A headline reads, “Gluten-free craze not backed by science, ASU professor finds.”
Maybe the people that improved their health by eliminating gluten are just imagining it? Well, maybe not.
Always follow the money.
It turns out this is headline-grabbing propaganda with a business reason-It comes from a doctor at ASU also working for the Grain Foods Foundation. This is no better than doctors signing up to endorse prescription drugs, and/or the studies (often questionable) that support their approval. The same thing happens over high-fructose corn syrup. Some people figure out that it’s nasty for their health, and soon a bunch of commercials appear with experts saying “It’s just sugar…”
People who make their living selling grains have a right to be nervous, and they should be. Eliminating gluten is working for a lot of people. Academics are in a tough spot. Remaining an academic often means fishing for money, and people with money often have something to sell. When it comes to food products and medicines, ethics and logic take a back seat to profit and clear thinking.
Pause for sanity-
Breadmakers Strike Back in the UK-
Here’s another example of something that looks like alarming news, “Bread has been Demonized,” but it didn’t take long for the comments section to bust the cover.
The “British Nutrition Foundation” is sounding the alarm that the war on bread is misguided and wrong, and bread is “vital.” Well, it can’t be. Anyone who follows Paleo can answer this one. Humans have always thrived without bread. It is a late invention from the Neolithic.
What’s this about then?
Check this out from the comments:
From Wikipedia “The British Nutrition Foundations has a close relationship with the food industry. It receives funding from almost every large food manufacturer and distributor in the UK, including Tate and Lyle, Nestle, PepsiCo, McDonalds and Sainsburys…
Always follow the money.
Food News Watch is interested in how mistakes are made in diet/nutrition studies and reporting. Stats.org has a good summary of the difference between correlation and causation (CDNEC), one of the most common mistakes-
Clipped from Stats.org-
One of the most common errors we find in the press is the confusion between correlation andcausation in scientific and health-related studies. In theory, these are easy to distinguish — an action or occurrence can cause another (such as smoking causes lung cancer), or it can correlate with another (such as smoking is correlated with alcoholism). If one action causes another, then they are most certainly correlated. But just because two things occur together does not mean that one caused the other, even if it seems to make sense.
Stats.org also makes another point- It works both ways. Not only do media and researchers jump to conclusions when they confuse correlation and cause, so do the public, but this is more common when it comes to environmental and chemical risks-
When the stakes are high, people are much more likely to jump to causal conclusions. This seems to be doubly true when it comes to public suspicion about chemicals and environmental pollution. There has been a lot of publicity over the purported relationship between autism and vaccinations, for example. As vaccination rates went up across the United States, so did autism. However, this correlation (which has led many to conclude that vaccination causes autism) has been widely dismissed by public health experts. The rise in autism rates is likely to do with increased awareness and diagnosis, or one of many other possible factors that have changed over the past 50 years.
In general, we should all be wary of our own bias; we like explanations. The media often concludes a causal relationship among correlated observances when causality was not even considered by the study itself. Without clear reasons to accept causality, we should only accept correlation. Two events occurring in close proximity does not imply that one caused the other, even if it seems to makes perfect sense.
How Common is This?
It’s not only common, it’s typical. Spend a few minutes on google, and you can find many good opinions on it.
“Trials and errors: Why science is failing us,” About a drug company trying to push a cholesterol drug.
“Correlation or causation?” from “Nutrition Backwards,” a site with the same interests as this one.
English Has No Single Word for CDNEC:
It seems odd that we don’t seem to have a single word in English that sums up the problem of one’s mind attributing cause to something incorrectly, even though we all do it. Academics like to use Latin, such as “Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc.” This is also known as “false cause.”
Why don’t we have a word for this? Without going into some long review of linguistics, maybe it’s just something people don’t think about that much, because our minds just do it all the time anyway. In the wild, associating one input with a cause is probably a good idea-like when a hunter gatherer eats a poison plant and gets sick. Oops, poison plant equals bad result-don’t do that again. We learn fast and we don’t bother to wait for a controlled study, we just don’t do that again. This has survival value, but in a more complex world with nore options and conflicting info, we need more accuracy.
