Tuesday, August 16, 2016

I'm Confused: Which Foods are Best/Worst for My Health?

Will eating more blueberries or broccoli help prevent cancer? Does oatmeal really reduce the risk of heart disease? How can we separate truth from fiction when it comes to the constant barrage of claims about certain foods?

The short answer is that it's difficult. That's because there's no easy way to prove that a certain food has a certain specific effect, given that so many other variables are in play at the same time. Most studies of specific foods and health rely on self-reported food consumption data, which is notoriously unreliable since people have a tendency to report what they think is the "right" answer. And such studies can't co ntrol for all the other variables in a person's life. So we're left, usually, with just a report of an "association" between a certain food and a certain medical effect. And as you know, an association (or correlation) doesn't prove cause and effect.

Want further evidence of the difficulty in evaluating the health effects of specific foods? Researchers from Harvard and Stanford Universities examined the recipes of a published cookbook and came up with a list of 50 common food ingredients. Then they surveyed the scientific literature to find out what had been published about that ingredient and the risk of cancer. Astonishingly, they found that 72% of the ingredients had been associated with either an increase or a decrease in cancer risk; some of the ingredients were reported to either increase or decrease risk in different studies.

I've stopped listening to the hype about any one food. I just try to eat a variety of foods, while keeping an eye on my weight. I'd like to report that I eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and that I restrict my saturated fat intake, but that would be stretching it. You can do what you like; just don't believe that eating a lot of just one food is going to keep you from getting cancer, or prevent any other health problem for that matter.

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