Sometimes, having more information is better. Sometimes, having more information is just more confusing. When it comes to nutrition information, “I don’t know what to believe!” is a common complaint. “First they say ‘eat this,’ then they say, ‘nevermind…eat that instead.'”
Sometimes, technology and/or knowledge advance to the point where what we were pretty sure was true just isn’t. It would be wrong to cling to old answers in the face of a substantive body of evidence pointing to new answers. (A classic example of this is trans fats. We once thought hydrogenated unsaturated fats were healthier than saturated fats. Now we know nothing could be further from the truth.)
So, we have:
- Nutrition recommendations backed by substantive evidence. Trust.
- Nutrition recommendations backed by minimal evidence. Hold off and see how thing shake out.
As I mentioned in my column on Sunday, we also have:
- Health claims as permitted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Trust.
- Structure-function claims, not regulated by the FDA. Treat carefully, and don’t mistake them for health claims.
Why does this matter? Because while good nutrition is a powerful tool for helping us feel our best and be our healthiest, it’s not magic. That’s especially true when you isolate “food” to a specific nutrient or other component. It’s easy to read a health claim on a food label and think that if you eat that food you will be protected from cancer or heart disease, but it’s not that simple. Food and nutrition is an important part of the equation, but it’s only part of the equation. If you smoke and don’t exercise, for example, you are at elevated risk for heart disease, even if you eat a healthy diet.
Knowledge is power, and information can help us decide what choices to make, but for those choices to be truly informed choices, we need to be able to put that information into context, and not read more into it than we should.