Cracked.com has this great story about what messes up health reporters. It’s by Chris Bucholz, and it’s about a trip to the library to write about sausages. He loses himself in piles of health and nutrition writing, and notices that it all sucks.
How is that?
…I turned to the archived newspapers and periodicals and began reading their health sections to see what the popular media had to say about sausages. Although I found little advice about tubed meats, I did find a lot of other advice, almost all of it dangerously insane. There wasn’t a single article about nutrition or health that didn’t make massive, barely substantiated claims about a new diet or medical treatment. This kind of journalistic malpractice is perfectly acceptable for Cracked (company motto: Journalistic Malpractice Is Perfectly Acceptable Here), but I was surprised to see this kind of ass-grabbery in the grown-up newspapers.
Seeing a new, better column idea, I tore up the draft of “Everything About Sausages Is Awesome,” then set those pieces on fire so I wouldn’t be tempted to look back. Properly motivated, and also kicked out of the library, I set to work on a new column, the one you’re currently stroking with your eyeballs, in which I will outline all the ways the media lies to us about health and nutrition.
“The new blog list’s here! The new blog lists’s here! I’m LINKED!”
Food News Watch makes Jimmy Moore’s “New Blog” list!
Food News Watch appreciates Jimmy Moore’s approach to food and health journalism. Moore does multiple podcasts every week that are interviews with everyone who knows something about what people want to know-how do I eat to be healthy and/or lose weight, and who should I believe? The shows are low carb shows but it works for him and a lot of people, and the guests don’t all say the same things, and are not even all low carb. Moore lost a lot of weight and wrote about it, and his passion became a job. His weight rebounded a little and he’s not keeping that a secret (happens to many people) and his own struggle takes him on a weekly quest for better answers and everyone follows along, because we want to know too!
This site was started as a hobby to watch food news and study why it’s so bad. Gary Taubes is way better at it and has been doing it for years.
Taubes is an award-winning science picker-aparter. He wrote an excellent blog for Discover Magazine’s website about two recent news stories that went viral-red meat kills you and chocolate makes you thin. What’s that about?
The last couple of weeks have witnessed a slightly-greater-than-usual outbreak of extremely newsworthy nutrition stories that could be described as bad journalism feasting on bad science. The first was a report out of the Harvard School of Public Health that meat-eating apparently causes premature death and disease (here’s how the New York Times covered it), and the second out of UC San Diego suggesting that chocolate is a food we should all be eating to lose weight (theTimes again).
Both of these studies were classic examples of what is known technically as observational epidemiology, a field of research I discussed at great length back in 2007 in a cover article for in the New York Times Magazine. The article was called “Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy?” and I made the argument that this particular pursuit is closer to a pseudoscience than a real science…
This blog gets right to the point. How is it that people doing fancy science for a big university can crank out total crap work, and it’s accepted and become big news?
More on how things get screwed up-
…Zoe Harcombe has done a wonderful job dissecting the paper at her site. I want to talk about the bigger picture (in a less concise way).
This is an issue about science itself and the quality of research done in nutrition. Science is ultimately about establishing cause and effect. It’s not about guessing. You come up with a hypothesis—force x causes observation y—and then you do your best to prove that it’s wrong. If you can’t, you tentatively accept the possibility that your hypothesis might be right. In the words of Karl Popper, a leading philosopher of science, “The method of science is the method of bold conjectures and ingenious and severe attempts to refute them.” The bold conjectures, the hypotheses, making the observations that lead to your conjectures… that’s the easy part. The ingenious and severe attempts to refute your conjectures is the hard part. Anyone can make a bold conjecture. (Here’s one: space aliens cause heart disease.) Testing hypotheses ingeniously and severely is the single most important part of doing science.
