People who have been paying attention to the latest findings in nutritional science should be familiar with the fact that new findings are released on a regular basis. However, the concerning part is that these new findings often contradict past findings, with an excellent example being the reversal of opinion on the impact of eating too much sugar. Certainly, scientists are expanding our understanding of other scientific fields as well, but in most of those cases, what happens isn’t a replacement of established truths but rather a building upon them. As a result, it should come as no surprise to learn that there is something wrong with our understanding of nutrition, as shown by the recent retraction of the study that established the supposed connection between eating in a Mediterranean manner and lowering one’s chances of getting heart disease.
Why Is Researching Nutrition So Challenging?
In some cases, the problem with nutritional science is clear. In fact, it is so clear that one might even call it blatant. Simply put, there is a huge market for food out there, which in turn, means that there are a lot of powerful corporations with a lot at stake when it comes to nutritional research. As a result, it is not uncommon for these corporations to fund scientific research into nutritional science that is relevant to them, with an excellent example being how the sugar industry outright paid scientists in the 1960s to blame fat for health problems while doing the exact opposite for sugar. If this sounds like something pulled off by the tobacco industry, well, it should because it is pretty much exactly the same thing.
With that said, it is important to note that this is far from being the sole problem with nutritional research. In short, the problem with useful research is that it needs to meet a wide range of conditions for it to be considered useful. For example, a study should be double-blind, meaning that neither the researchers nor the participants should know who is in the test group and who is in the control group. Something that is critical for preventing not just bias on the part of the researchers but also the placebo effect on the part of the participants. Likewise, a study should be designed to minimize the effect of factors besides the one that is being studied, which is where the problem with nutritional research really lies.
Simply put, it is difficult to control what a person eats day after day. Even worse, the effects of nutrition can take years and years to show up, thus turning what is already a challenging task into something that is outright nightmarish. On top of this, it should be mentioned that people’s health can be affected by an incredible number of factors, meaning that it can be very difficult to distinguish the effect of something that they eat versus one of the countless other possibilities in their life. For example, it has been suggested that experiments provide their participants with suitable meals, thus ensuring that they will be eating what the study is looking into. However, there is a problem in that providing participants with suitable meals would eliminate a significant source of stress in the form of planning meals as well as making them while juggling other considerations, which would have a notable impact on their health because stress has been proven to increase a person’s fat retention.
Theoretically, it would be possible to control relevant factors so as to better understand the effect of the factor that is being studied in nutritional research, but in practice, that isn’t practical. Even worse, that could even be downright unethical, not least because nutrition has such an important connection to people’s well-being.
What Can Be Done?
Fortunately, that isn’t to say that the problem can’t be combated. After all, there are plenty of scientific fields that can’t perfectly control relevant factors but manage to produce useful information anyways. What matters is that the researchers manage to come up with better guidelines for experiments, which should ensure a common basis of understanding as well as superior results overall. Moreover, it is important that scientific researchers in the relevant field keep a watchful eye on one another’s research so that they can speak up when something is wrong, which is just as important for preventing bad science from being perpetuated to the detriment of the general public.