Navigating the diet-craze maze

Avoid fats, but not the good kind.
Get enough dairy. Go vegan.
Try the Atkins diet. Eat less saturated fat.
Drink more coffee. Drink less.

Sound familiar? This diet information overload is enough to make your head spin.

New research comes out every day about what we should and shouldn’t be consuming. And often, study results conflict, making it difficult for the average health-conscious consumer to decide what’s for lunch.

As an example, Harvard University researchers recently released a study linking a low-carb diet with higher risk of heart disease. According to a News & Observer article, the 16-year study found a diet low in carbohydrates could increase the risk of heart attack and stroke over the long term. Does this mean we should gorge ourselves on pasta and biscuits to boost our carb intake? Not likely.

Although not immediately clear from the headline, the relationship between heart risk and diet is not actually linked to carbs. It’s linked to increased protein intake. Those who ate fewer carbs tended to substitute those calories with protein. What kind of protein, exactly? Were the subjects eating grilled chicken and tofu or steak and bacon every day? We don’t know, but the saturated fat and cholesterol content would make a difference on heart health.

The ability to make healthy choices has become difficult for many reasons, one of which includes sweeping assumptions based on too little information. There is no magic bullet to cure our health woes, but we can all make healthier choices based on common sense. Increase intake of whole grains over processed foods, fruits and vegetables over junk food, water over sugary drinks.

Long-term health research, such as the study conducted by Harvard, is certainly important as we seek to curb the growing challenge of diabetes, heart disease and obesity in our country. These studies also help us uncover trends to research more thoroughly.

Despite valid findings, the medical community and news media should try to be more discerning in how we talk about this information. Consumers should think carefully before interpreting these messages. And physicians, nurses and dieticians must be a voice of clarity and reason.


One Comment

  1. Great advice. There will always be new studies telling us what foods are good for which purpose, and maybe some of that research is useful for people who need to have a specific diet for medical reasons. But for the most part, the best way to prevent heart disease is to moderate what you eat and exercise on a regular basis. I agree with your message-instead of bombarding us with conflicting research findings, the health media needs to help consumers see the overall picture

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