6 thoughts on “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

  1. It’s none of their business what I eat. The commerce clause has been used to define everything as the business of government. It’s simply wrong. It can only be applied as central planning. We used to make rude jokes about the Soviet Union and their five year plans. Central planned commerce and finance and health care have one end – the destruction of the republic. (Which is fine with them. They hate it.)

  2. And that ‘Impossible’ meat still doesn’t taste quite as good as the real stuff, costs more, and has ridiculous amounts of sodium, which **does** have health effects…

    1. Plus, there are concerns over consumption of soy in immoderate amounts. Since soy is in most meatless products (and many that also have meat, as a filler) it’s a serious concern.

  3. I feel weak, shaky, and sick, and have a harder time thinking, when I try to follow “healthy” diets. Oh, and muscle cramps every time I follow the advice to “cut the salt in your diet back.” I don’t think the nutritional scientists take into account–at all–that different people have different dietary needs.

    1. Amen! I had a PA who insisted that I must be diabetic because I need to drink at least 100 ounces of water and other no-sugar fluids per day. Otherwise I feel dry and certain systems don’t run smoothly. Except . . . all my blood-sugar tests and other things are well within limits. When I pointed out that I eat over 50 mg of insoluble fiber per day every day, and that needs a lot of water to help process, he started backing off of the “stop all carbs and sugars, get more exercise, lose at least X pounds, you at least need metaformin temporarily,” lecture.

      Oh, and the average relative humidity around here is 5-25% that time of year, so you lose a lot of fluid just breathing.


Comments are closed.