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What remains to be answered in nutritional science?

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created May 16, 2012 at 1:21 PM

What are some topics specifically relating to obesity that need to be studied? What are examples of paleo "beliefs" that lack substantial evidence from controlled studies? Are any of our arguments prone to pseudoscience?

I am asking these questions because I think it is necessary to gain support from the core scientific community.

Some articles that helped me formulate these questions and possible answers: Problems in nutritional science: http://www.staffanlindeberg.com/Problems.html Mat LaLonde on Paleo: http://evolvify.com/mat-lalonde-paleo-bloggers-science/

A3c56c85290f748410a6f340ddd552b3

(321)

on August 07, 2012
at 06:35 PM

Thank you so much for the vent, Amy. You hit the frustration nail on the head - there is so much good that can be done and it is so easy to get into analysis paralysis about what is the NEXT thing that will make a difference. There is always something easy to do next, and it is hard to just keep doing things in that good direction until they accumulate to something great. Sorry that was a weirdly rambly comment but I also wanted to say, "I concur", to you, Amy.

7d64d3988de1b0e493aacf37843c5596

(2861)

on May 17, 2012
at 01:07 PM

Coffeesnob, I’m saying it is more complicated than just saying these compounds are potentially harmful in specific circumstances. Even too much air and water can be harmful in the right circumstances. Some people claim health benefits from some of these same compounds. Lectin is generic term. There are lectins in seafood. Many lectins are destroyed by cooking. Phytates tend to be a non-issue as well much of the time - http://www.lucastafur.com/2011/10/is-phytate-really-problem.html

9c4ba98a3b480408bcf207f558fe659b

(355)

on May 17, 2012
at 09:00 AM

This is very well put

92d67b02a709cad2250f10848f9178e6

(2422)

on May 17, 2012
at 03:39 AM

Why do you think dietary studies are such a low priority in medical research right now when diet is the best way to prevent/reverse diseases?

92d67b02a709cad2250f10848f9178e6

(2422)

on May 17, 2012
at 01:21 AM

Thanks for your input, Amy. The more I study nutrition and public health, the more I realize that the system itself is the culprit. But the system is not going to change until the general public is educated enough on this matter to introduce changes at the individual level. I am just wondering if solid research will alter the opinions of the scientific community, which can further push for changes in public health policy.

92d67b02a709cad2250f10848f9178e6

(2422)

on May 17, 2012
at 01:09 AM

In order to make nutritional science a hard science, the government needs to leave the scientists alone... Science and politics cannot coexist.

92d67b02a709cad2250f10848f9178e6

(2422)

on May 17, 2012
at 01:06 AM

I agree with you on that nutritional science is still in its infancy. I think it's partly because it is really hard to conduct controlled studies. I think nutritional science is not yet taken seriously by the core scientific community b/c a lot of nutritional advice is based on mere association studies... I also believe that preventive medicine through dietary changes has a lot of potential for preventing chronic diseases. I WANT TO CHANGE THE SYSTEM!

92d67b02a709cad2250f10848f9178e6

(2422)

on May 17, 2012
at 01:01 AM

Very interesting! I am just really amazed by how much we don't know about nutrition or anabolic/catabolic processes!

92d67b02a709cad2250f10848f9178e6

(2422)

on May 17, 2012
at 12:36 AM

Yes. The grains/legumes argument is not necessarily scientific. Some cultures that maintain strong culinary traditions consume grains and legumes and are healthy. So you are saying there aren't any studies that show that the specific compounds founds in grains/legumes are harmful to the human body, right?

3b38bcc91dbfc6a114f4bdce544103d3

(409)

on May 16, 2012
at 05:11 PM

And of course Amy, most doctors are willing to put the obese on a pill of some sort, or worse yet do surgery rather than address the real issue. I was shocked when my doctor suggested the paleo diet. I'd never had a doctor actually tell me something that would be helpful and not just subscribe a "fix all pill" instead. It might have helped that my doctor knows I not only don't like pills, I will not take them or stick with them for a long period of time. I would rather find a natural solution to whatever is ailing me.

Fd70d71f4f8195c3a098eda4fc817d4f

(8014)

on May 16, 2012
at 04:33 PM

I guess I'm just a little frustrated. I'm 2 months away from a master's in nutrition, and you'd be *amazed* at what passes for "research" when it comes to health and weight loss. Will green tea extract help morbidly obese, type-2 diabetic menopausal women lose weight? Maybe. But you know what would work better? LOWERING CARBS! Will N-acetyl glucosamine help fight pain in 68-yr old women with RA living in Topeka, Kansas? Probably. But what might work better? Reducing the things that cause inflammation in the first place! It's an absolute jungle (and JOKE) out there in nutrition research land.

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb

(19245)

on May 16, 2012
at 02:10 PM

Everything.....

