3 Food and Nutrition Claims Challenged

cappucino in a mug at a coffee shop 

In this age of online media it seems like everyday I read nutrition advice that makes me cringe a little bit. When reading a sensational headline or one of those "why you should avoid x" articles, there's probably a lot more to the story and you might want to proceed with a skeptical eye. This can be a hard skill to master, but something that I always find helpful is to ask myself - what would be the opposition to this opinion and why might they think that way? Then I do a literature search to see what else is out there on the topic (#nerdalert).

Here are three specific examples of food and nutrition claims that you might want to challenge. 

1. Avoid {insert food here} because some people have a sensitivity to it. 

I find the most common examples of this one to be gluten and dairy, so here's the story on that. Gluten is problematic for people with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. I also have a hunch that many people believe to have issues with gluten when in fact any adverse effects are related to another food, or even just stress from having to constantly worry about avoiding said food. Very few people actually have celiac disease (somewhere around 1% of people in the U.S.) and even less have a diagnosed wheat allergy. 

Similarly, dairy is an issue if your body does not produce lactase, the enzyme that helps digest the lactose in milk. Although fairly common (about 35% of Americans), not true for everyone (source). Even those with lactose intolerance can typically consume small to moderate amounts of dairy without any adverse effects and there are several benefits to consuming it, so I wouldn't eliminate without cause unless you actually dislike it or choose to for ethical reasons.

2. Fear and misinformation around farming and agriculture. 

The latest "Dirty Dozen" list was released a couple of weeks ago so there was much conversation around the topic of organic versus conventionally grown crops as a follow-up to that. However even the so-called "dirtiest" crops on the list are entirely safe to eat. For instance, I could consume 454 servings of strawberries in a day without adverse effects even if they have the highest pesticide residue recorded for strawberries by the USDA. Also, I once heard a farmer say that the Dirty Dozen list is inherently flawed because it always has to include 12 crops and I thought that was pretty brilliant. Farmers do not "douse" their crops in dangerous chemicals. Chemical applications are the last resort for weed and pest control in both conventional and organic agriculture because that stuff is mega pricey. 

There are multiple reasons why one might choose foods cultivated via one type of agriculture over the other (availability, environmental considerations, etc) but don't let the safety piece be one of them. For more information on this topic I love following the work of Rebecca Larsen, Kevin Folta, and James Wong.

3. Making the case for {new diet} by way of the standard american diet.

Rarely does someone compare a new dietary pattern to a "mostly plant-based eating pattern that incorporates a modest amount of dairy and meat while still limiting highly processed/refined foods". Instead, it is almost always compared to the Standard American Diet, which we know is notorious for it's connection with adverse health outcomes. Something I would encourage you to do when questioning the effectiveness of the latest diet trend is to ask yourself - what is being compared to? 

Here's what I mean by this. If someone starts just about any new plan out there, he/she will probably notice a dramatic difference in a short amount of time if adding in cooking, more whole foods and eating regular balanced meals (regardless of whether it's paleo, Whole30, vegetarian, etc.). Can you accomplish similar effects by following the same behaviors but not restricting anything? We are all different and there is likely no one perfect diet, but it sure does make life simpler when you have the option to eat more foods versus less.

Share a food/nutrition myth that you have recently come across in the comments!