Why is nutrition so confusing

Posted by: Scott Ko

Are people overweight and unhealthy because of a lack of education? Or because there’s too much of it? In this recent article published in the NY Times (via The Age), we learn that 50 years ago, fewer than 13% of Americans and diabetes has been diagnosed in 1%. Today, closer to 40% are obese, with approximately 7% of Americans diagnosed with diabetes. From an education and research perspective, there were fewer than 1100 articles published on obesity or diabetes 50 years ago. Today, that figure stands at over 600,000 articles.

So what gives?

600,000 articles have got to go somewhere, right? Maybe this is the secret correlation…

The author Gary Taubes proposes that the reason is that: “The nutrition research community has failed to establish reliable, unambiguous knowledge about the environmental triggers of  obesity and diabetes…” thus leading to an environment of diverse opinions, each seeking to put forth their own ideas that their theory is right. Gary goes on to propose that rather than focusing on a causal link between what people eat and diabetes, that there needs to be a broader focus on what is defined as healthy diets.

However, my interpretation of this is a little different. The science is largely established that different people need different diets, so achieving ‘unambiguous knowledge’ would be impossible. Some people will thrive under a low protein / high carb diet, others vice versa, some people need to eat a little less, whilst others need to walk a little more. And having talked to several practicing dietitians, they all say the same thing: “It depends on the person.” In other words, there is never going to be a single source of truth for everyone. The problem though, is that there is now 600,000 versions of the truth.

I propose the growing trend in diabetes and obesity is not because people aren’t educated or they can’t access the right information. It’s that making good decisions is much, much harder than making bad decisions. If I want to find the right diet for me, I need to do my research, look up portion sizes, apply variations to suit my lifestyle, exclude any allergies, find the appropriate recipes…… ooo a burger! People will almost always default to the easiest decisions where possible – hence the desire for the silver bullet, the miracle pill, the unambiguous truth.

That’s got all the food groups, right?

I do agree that the volumes of education and articles have created volumes of noise (boom boom), but I believe the impact this has created is that people are overloaded now with complex food decisions. If the food sciences community all banded together in 1960 and agreed to publish: “Screw it. Let’s all publish the same article: Exercise more, eat less, that’s your ticket.” we might be in a different environment now.

Simplifying food choices was my reason for creating MealDish. It might not contain all the best and up to date weight loss and diet research around the world, but what it does try to do is make it much easier to make reasonably good food choices. Throw in some exercise and we might have a solution for obesity and diabetes!

What do you think? Do you find food choices overwhelming?

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