How do you make sense of “nutrition” information?

I am amazed by all of the conflicting “nutrition” information and recommendations I read and hear about from others.  The reasons for this are varied.

First, research is conflicting.  Depending on which expert you believe, you will hear widely diverse recommendations on how to eat.  Should you eat a Mediterranean diet or the low-fat (or no fat) diet?  This question will probably be debated for as long as I’m alive.

Second, the food corporations capitalize on what they think you believe.  For instance, the preponderance of products labeled “low fat” started because there was research indicating some benefits from having a low fat diet.  The food corporations turned the findings into a low fat craze that actually contributes to weight gain for some.  Despite what you might have read elsewhere, your body does need fat and there are good fats you should be including in your diet.  I can’t tell you how many people I know that stopped eating nuts (which are good for you in moderation) because of the low fat craze.  Unfortunately when people read that a low fat diet is good for you, they throw out the good fat with the bad fat.   Also, please note that most of the low fat products are high in sugar or salt and the low sugar products are high in fat or salt.  Do check your labels.  Better yet, don’t yet food that has labels unless absolutely necessary.

Third, the headlines have to be catchy.  Journalists are taught to catch your attention with headlines that often mislead the consumer.  And, most people only read the headlines, not the entire article, and even less people read the actual research publication.  I mean, “who has time?”

So, how DO you make sense of it all?  One thing I do is subscribe to the Nutrition Action Health Letter .   They have thoughtful reports on current food issues.   I particularly liked the latest issue which discussed in detail the recently reported research findings that “a few extra pounds may cut risk of early death.”  As the health letter points out, the study had some definite limitations such as not excluding current or former smokers, not excluding sick people who tend to be thinner due to their illness, and not looking at different age groups separately.   The bottom line is, as your weight increases, so does your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, and death.

This is not about nutrition, per se, but I really loved another story in the same issue about “food fears.”  One fear people have is about the cleanliness of their greens.  I know lots of people who wash their already pre-washed packaged greens.  I never have — unless someone else is looking over my shoulder who I think might be offended.  According to the Food and Drug Administration, the people who wash their already “washed and ready to eat” packaged greens are wasting their water.  Once greens are contaminated with disease-causing bacteria it is difficult to remove them by rinsing with water and you risk cross-contamination by washing them again.  I’m so relieved I can openly pop open my bag of pre-washed greens and throw them in the bowl.  There’s a time saving tip for you!