The problem with observational studies like the ones from Harvard and UCSD that gave us the bad news about meat and the good news about chocolate, is that the researchers do little of this. The hard part of science is left out, and they skip straight to the endpoint, insisting that their causal interpretation of the association is the correct one and we should probably all change our diets accordingly…
The rest is a bit long but hey, it’s Taubes. No one picks the science and news apart like he does and this one was a good example.
Last Sunday, the CBS newsmagazine show “60 Minutes” ran a segment featuring Dr Robert Lustig called “Is Sugar Toxic?”
Short version, yes- it is. Lustig is right.
The chances are good that sugar is a bigger part of your daily diet than you may realize which is why our story tonight is so important. New research coming out of some of America’s most respected institutions is starting to find that sugar, the way many people are eating it today, is a toxin and could be a driving force behind some of this country’s leading killers, including heart disease.
60 Minutes Overtime
As a result of these findings, an anti-sugar campaign has sprung up, led by Dr. Robert Lustig, a California endocrinologist, who believes the consumption of added sugars has plunged America into a public health crisis.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Is sugar toxic?
Dr. Robert Lustig: I believe it is.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Do you ever worry that that’s– it just sounds a little bit over the top?
Dr. Robert Lustig: Sure. All the time. But it’s the truth.
Is this just headline grabbing by CBS? No. Dr Andrew Weil has been saying the same about sugar for at least 25 years. It’s just taking time for people to pay attention.
What the blogs say-
Rather than go into some geeky defense of Lustig with lab references, let’s look at some reactions to this story-
John R Talbott, Huffington Post-
If you are skeptical by nature like me, you may have thought the 60 Minutes episode last night claiming sugar was toxic was some kind of April Fool’s joke. Certainly, you thought the scientists appearing on the show were overreacting in saying that sugar might be addictive. Let me tell you, they weren’t.
I quit consuming almost all sugars and many starches last year and 1) lost fifty pounds, 2) lost my lifelong cravings for alcohol and for nicotine and 3) went through a nasty three-week withdrawal including headaches, body aches, nightmares and flu-like symptoms that convinced me that sugar is indeed addictive. I emerged from it feeling great, having conquered much of the anxiety and irritableness that is typical of people addicted to substances, and am now fit enough to surf the big waves of the Pacific every morning even at the advanced age of 57.
An “I told you so” from “Sugar Shock:”
Of course, this sugar-is-toxic conclusion — which has been gaining momentum for years — is nothing new to those of you, who are regular visitors to this Sugar Shock Blog and to readers of my first book, Sugar Shock, which was first published in 2007.
Oddly enough, as of this writing, Dr Mark Hyman, author of the new book “The Blood Sugar Solution,” hasn’t mentioned it.
The story is old news to low-carb dieters (healthylowcarbliving.com)-
While this news is nothing new to most of us living the low-carb lifestyle, it will certainly come as a shock to those who have never looked into the science. I’ve believed for years that sugar fed cancer cells, as well as contributed to heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Research is proving it. It’s refreshing and encouraging to see a mainstream media source backing us up and taking this story to the general public!
This is a 15 minute segment from 60 Minutes that aired last night. It’s worth your time AND certainly worth sharing with those you love. And pay close attention, because there is a lot of important info packed in this small slot.
This is a fantastic report on 60 Minutes. A must see. It starts out with dr Lustig assuring us that sugar is toxic (in the amount regularly consumed in America today).
Then another scientist tells us that a calorie is not necessarily a calorie. Fructose (from sugar) is different, it has other nasty effects in our bodies. After finding this out she stopped consuming sugar.
A third scientist tells us how according to his research sugar feeds common cancer cells. And oh yes, he stopped drinking soda when he found this out.
A fourth researcher shows us how consuming sugar lights up the reward centers in the brain. It looks like what happens when ingesting “drugs like cocaine”. Conclusion? Sugar is addictive.
In summary sugar is toxic and worse than other calories. Sugar fuels cancer cells and is addictive. That’s what a representative of the sugar lobby has to try to explain away at the end of the show. Not very successfully.
Some news items are too stupid to not read.
ABC News Radio reports that after a bogus study (thousands of people simply doing a survey), eating right, not smoking, exercising, and just staying heathly lead to a longer life.
