Confused about what to eat? You’re not alone (smart eating tips included)
02/18/2021 / By Joanne Washburn / Comments
Confused about what to eat? You’re not alone (smart eating tips included)

We all know that following a balanced diet is important for our health. But what we eat becomes even more important when it comes to things like maintaining a healthy weight or keeping diseases at bay.

Unfortunately, many of us may be unsure about what a “real” balanced diet looks like in this era of diet trends. Proper diet and good nutrition have now become so confusing that few of us can say for certain what foods a healthy diet should contain or what healthy eating really entails. And it is this confusion that can result in poor nutrition and poor overall health.

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But why exactly is it so hard to know what foods are really good for you, let alone who to believe when it comes to nutrition? Here’s what experts have to say about this issue.

Nutrition research is less funded, more complicated

Before nutritionists can claim that a food is linked to certain health benefits, they must first study its effects on the current or future state of a person’s health. This is typically done by conducting an observational study.

And although observational studies show an association and not a causation, they can be incredibly useful. For starters, scientists proved that tobacco is strongly linked to lung cancer thanks to an observational study. They also figured that regular exercise is good for you because of an observational study.

Unfortunately, observational studies are far from perfect. Nutrition scientists hoping to conduct research often face two great hurdles: lack of funding and imperfect conventions in research.

David Ludwig, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, notes that nutrition research doesn’t get as much funding as, for example, pharmaceutical research.

For one, drugs are more profitable. So even if a clinical trial costs manufacturers millions in funding, they may end up earning billions in profits if a drug proves successful. This is why the pharmaceutical industry pushes for studies and why institutions have zero qualms funding them.

On the other hand, nutrition research is far less profitable and much more complicated. Who will profit from a study that states the obvious, i.e., that we need to eat more fresh foods and less processed ones? Only the general public, not the large food companies and manufacturers that fill supermarkets with junk.

In addition, researchers doing studies on nutrition rely heavily on participants’ self-reported food intake. They ask participants to note everything they eat for a set amount of time or to remember what they ate last week or several months prior. This is the current convention in nutrition research because not only will it be incredibly odd to monitor participants as they go about eating their meals, it would also be highly impractical.

But people’s memories are far from perfect. Some participants might miss certain food items when noting what they ate for the day. Meanwhile, others might not know the size of their portions or the ingredients in their food when dining out or eating to-go. Such details would be important for scientists studying nutrition.

These and other hurdles account for why there are few studies being done on foods, or why existing ones sometimes even appear to contradict each other’s findings. In the end, these issues leave the general public more questions than answers regarding what foods should and shouldn’t be part of their regular diet.

All this is on top of the issue of celebrity junk science. Celebrities have large platforms that allow them to spread any message like wildfire. Just look at the all-beef diet of 2018. Despite having no scientific basis, people went wild for the diet after a famous author claimed he lost 60 pounds from eating just beef.

Tips for smart eating

So what’s a regular person to do given the underfunded field of nutrition research and pseudoscientific dietary advice from unqualified personalities flooding the internet? Nutrition experts have a few ideas:

  • Eat the rainbow – Fill at least half of your plate each meal with fruits and veggies. Keep things diverse by making sure you have more than one color of the rainbow on your plate. Go for leafy greens, orange foods like carrots, red ones like sweet bell peppers and even white foods like radish and cauliflower.
  • Opt for whole grains – Brown rice, oats and whole-wheat bread are better than their refined versions (e.g., white rice, white bread) because they have more nutrients. Fill 1/4 of your plate with whole grains.
  • Choose healthier sources of protein – Also fill 1/4 of your plate with protein. Good protein sources include fish, poultry, beans and nuts. Avoid red and processed meats. They can lead to heart disease and cancer.
  • Eat “good” fats in moderation – Fats in oily fish, nuts, seeds and olive oil help reduce inflammation in your body. They are also linked to better heart and brain health.
  • Drink water – Water maintains the balance of your bodily fluids. Those fluids are involved in a variety of important processes, such as digestion, blood circulation and nutrient absorption. Skip the soda.
  • Exercise – Staying active is important for keeping your weight under control and keeping health issues like obesity, heart disease and diabetes at bay.

Knowing what foods to eat and what diet to follow can be extremely confusing in this era of “health foods” and fad diets. But proper diet and good nutrition shouldn’t be confusing in the first place. So instead of running after the next food or diet trend, focus on eating whole, nutrient-dense foods and ditch processed ones.

Sources:

MedicalNewsToday.com

Elemental.Medium.com

TheGuardian.com

HSPH.Harvard.edu

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