Changing Recommendations

Why food/health recommendations change and what to believe

None of us can be experts in everything so at times, we all have to believe what others have to say – but such belief needs to be based on the expertise and experience of the so called experts and it is necessary to ensure that it is verifiable.

The key to deciding what to believe and what not too, is to first of all distinguish between “opinion” and “facts”. Only opinions based on facts should be worth listening too. Facts are verifiable information, numbers or results that can be reproduced. Unfortunately it seems that misinformation has swamped factual information. The more time passes after an unsupported story is reported, the more it enters into the folklore of ‘everybody knows that…’

The problem is then: how do we know that what we are being told is reliable and factual?

The first step is the exclude the phonies – the “flat earth society” candidates – those who claim that wearing blue beads or walking bare foot for half an hour each day will cure cancer. These groups’ ideas are so ridiculous that they can easily be spotted as phonies (many hoax e-mails with this information floating around!). Be wary of the self-promoting experts who try to scare us with stories of impending doom. Also be wary of those who suddenly become a world authority on a subject or diet based on how their little Johnny reacts – not acknowledging that social, psychological and environmental aspects all have an impact on an individual’s performance/reactions.

Think about the process of how and why an individual or group has come to the conclusion or recommendation it has. Was a scientific process followed? This scientific process layout is not the format given in popular publications, so even more careful consideration must be given when “new” strange recommendations or conclusions that are made in popular magazines. Truly ground-braking research does not “first of all” get published in a local, popular magazine – credible research groups patent or publish their findings in peer-review journals. So trace if possible the source on which the popular magazine based its article.

Furthermore remember – we live in an ever changing and dynamic world – research is becoming more advanced and sophisticated. New analytical methods and lower detection levels of equipment make it possible to investigate and report on aspects that were not possible before. Therefore, changing recommendations about what to eat, or a specific food component, should be viewed in relation to the whole history of what is happening in that field of research. When something new or even harmful is detected it is also the duty of the scientist to report this. Legislation will then pickup on the credible findings with the intention to make it a healthier, safer world for all. The concept of different standards in various countries/cultures is a different debate, but there are ongoing efforts to share and agree on for example, food safety issues.

We are weekly, even daily bombarded with food and health articles in various popular magazines and on the internet. So before saying – “food recommendations are changing again” or “suddenly what was good before is now bad” – think about in what type of magazine (webpage) you are reading the article. See who wrote the article and based on what/who’s research? Nothing has changed just because someone wrote a provocative article – evaluate and choose what to believe.

One aspect that needs specific special mentioning is the concept of “dosage levels” and “recommended ranges”:

“All things are poison and nothing is without poison. It is the dose that makes a thing poisonous.” Peracelsus, Father of modern Toxicology (1493-1541)

Anything not used or done within certain limits can be harmful. One cannot watch TV all the time – there is also not anything wrong with watching TV – just within limits. Your child cannot just study all the time and they cannot just play all the time – ranges or limits determine when a good thing becomes bad. One can also over exercise – this principle of ranges applies to everything in life.

The same with food and ingredient components! Many good components become toxic if you have too much – you can overdose on a number of vitamins and minerals – then it is not good anymore – but again, you can get seriously ill or die if you eliminate those important components. One cannot just live on fruits or any other out of balance diet. The same with every other food ingredient – there is nothing wrong with any approved additive or preservative – there are acceptable ranges determined that are safely used in the food industry. For any food additive to be given “GRAS” status (generally regarded as safe) it goes through a rigorous screening and testing process (e.g. FDA standards). If a person wants to argue about any components allowed in food, they should start with what dosage level they have a problem with – there is no merit in sweeping statements e.g. “MSG – should be taken out of food”.

The labeling law serves the purpose of giving consumers the opportunity to also make an informed choice about ingredients that relate to allergies they might have – because there are people that are allergic to very “natural” food sources e.g. crayfish. This does not mean the world should ban the eating of crayfish. The same goes for every other preservative/additive on the market. Everything should be within the ranges of a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

References and further reading:

Panic Nation – Unpicking the myths we’re told about food and health. Stanley Feldman & Vincent Marks. 2005. John Blake Publishing Ltd.

The self-help approach to fighting the obesity Pandemic. Edited by FACS and SANCU members. See FACS website for details.

Updated for F.A.C.S. by GBo (2023)