I wish someone would have said something!
It makes no sense to argue with “be healthy, live longer.” it also makes no sense to try and invent a news story about it, especially if the reporter thinks she has to add to it advice that isn’t healthy advice.
An “Ideal Diet?” Who Says?
This was in the text-
…Not smoking and eating an ideal diet reduced the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 13 percent each, Yang said. But less than one percent of the U.S. study population ate an ideal diet consisting of fruits, veggies, fish, whole grains with limited sodium and sugar…
Was this part of the study? No. It’s an assumption reported as fact. It’s not clear if this is a statement of opinion from the researcher, or from the reporter. Limiting sugar is a no-brainer. No one in their right mind would consider sugar a health food, except a wingnut.
The limit sodium reference…why? Prove it. “Whole grains?” Prove it! Evidence is building every day about the health damage done by consumption of grains, most notably wheat (Google Wheat Belly and make your own judgement). For ABC News Radio to just repeat this diet boilerplate is incorrect.
Why Do Reporters Do This?
Reporters are in a tough spot. They want to grab headlines. This one seems too good to pass up. It’s a chance to make a point about staying healthy and living longer. People will read it. Since the subject is staying healthy, leaving “how to” out would make it seem like something is missing.
Where does “how to” come from?
Here is the root of the problem. Reporters that work for big media have a leash, collar, and muzzle attached. They have no ability to report anything outside of “officially” recognized instructions. If they did, the news organizaton would get a scolding from some self-appointed diet cops with credentials, who are typically 20 years behind the times, and often wrong.
The truth is that all those people doing “healthy whole grains” are destroying their gut and heart health. ABC News Radio’s attempt to offer advice on how to eat is not logical.
A hot news item the net this week Is about popcorn, and how popcorn may be healthier than fruit or nuts? What? Popcorn is a grain. Where does this stuff come from?
Meet Dr Joe Vinson, a chemist from PA who has been at this for years. Here’s a previous version from 2009-
WASHINGTON, Aug. 18, 2009 — In a first-of-its kind study, scientists reported today at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) that snack foods like popcorn and many popular breakfast cereals contain “surprisingly large” amounts of healthful antioxidant substances called “polyphenols.”
Polyphenols are a major reason why fruits and vegetables — and foods like chocolate, wine, coffee, and tea — have become renowned for their potential role in reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.
Until now, however, no one knew that commercial hot and cold whole grain cereals — regarded as healthful for their fiber content — and snack foods also were a source of polyphenols.
This research is all dependent on the false assumption that a single anti-oxidant, polyphenol, is enough to evaluate the nutritional value of a grain.
This is a bit of a hasty generalization fallacy. The thinking is that if one measurement is positive, everything else must be too. Eat your popcorn and grains, and thank chemistry for the wisdom.
This is about as wise as saying eat some poison ivy because it’s loaded with fiber. It makes a great salad, if all you care about is how it looks.
Are Grains Food?
This point is too long for this entry, but one could make an argument that grains are a foolish food choice for humans to start with anyway. A chemist spending too much time trying to make a bad food choice look good is a foolish chemist that doesn’t understand nutrition.
Stay tuned on this topic. The grain issue will be back.
A new story in USA Today (online) claims, “Chocolate Lovers Are Thinner, Study Says.”
This should be fun, it’s chocolate!
We need to analyze the USA Today bit, but before we start- Chocolate, specifically dark, natural chocolate, is already a known “health food” with low carbers and people following Paleo diets. Without going into a long proof of this, let’s just say for the sake of this review that it’s true.
The Fine Print, if You Can Find It
Always read the fine print (if there is any). The good stuff is not the candy bar you find staring at you at the checkout counter. Most chocolate has way too much sugar and fillers.
This little, but important fact, isn’t that clear when USA Today readers start with-
Sweet news about those chocolate cravings: People who eat moderate amounts regularly are thinner than those who eat chocolate less often.
Really? How do we know this? Oh great, a study!
