The Rooted Project is a power duo trying to make science and nutrition accessible to everyone. I was lucky enough to hear them at Fare Healthy and it was illuminating. I decided to follow up on their talk with a quick guide to making sense of health claims in the news, blogs and beyond.
Every day we see and read all sorts of new discoveries, superfoods and headlines such as:
“Sugar gives you cancer”
“Vegans age faster”
The amount of daily opposite health claims is overwhelming.
How to cope with that?
First of I completely agree with The Rooted Project in that NO ONE WAY FITS ALL. When it comes to health, beware of people claiming that it is “their way or the highway”. You are the ONLY one inside your body.
Case in point: I follow a mainly plant-based diet (which I turned to once I found out I was allergic to dairy and eggs). And I never had issues or deficiencies with it. I didn’t lose or gain weight since the switch but I do have more energy, nearly no asthma and much more muscle mass.
On the other hand, my sister (who was raised in the exact same way as I was) eats salads but also eats pizza every Sunday and never says no to a burger. She is a super-fast runner, had a healthy baby and pregnancy and is hardly ever sick. I would say that she is a healthy person.
These observations, though, are anecdotes: a particular personal journey. Which is why I am not going around promoting veganism to everyone in the world (although there are ethical reasons for it, but I am sticking to health and science on this post).
Thus, if you, not asthmatic or allergic to dairy, ask me: should I stop eating dairy? I can only say: it worked for me. Go research and figure it out for yourself.
THE CHEAT GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING HEALTH AND NUTRITION
When I turned to a plant-based diet I was SO CONFUSED.
Some people will tell you to eat all the fruits you want, others will tell you not to eat fruits at all.
Some people put olive oil on everything and some people tell you not to eat any oils.
Some will advocate the need for supplements and others tell you all that you just need vitamin B12.
My world literally CHANGED when I discovered a website called Nutrition Facts, where a plant-based MD breaks down scientific papers. I asked the girls at Rooted Project and they said that, although slightly biased towards a plant-based lifestyle, it is a quite good source of information (relief!).
So, what does he show on these videos? PAPERS. Scientific papers. With sources. Basically, science for dummies.
WHAT IS EVIDENCE-BASED NUTRITION?
You wouldn’t read HELLO! to understand the Syrian crisis, right?
Or go to the Economist for fashion advice, correct?
It is the same with science.
Here is a pretty image by the Rooted Project which explains the types of evidence:
In their own words:
“Anecdotal evidence is someone’s experience. The weakest type of scientific evidence and should not be used to determine how we eat for good health. An anecdote is measured only by that person, is entirely subjective and very unreliable. One person’s experience is not sufficient in science to inform everyone else’s eating behaviours”
“Observational studies: where scientists observe what’s already happening in life. These studies can help determine which foods might be linked to health, but they CAN’T prove CAUSE & EFFECT between the two. For example, these studies couldn’t prove that fruit and vegetables consumption reduces cancer risk, but could imply there is an association”
”Randomized controlled trials are large intervention studies based on experiments. Scientists test the effect of a diet or nutrient on people which have a control and experimental group. Comparing the results of both groups helps us to more scientifically say if a food or diet is actually causing a health outcome”.
So, when looking at claims it is important to investigate where these come from – what sort of evidence? Is this clear?
HOWEVER. I would like to add something to all this:
A LOT of studies can and are sponsored by big companies. Such as: pharmaceuticals and processed food industries. Remember how cigarette companies also sponsored research to prove that smoking did not cause any harm?
According to Dr. Greger:
“It took more than 7,000 studies, and the death of countless smokers before the first Surgeon General report against smoking was finally released. Another mountain of evidence exists today for healthier eating, but much of society has yet to catch up to the science.”
I think this is super important – even though Dr. Greger might be biased towards plant-based diets but it does make sense to me. After all, lots of information online saying that there is no relationship between dairy consumption and asthma have been sponsored by dairy companies. It is strange, no?
See more about this here
Finally, here are some more good sources of information to understand nutrition for yourself.
I hope this is helpful!
The Science Media Centre
NHS Behind the Headlines