The More Things Change

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The old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” seems to fit with nutrition research. As I’ve discussed before, nutrition is not an exact science. There always are studies to prove or disprove any topic. You must weigh the evidence, with each study representing one small thread in an overall tapestry. As you read the studies covered in each issue of Nutrition Alert, you’ll notice patterns. For example, numerous studies reported in many issues of this newsletter over the past several years have repeatedly found that the Mediterranean diet lowers disease risk. That can be considered a nutrition truth at this point. On the other hand, the study reported in this issue showing that tomato juice helps people lose weight is speculation at best. We must wait to see what future studies find on that topic.

It’s easy to be confused when hearing the latest fad disguised as diet news. Acai berries, then goji berries, followed by kale, and now green juice, coconut, and cauliflower are touted as super foods. Don’t be fooled. No one food can make up for a diet otherwise laced with French fries, potato chips, and toaster pastries. It is the total diet that determines a person’s health (along with daily exercise and other smart habits), not the food de jour that makes headlines. That advice hasn’t changed in decades and is based on thousands of studies spanning half a century or more of research.

Some nutrition topics have been fine-tuned over the years. It’s a no-brainer that the excessive amount of added sugar and refined grains Americans consume are not the best diet choices. We’ve known that for decades. However, the extent of the damage to our bodies, brains, lives, and longevity that come from eating a diet filled with this processed junk has become increasingly more clear with each decade. In fact, the link between some foods and disease and obesity rates, such as sweetened beverages, is so clear that for every ounce of those beverages a person consumes, the risk for health problems increases.

Some nutrition advice does change dramatically over time. Back in the 1970s, the only recognized role for vitamin D was aiding calcium absorption and deposition into bones. Now we know that every cell in the body has receptors for this fat-soluble vitamin, which means it is needed by all cells, from skin to heart, brain, liver, muscle, and more. No wonder the research continues to accumulate showing that vitamin D might help lower the risk for a variety of ills, from cancer to depression.

The omega-3 fats are another revolutionary nutrition topic. In the 1980s, researchers first suspected that these fats might lower heart disease risk. That was just the tip of the nutritional iceberg. Heart disease mirrors depression rates across countries, which led researchers in the 1990s to investigate the link between these fats and mood, mind, and memory. We need more research, but the current body of evidence weighs in that the two omega-3s in fatty fish, DHA and EPA, are likely essential fats for normal brain development and maintenance throughout life, starting at conception and lasting through the senior years.

I guess you could tweak that old adage just a bit to say, “the more things stay the same, the more some things change.” But, they do it gradually and only when a wealth of research supports the change.

Elizabeth Somer, M.A.,R.D

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