Many professional athletes spend a lot of money to take care of their body (one report says LeBron James spends 1.5 million!). Related to food, they pay nutritionist to get them the proper foods to be the best athlete they can be. For those of us that do not get paid to play sports, it can get quite confusing to be your own nutritionist.
The biggest concern I have heard from people about their health is related to confusion of what foods are healthy. One day a study says that bananas are good for you and the next study says it isn’t. What source do you trust? It is my hope that I can give you some skills to use to help you decipher the studies you read to make a good decision for your health. In essence, how to be your own nutritionist!
The studies that the majority of us look at are through secondary sources including websites, blogs and magazines. These sources interpret and compact the study into an easier read for the public. When a news writer with hardly any background on science interprets a study, chances are they will miss important information or even worse, convey the wrong information. To make matters worse, the media relies on getting your attention with catchy titles and extreme views of the study. Mundane information such as the details of the study goes unmentioned. Let’s take a look at how to pick up some of these misleading articles on nutrition.
According to the Food and Nutrition Science Alliance (FANSA), there are some things to look for when reading articles that convey health information. The top ten are posted below:
1. Recommendations that promise a quick fix.
2. Dire warnings of danger from a single product or regimen.
3. Claims that sound too good to be true.
4. Simplistic conclusions drawn from a complex scientific study.
5. Recommendations [to change your behavior or diet] based on a single study.
6. Dramatic statements that are refuted by reputable scientific organizations.
7. Lists of “good” and “bad” foods.
8. Recommendations made to help sell a product.
9. Recommendations based on studies published without peer review.
10. Recommendations from studies that ignore difficulties among individuals or groups.
To explain what some of these red flags look like in an article, I found one that that is similar to many of the types of nutritional articles out there that express a rather extreme view on a study that was done.
When Studies Use the Word “Risk”
Many studies I have read say that there is a higher risk (Usually given in a %) of getting something like cancer from whatever they studied. Be careful when you read the word “risk.” There is “relative risk” and “absolute risk.” The former is almost always used to give shocking data. For example, I read a report that says taking Vitamin E increases prostate occurrence in the men they tested by 17%. (Here it is in case you are interested) The 17% risk is relative, however. This means that they compared the amount of people getting cancer with the placebo vs. vitamin E. If you look at the 35,000 men that were in the study, the ABSOLUTE risk would only be .005%! Absolute risk tells what the chances of you getting cancer based on a 400 IU of Vitamin E. Another problem with the data is that they do not include negative results. The study shows that there is no increase of cancer when Selenium is also part of the daily intake from men (when taken with or without Vitamin E). This was not included in the report though.
Find Out Who Funded it!
Sometimes a little bit of digging can really make a difference to see how legit the assertions the article is trying to make. See if there would be any incentive for the researchers to state a claim that would support their donor’s company in some way. You might be surprised!
Correlation vs. Causation
I wanted to reemphasize that there are a lot of studies that link foods with disease or disease prevention. Be careful not to jump to a conclusion that one causes the other. The human body is very complicated and each person has a different genetic makeup, making the term “causation” a very rare connection seen in nutrition. If some study says there is causation between a certain food and a disease, it is probably fictitious since credible studies would not jump to such a drastic conclusion.
To recap, here are some things that will be good for you to try: large servings of vegetables, small servings of fruits, small servings of raw (not cooked with oil) nuts (they are calorie dense remember!), oils such as olive, coconut, or sesame (low temperatures only!), lean meats/fish, eggs and even small servings of cheese will suffice.
Here are some tips on what kind of info to look for when making good decisions when you eat out.
Read the details. Many restaurants will give you a great looking meal with low calories and fat but do not tell you that it does not include any condiments like mayo, dressing or cheese. If you add these, the meal is obviously more tasty but will cost you in calories.
Stop Drinking Your Calories. A simple and effective tip is to substitute water for your drink. It could save you hundreds of calories that are virtually unnecessary since they do not provide you with any nutrition at all.
Calories are Not the Only Thing. Many restaurants will show a low calorie meal as a nutritious choice. Be mindful of a few things. First, what is the % of the calories that come from saturated fats or carbohydrates? If either is a high percentage (over 30%), you are still giving yourself a meal that is probably not very nutritious.
Beware of Salt. A staggering 57% of fast food meals have a salt content that is higher than the recommended 1,500-mg. Be mindful of this the next “low calorie” meal you see.
Many people feel helpless with all the marketing and false information out to confuse us on nutrition. Try to use these tips to help make better decisions on you and your family’s health. Being your own teacher can be very beneficial!
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