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Food Studies: Good Or Bad For You?

I spend a lot of time reading about the results of scientific studies, the objectives of which are supposedly to determine whether a certain food or food component is good or bad for a person. A recent perspective piece from LifeHacker asks some interesting questions about that whole concept…

Elderly Do Better On The Med Diet - © cdn-a.william-reed.comThe key to happiness? Don’t worry too much about what the scientists
say is ‘good’ or ‘bad for you. Just follow the basic common sense
guidelines, and focus on having a good time eating what
you like. And remember: “Variety is the spice of life!”

How many times have I reported about ‘new studies’ by learned authorities, which contradict one another about whether common, every-day foods are good or bad for us? More times than I can remember. My bottom-line conclusion has been: there are probably as many ‘good’ things as their are ‘bad’ about foods such as Coffee, Chocolate, Eggs or Butter. And I felt vindicated by the LifeHacker piece that proposed, “By the time you’re asking whether a specific food is bad for you, […] you’re already asking the wrong question.” Bravo, for author Beth Skwarecki.

Not about including or excluding a specific food

I think that the overall question about ‘healthy eating’ is not about including or excluding certain foods. Skwareckie gets that: “The basics of a healthy diet are pretty easy to look up, and chances are you know them already. Eat nutrient dense foods, less-processed stuff when possible, hit a reasonable number of calories, and limit sugars and saturated fat…” And how many posts have I written here that boil down, basically, to that? More than I can remember.

Looking for instant gratification?

Skwareckie suggests that folks who obsess about studies that make ‘good’ or ‘bad’ conclusions from, essentially, second-hand data – what I often refer to as ‘data mining’ exercises – are looking for justification about their own food choices (or, if you like ‘weaknesses’).

“I wonder if we like to hear about foods being “good” or “bad” so that we can have an instant emotional reaction to buying or eating them. You might choose to watch a horror movie instead of a comedy just for the rush of emotion,” Skwareckie says. “Similarly, you might enjoy eating chocolate while thinking, ‘this is good for me, so it’s okay to enjoy it’, or get a certain thrill out of, ‘this is terrible for me, I’m being so bad right now.’ Maybe it’s not nearly as much fun to have a piece of chocolate while thinking ‘Eh, just another food’.”

Some studies too limited or ‘indirect’

Many ‘clinical’ studies, Skwareckie complains, are either too limited in scope (making conclusions about the effects of a certain ingredient or chemical by feeding it to mice), or too indirect in method (those data-mining stories I’m always reporting on; which draw general conclusions by analysing data from large numbers of people have been asked to fill out food frequency or eating habit questionnaires).

Results often exaggerated

Results often show only comparatively slight differences between study groups, or contradict one another. Skwareckie asks, “One study may find that people who eat a lot of a certain food live slightly longer than those who don’t; another may find that they are slightly more likely to be overweight. Is it really fair to say the first study showed that this food is ‘good for us’ and the other ‘bad’? I don’t think so.”

No wonder so many learned researchers add he summary disclaimer to their study result reports, that, “More research is clearly need into this question before definitive conclusions can be drawn…” Or something like that.

We can’t make firm conclusions

“In the end, the only thing we can really judge is whether we’re eating well in total, and there are many ways to accomplish that,” Skwareckie proclaims. No single food has any magical properties that override the rest of your diet. So let’s stop judging foods as if they can be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ all on their own.”

My take

I agree with Skwareckie about the limited value of most learned studies about how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for us certain foods are for us. But I do accept the studies that make major conclusions about the population’s general health based on massive, global analyses of gargantuan data sets – the kind if studies that agglomerate data from hundreds of surveys involving subjects from around the world, and all demographics and walks of life. I’m talking about studies like those that propose that heart disease is linked to obesity – and that these conditions and ailments are destructive to our society because of the wealth they suck up every year in treating them since they are, by and large, easily avoided if folks simply change some of their eating or activity habits.

Alas, as my dear old Dad used to say, “People are stupid. They expect other folks to fix things they should be looking after for themselves. If they can’t get a pill for it, they usually just give up and say there’s nothing they can do about it. There’s been far too many of them around since your generation (meaning mine; the Boomers) got over-protected and downright spoiled by parents who were just happy to have survived, and didn’t want their kids to suffer the way they had.” ( That is, in the Second World War and the Great Depression.)

My take-aways?

I see several universal take-aways from this discussion:

  1. The vast majority of folks these days (myself, as a Boomer, included) are suffering from excessive feelings of entitlement.
  2. The vast majority of folks these days are lazy and undervalue hard work.
  3. The vast majority of folks these days are not sufficiently concerned with the welfare of their world (outside that of the people in their immediate families/circles) and the community often suffers as a result of their neglect/failure to contribute.
  4. Thank goodness there are still some folks in the world whose sense of fulfillment/gratification comes from seeing their community is well served, and the welfare of others is ensured. If there weren’t, our world would go all to hell in a week or two, and we’d all have housefuls of guns and live in walled communities, and hoard food and other resources, and let our less fortunate neighbours freeze and starve in the dark.

~ Maggie J.