Science unravelling nutrition and diets

photons escaping from the sun

How is nutritional science being reported?

You have to draw some conclusions when trawling through nutritional based research, patterns do appear amongst the chaos of conflicting information. At any one time, there is only so much research, a finite amount of knowledge concluded and even less interpretation of the results appearing in front of the general public.

Nutrition science is a bit like photons trying to escape the sun, it only takes around 8 minutes to reach the earth after breaking free, but could be half a million years before it reaches the surface. And it’s the job of science journalism alike to bring that to the surface. To put the often complex and difficult to read papers into some sort of palatable form for us mere mortals to understand.

Of course, then if at all interesting, it will be bounded about the net-as-sphere, regurgitated, reinterpreted, reformulated and rewritten until the original source often becomes a distant mythological story. And the confusion continues.

Don’t blame the science

people using laptops at home

Science has had a bit of a beating, let’s be honest. One minute a food is good and then it’s not. We really cannot be blamed for feeling tired of all the noise we read. I think we are now entering a new era of how we absorb information, we still receive our advice from friends and family, but now a lot more is driven through social media, YouTube and websites, as opposed to the daily newspaper, TV (remember that?) and a few printed magazines.

In comparison, the amount of research being completed across so many disciplines that serve to offer even more insight as the dot joining commences, is now at an unprecedented speed. We really do need the sifting and sorting of this new scientific data, because now, more than anytime in the past, anything that is actually worth knowing, will be firmly beaten and shaken around the ‘interwebs’ until only the real worthy dots are left joined. This is why real food is now set in solid stone and processed has the undeniable branding of the devil. Period.

Some of us, including myself, would like to know exactly why the company of processed food, was put into receivership and bought up for a penny by lucifer. Meaning, why is it so bad for us?

Who’s fault is it anyway?

raspberry dropped in yogurt

The problem with the answers are that many roads lead to similar results. Inflammation, and inflammation, particularly low-grade inflammation, can take years if not decades of bad habits to show their impact on our health. It really is to the most part, has been no one’s fault, genetics aside, if you were brought up in the ’70s, ’80s or whenever, eating sugary processed food was often branded as a healthy option. And it still goes on today.

Your fat-free yoghurt, usually has the fat replaced with a nice helping of sugar, or some sort of strange artificial sweetener. But it sells because the manufacturers know some of us won’t notice and they give us what we think we want. No harm done! Hmm.

Of course, amongst all that noise and advice we receive that make us buy that fat-free yoghurt, we have the ever-growing methodologies and diets. Driven not only by some form of profit, but often by bits of new scientific literature, that has not stood the test of peer review from humankind. The type of brutal onslaught that all fad diets go through until only those that are worth their salt, remain on the table.

Fake news…read all about it!

row of typewriters

Some do seem to take their time, before disappearing, bobbing their heads, above the surface of ignorance, floating around like lost ethical souls in the pages of Facebook. Eating foods with a PH bias is one, the idea being brought forth by a Mr Claude Bernard in the mid 19th century, noticing that changing the diets of rabbits they produced a more acidic urine and somehow that would also influence your health, although completely debunked with a giant sledgehammer.

Somehow the idea is still propelling its self around the digital sphere. The only advantage, like many, is that people eat real food as a result of following the diet. Nothing wrong in that. And that’s the point most of the time. If it helps, carry on. Unfortunately, not all things are equal, healthy or at all advisable, so we really have to take a risk assessment now and then before embarking on some of these ideas.

In my post ‘What is the best diet?’ there is a lot of argument with groups focusing on very niche methods for dietary formulas. Most with an invested agenda, usually courses, products, services, and for sure, many do seriously want to participate in helping the full-blown disease epidemic we are in right now, with record numbers of obesity and immune disorders, around the world.

I read a post in Medium recently, ‘We Already Know the Best Diet for Humans’ which reiterates that during our human history, we have the evidence of evolution to direct us to the best overall diets of real food (not processed) and that it is the job of science to unravel the truth as to why it works. Unfortunately along the way, as we are all witnessing, the science has been hijacked in many cases to nudge a particular agenda in different directions, and the result is continuous confusion. Of course, as I keep saying, anything that helps people get themselves in shape long term is a positive thing. So we can’t really complain about that part.

What about living longer?

Another area shaping nutrition, the science of longevity! I must admit to being drawn heavily towards this subject, becoming another driver for my own ‘Nutritional obsession’, with my Mother developing a form of debilitating dementia and for a long time this was my focus, why did it happen and how could it be prevented. This throws you down some very niche areas, you learn a lot very quickly and realise that nothing is particularly simple.

And while people argue amongst themselves whether eating keto-based, plant-based, potato-based (yes that exists), works or doesn’t, at least some people are getting themselves back in to shape and sorting themselves out. Even diets specifically to reduce cognitive decline, if it’s possible, and you could gain improvement? Why not at least pursue the idea, as long as you keep an open mind and don’t have overly ambitious expectations.

