It seems like every week the news runs a story, based on some new study, that either touts the health benefits or demonizes the hazards of a particular food. One week, it’s eat walnuts if you want healthy spermies. Other weeks, it’s eating red meat could raise the risk of bowel cancer. Unfortunately, many of these stories lack, well, journalistic vigor, which can often lead to a regurgitation of the study’s press release, sensationalization of the studies claims, or worse, outright distortion of its conclusions. Other times, it overlooks just plain, old bad science. And to add to the confusion, this week’s story might contradict the findings of past nutrition research–leaving many of us wondering, “What CAN I eat, then?”
Luckily, capable science writers and communicators often step in to fill in the gap. Take for instance, Cassandra Willyard’s dissection of the actual study that many news outlets declared demonstrated eating eggs was almost as bad for your arteries as smoking cigarettes.
Or biochembelle’s breakdown of the link between Alzheimer’s and exposure to diacetyl, an ingredient in popcorn butter flavoring–pointing out that most of the articles failed to mention who was really at risk (industry workers) and also, that the “two major manufacturers, ConAgra and PopWeaver, removed diacetyl from their microwave popcorn.” Lastly, for a longer read, Gary Taubes writes on the limits of observational epidemiology, after reports that “meat-eating apparently causes premature death and disease” and “that chocolate is a food we should all be eating to lose weight” were published earlier this year.
These science writers provide insight and perspective into the science involved in food research by pointing out the limitations of these studies, illustrating what the news simply got wrong, or even reminding us that sometimes we need to take these studies…with a grain of salt. And maybe, that’s why some of these journalists take the easy road. They know that someone else will come in later and do the hard work.
Walnuts courtesy of Marco Bernardini
Egg and Cigarette courtesy of Benjamin Maubach
Popcorn courtesy of Jeff Baxter