Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Food for Thought: Single-Factor Nutrition Studies

A few weeks ago, I posted about Real Simple's list of 30 superfoods.  The more I thought about it, I wondered what made these foods super.  What research backs up these claims?  How do we know that the levels of antioxidants, vitamins, nutrients in these foods make a bigger difference in our health than other foods?  Similarly, when studies are done that link health issues to specific components of a food, like preservatives or artificial sweeteners, how do they isolate the effects of that from other environmental factors?

Luckily for me, someone asked this question of Marion Nestle in a monthly column in the San Francisco Chronicle.  As a nutrition and public policy expert, gives some great guidelines for understanding what the results of these "single-factor" studies actually mean, and what the potential pitfalls are.

I try to take studies like this with a grain of salt, on the assumption that the environment I live in is too complicated a system to be able to attribute any effect to one single factor, and it's hard to believe that a study can successfully isolate one part of that system. 

What do you think of nutrition studies?  How do they affect your eating habits?

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