Certainly, Alzheimer’s and related diseases need the utmost attention of science right now, and I don’t mean from quick fix wonder drugs. I’m referring to educated and repeatable research, preventing early cognitive decline, catching it early enough (before you might know you have it) before it truly becomes irreversible. The last twenty years have seen some promising work by the likes of Dr Bredesen and others at least driving results in the right direction.

Interestingly there is now another competitor in the running for the best diet, called the MIND diet or the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay diet. it was developed to be the best of both worlds for slowing neurodegeneration, focusing on Alzheimer’s disease. Taking two of the top longevity based diets and refining them further, it’s certainly getting closer to ‘best’ advice for an all-round healthy diet for any of us.


There are many critiques of plant-based diets, particularly vegetarianism and more so veganism. This is not a bad thing in the context of ensuring the right information is made accessible to all. If you are reading an extremely biased report and agreeing with it intensely, it may be that you are just talking yourself down a certain path.

As opposed to figuring out the type of diet that really works for YOU. Whether an armchair blogger or an experienced scientific writer, any comment made about potential side effects of following A, B or C should be explored fully.

Vegan diets are well known to be potentially deficient in various areas, as negative as this sounds it doesn’t always mean that those gaps can not be filled by adjusting nutritional intake, whether by food type of even supplements. If the information is valid then it shouldn’t be ignored. As a positive, it means that if someone is feeling severely ill or just a lack of energy whilst following a strict vegan diet, it needs to be adjusted, not necessarily abandoned. Classic examples might be gene-deficient processing of specific vitamins like folate and B12 caused by the MTHFR gene (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase). This can mean that your body has trouble either processing folate and B12 from food.

There are many genes that can affect our ability to get the nutrients we need out of food, hence both once size doesn’t always fit all and the future of health has to include genetics as part of a holistic diagnosis. A quick blood test is only going to give a partial viewpoint, even if you do know what you are testing for. Unfortunately, genetic testing is still relatively expensive for many and still considered by the medical profession to be likely useless. Again, it is a new technology, but its advantage grows exponentially as information is gathered the more people are tested and results compared. The junk genes of yesterday are the now the focus of new methods of treatment.

Continuous discussion, debate and transparency

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We should not be afraid to acknowledge that discussion and debate is a positive method of eventually finding a consensus in most cases. There will always be someone with a crazy combination of rare genetic or biological disorders that throw out the data. But that doesn’t mean that in the majority, those results should not be taken into consideration.

This is why diets like the ‘Mediterranean’ with real food and less obsession with protein, have endured the test of time and longevity (the ultimate test). More centenarians can’t be wrong?

The job of science journalism is at least to help keep us all informed of the latest developments, it doesn’t have to take long to find real quality advice, it is usually backed up by links to researched subjects and not some lazy regurgitated copy and paste piece with the occasional word amended to keep Google’s algorithm happy.

Yes, we have an all-out assault of misinformation and propaganda, right now, it’s difficult to see that changing, in an age of climbing mountainous information, I would rather sift through the data and make my own mind up than be told, you’re not qualified to make that choice. Now move along!

To be honest, I am not even a ripple in that sea of ones and zeros that make up that river of nutritional data flowing ever faster. If I can bring to your attention something that you might not have heard before or added a different perspective to something you are already researching or trying to understand then I feel I may at least have contributed in some way to forwarding either someone’s nutritional journey or more, maybe helped lift the corner of a preverbal piece of one of most complex jigsaws we know and answer the question ‘how can eating the right foods, really help our health?’

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  1. Bredesen D, Amos E, Canick J, et al. Reversal of cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease. aging. Published online June 12, 2016:1250-1258. doi:10.18632/aging.100981
  2. Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Bennett DA, Aggarwal NT. MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s & Dementia. Published online February 11, 2015:1007-1014. doi:10.1016/j.jalz.2014.11.009
  3. Elmadfa I, Singer I. Vitamin B-12 and homocysteine status among vegetarians: a global perspective. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Published online April 8, 2009:1693S-1698S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.26736y
  4. Vasto S, Rizzo C, Caruso C. Centenarians and diet: what they eat in the Western part of Sicily. Immun Ageing. Published online April 23, 2012. doi:10.1186/1742-4933-9-10
  5. Davis C, Bryan J, Hodgson J, Murphy K. Definition of the Mediterranean Diet; A Literature Review. Nutrients. Published online November 5, 2015:9139-9153. doi:10.3390/nu7115459
  6. Romagnolo DF, Selmin OI. Mediterranean Diet and Prevention of Chronic Diseases. Nutrition Today. Published online 2017:208-222. doi:10.1097/nt.0000000000000228

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