Negotiating the field of dietary misinformation is a treacherous road. Ben Coomber’s guidelines will give you a successful path through the evidence based fitness mud.
Nutrition and fitness is no longer kitchen-specific. It’s become something that’s analyzed in a lab. Every day scientists find something new, but we’re often presented with conflicting information. Eggs are bad. Eggs are good. Alcohol will kill you. A glass of wine keeps you alive longer. Eat margarine. No, wait, butter. Red meat is good, but only once a week.
It can be difficult to know what you’re supposed to do, and there’s too much information available to comb through it all, but I can give you a science cheat sheet, which lets you know what you should look out for. Follow these rules to stay one step ahead.
The ultimate evidence based fitness and nutrition cheat sheet
Science doesn’t know everything
Science doesn’t deal with the word ‘proof’. It deals with evidence in degrees of strength, but never proof because things cannot be proven. Mentioning proof with headlines like ‘science proves sugar gives you diabetes’ is always done from a position of emotion or bias. These articles are not trying to spread correct information – they are spreading their beliefs.
Remember that good science is constantly trying to get us one step closer to the truth, rather than trying to paint an absolute picture. Science has no bias. The data is the data. Bias only comes from people
Check the sources
Always look for sources of the research and check them. If there are no references to scientific data, that’s no different to me knocking on your door with some magic beans and telling you that they work. So, does the article have references? That’s great, but check them. They could be their friend’s blog and not evidence based scientific journals.
Are the studies relevant?
A lot of nutritional studies are done on rats. The problem is, you are not a rat, and your digestive system and metabolism work differently. Rat studies are interesting, but finding evidence on human trials is better. So, was the study done on humans? Check. But wait. Was it in vitro (where human cells are removed and placed in a Petri dish) or ex vitro?
Your body doesn’t do things in isolation – it works as a unit. Lab studies done in Petri dishes are very easy to manipulate if a researcher wants a certain result. I would avoid these studies and look for ex vitro or real-world data.
So the study was done on humans, perfect. But were they healthy and of a similar background to you, i.e. age, training history etc? This is important as the research has to be relevant to you. Paying attention to studies done on people 40 years older than you might not be relevant and not the evidence based information that you are looking for.
Was the dose used sensible? Consuming too much of anything is a bad thing, so see if the dosages they used were relevant to the conversation and they are normal or moderate.
A great example of this is when people lose their minds about diet soda being bad for you because of science that fed their subjects 100x the dose of sweetener that a human would practically consume in a day. Always look for the practical application. Can you safely drink one diet soda a day to help with your weight loss and sweet tooth? Yes, that’s almost definitely safe. Now if you were dead set on drinking 20 cans a day, we might have a problem.
Ultimately, common sense needs to come into play when dealing with nutritional science. It’s not too long ago that innocent and well-meaning nutritionists were telling you to eat six meals per day – this has since been debunked. We have all been wrong before. The funny thing is, this claim was never actually backed by data, but it was repeated enough that it became common knowledge. See how misinformation gains traction?
Science is continuously evolving and doesn’t care about anyone’s feelings. Try not to hold on to your opinions so dearly that you can’t change your mind in light of new evidence. The likelihood is that you’ll need to at some point.
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