Evidence-based Eating

So you want to eat healthy, but you are actually quite afraid that if you take the plunge you will be sucked into some weird hippie movement. You know better than to just believe everything you read online, but if you tell your friends that you are avoiding eating processed food, you know they will give you that look.

Be a Scientist

We here at Dennis and Mandi love science. We love to read about the findings of various studies and the implications they bring. Of course, much of the scientific literature requires subjective interpretation. At its root, however, is a very solid foundation in the scientific method. The scientific method works great with repeatable experiments and yield better results the more times the experiments are conducted. It turns out that we have some quite incredible food data from thousands of experiments conducted over thousands of years! For example, John Snow is well known for his work linking the drinking of water polluted with fecal matter to the spread of Cholera during an outbreak in London. At the time, his report was somewhat controversial, but the data itself was pretty clear. Why didn’t people overwhelmingly alter the way they consumed their water when this came out?

Don’t Worry about Others, Worry about the Evidence

Taking care of yourself isn’t a shameful thing. Responding to new understandings of the human body isn’t a bad thing. Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else now so you can live like no one else later.” It’s the same philosophy with food. Dave’s methods are actually based on some scientific underpinnings: he’s big on making sure the math balances out right, but he’s big on on psychological sciences too. The research he hearkens to suggests that we as people typically behave in common patterns financially. On this evidence, he structures his followers to set different patterns for themselves and teaches them to identify and harness the correct patterns. With food it’s the same way, we need to identify and harness the healthy ways of eating and follow where the research leads.

Traditions aren’t evidence, though they can be evidence-based

It was a law handed down to my generation: all fat and cholesterol is bad for you and should be eliminated from your diet. While we know we should avoid fat and cholesterol heavy diets, to eliminate them will deprive us of some essential nutrition and will hinder our health. I am skeptical when I hear someone tell me what is and what isn’t healthy (though I pretty much have no doubt that the healthiest diet is that which contains a wide mixture of raw, natural, and lightly cooked foods). I look for evidence. For example, there is great literature available on the fat and cholesterol issue from very reputable sources. You can find clear articles about the hazards of coloring agent and just about every other controversial health issue. The point is to think critically. Some traditions are great, others are misleading. Usually, the best choices for health come from common sense and are verified by science.

How can I be an evidence-based eater?

The point here, I guess, it to think critically and skeptically about what you hear about health and eating. Practically no one argues that eating lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, and beans are bad for you. Most are still fine eating good quality meat and dairy, too. This can be the safe starting point. For anything else, read and analyse and form opinions. Don’t stand on the fence when there’s lots of debate whether or not something causes cancer, get away from that stuff! If you’ve been told not to eat grape seeds, but they seem natural enough, read about it! They’re pretty much known to reduce the risk of cancer. We’re trained to have certain expectations about food and those expectations shape us, but in the age of the Internet, we have an incredible host of information that previous generations never had access to. Use it, and follow the leading of the research.

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