Here is where the new falls apart. The article cites an “observational study.”
The study was observational, meaning it analyzed data based on how much chocolate people said they ate, rather than a controlled trial in which some people are given chocolate and compared with others who did not get chocolate.
People actually get paid to “study” this way, findings are published, and reporters take the bait, good or bad. Why do they even do it? Typically this is a quick and cheap way for a researcher to publish a paper on something they think they know already, so they engineer a survey or something as backup.
Correlation Does Not Equal Causation (CDNEC)
This problem comes up again and again with studies like this. They are logical fallacies. Correlation does not equal causation, but it does equal a chance to make the news if you can hook a reporter.
A Good Point, Lost in Chocolate
USA Today seems to have missed a very significant point made by the researcher, Beatrice Golomb, associate professor of medicine at the University of California-San Diego. This was in the article, but it didn’t make the headline or intro, and it’s actually a lot more significant than chocolate-
“Findings show the composition of calories, not just the number of them, matters for determining ultimate weight.”
Did I just read that? That shoots down just about everything a registered dietitian is allowed to even say. “Calories are all that matter” is a basic foundation of conventional thinking on diet, and it’s wrong. For someone from a university medical dept to state that it’s wrong is a big deal, and it deserves a story too, but we are talking about chocolate, so lets not get off track!
A Good Nugget
We need to give USA Today’s writer credit for including a good nugget in the article-
Cocoa is rich in antioxidants called flavonoids, which help fight inflammation, lower blood pressure and improve overall vascular function.
The antioxidants also affect metabolism and improve insulin sensitivity, Golomb says. Insulin resistance contributes to hypertension and obesity. “The chocolate provided better metabolism for all calories, not just the chocolate calories.”
This is actually another blow to conventional wisdom on calories, but we gloss over it and things really take a dump-
Here Comes the Dietitian
Reporters get criticized if they just use one source for their topic. Typically they have some “experts” on tap for “balance,” to get a quote to sum up with that makes it look like the reporter isn’t just drinking one source’s Kool Aid. Here’s our obligatory comment from the “food cop.”
“Before you start to eat a chocolate bar a day to keep the doctor away, remember a chocolate bar can contain over 200 calories, which mostly come from saturated fats and sugar,” says Nancy Copperman, a registered dietitian and director of public health initiatives at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y.
She advises limiting chocolate to a 1-oz. portion of dark chocolate a day, or adding cocoa powder to your food or coffee just once a day.
Yes and No. The sugar in most chocolate candy is really the problem. In fact, chocolate with sugar in it actually reverses the insulin benefit of dark chocolate. Sugar raises insulin, and this is where weight problems can start. The saturated fats thing is discredited and wrong.
Within reason, this is health food.
When you understand the difference, you are ready for some healthy chocolate!
Disclaimer: This entry was written on a square of 88% dark chocolate. I hope tomorrow’s news is about a big bacon breakfast.
News like the nth “red meat kills” scare that went down less than 2 weeks ago is one of the reasons for a site like this one.
Chris Kresser, aka “The Healthy Skeptic,” posted the right response at the time. The research was shoddy and the media clueless.
I received a number of emails, Facebook comments and Tweets from concerned readers, especially people who have recently switched to a Paleo diet and are now wondering whether they’re shortening their lifespan as a result.
In my fantasy world, researchers don’t make the most rookie mistake in the book (claiming that correlation is causation) and science reporters actually have a clue how to critically analyze a scientific study, rather than just parroting what they read on the AP newswire. Alas, reality is not so forthcoming…
This is really just amazing. One source says “red meat kills” and huge numbers of people suddenly look at dinner and think “danger,” and it’s completely false. Even people that know it is false still often stop to read, just in case.
If red meat kills, why don’t lions tip over and die after dinner? They have nice claws, so they could climb tress and get to some fruit if they really needed to! But it doesn’t work that way.
A mastodon with a spearhead in it’s spine from 14,000 years ago. Early hunters did not have the internet to tell them to avoid red meat, fortunately!