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4 Answers

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2
40427ee9533f46b9d5b0497eae19dd0e

on May 16, 2012
at 02:19 PM

The conventional scientific process is perfectly sound, it's just exceptionally cumbersome and takes quite a lot of time to reach undisputed truth (many peer-reviewed articles in top-tier journals ultimately turn out to be incorrect - it's not an easy game to be in, undisputed truth).

Alternative sources of information can be sound, but are rarely, if ever, vetted to the level of conventional science. Furthermore, it's a murky world that's certainly as influenced by money as much as conventional science, and also invites outright quackery and wild speculation to the dinner table.

The human body is merely a finite container. Some day, everything will be known about what's inside the container. It's a task with a discreet end. Additionally, everything will be known about what happens when you put certain things into the container. Neither is happening soon.

My personal take is that Nutritional Science is still in it's infancy. Perhaps like Behavioral Science (which eventually becomes indistinguishable from Neuroscience), Nutritional Science didn't traditionally attract the heavy-hitters, the really bright people who are more actually than aspirationally intelligent. The good news is I believe that's changing, and Nutritional Science will become more of a "hard" science, fueled by the vast unrealized potential of preventative medicine.

Right now?

Right now, I don't think anyone knows sh_t about anything.

But I am Primal, with a BMI of 22.1.

92d67b02a709cad2250f10848f9178e6

(2422)

on May 17, 2012
at 01:06 AM

I agree with you on that nutritional science is still in its infancy. I think it's partly because it is really hard to conduct controlled studies. I think nutritional science is not yet taken seriously by the core scientific community b/c a lot of nutritional advice is based on mere association studies... I also believe that preventive medicine through dietary changes has a lot of potential for preventing chronic diseases. I WANT TO CHANGE THE SYSTEM!

92d67b02a709cad2250f10848f9178e6

(2422)

on May 17, 2012
at 03:39 AM

Why do you think dietary studies are such a low priority in medical research right now when diet is the best way to prevent/reverse diseases?

92d67b02a709cad2250f10848f9178e6

(2422)

on May 17, 2012
at 01:09 AM

In order to make nutritional science a hard science, the government needs to leave the scientists alone... Science and politics cannot coexist.

6
7d64d3988de1b0e493aacf37843c5596

(2861)

on May 16, 2012
at 02:14 PM

The whole premise of Paleo is just speculation. I think it is a pretty reasonable approach to be guided by the diet of healthier cultures, but it is not necessarily scientific. Deciding that grains and legumes are ???unhealthy??? based upon this speculation, then going through and picking out the compounds (lectins, phytates, sapponins, etc???) that might make them unhealthy is just more speculation - a hypothesis maybe.

There is not much evidence at all against non-peanut and non-soy legumes, and it is possible that the only general problem with grains is that they became too much of a staple and displaced other more nutritious food. Melissa has blogged about storage issues as well such as microbial contamination.

I think the non-fear of saturated fat is fairly solid. I am not sure if the science is as strong, but I think avoiding industrial seed oils is pretty clear-cut aspect of paleo for me.

I think there is a whole host of questions to still be answered in nutritional science, but for now I think an ???ancestral??? approach is pretty reasonable ??? I eat whole foods and avoid vegetable oil.

7d64d3988de1b0e493aacf37843c5596

(2861)

on May 17, 2012
at 01:07 PM

Coffeesnob, I’m saying it is more complicated than just saying these compounds are potentially harmful in specific circumstances. Even too much air and water can be harmful in the right circumstances. Some people claim health benefits from some of these same compounds. Lectin is generic term. There are lectins in seafood. Many lectins are destroyed by cooking. Phytates tend to be a non-issue as well much of the time - http://www.lucastafur.com/2011/10/is-phytate-really-problem.html

9c4ba98a3b480408bcf207f558fe659b

(355)

on May 17, 2012
at 09:00 AM

This is very well put

92d67b02a709cad2250f10848f9178e6

(2422)

on May 17, 2012
at 12:36 AM

Yes. The grains/legumes argument is not necessarily scientific. Some cultures that maintain strong culinary traditions consume grains and legumes and are healthy. So you are saying there aren't any studies that show that the specific compounds founds in grains/legumes are harmful to the human body, right?

4
Fd70d71f4f8195c3a098eda4fc817d4f

(8014)

on May 16, 2012
at 04:27 PM

Call me crazy, but I actually kinda wish they would stop researching already. I think things are coming down to very very strong reductionism in nutrition science. ("Nutritionism," I think it's sometimes called.)

I think we're guilty of it even in the Paleo world...maybe especially in the Paleo world. (Which is worse: veg oil or sugar? What is the optimal, optimal, OPTIMAL n-3/n-6 ratio? Exactly how many micrograms of fructose can I eat before it will shorten my lifespan by 37 seconds?)

Sorry...I just think we very much miss the forest for the trees sometimes. I think research obviously has a role to play, and it is important to dissect things to a certain level. (And we need scientific arguments that hold water when trying to convince the medical establishment about lectins, autoimmunity, etc.) But I get a little bummed when researchers (and armchair experts) try to isolate the one single thing that "makes" Paleo (or low carb, or even low fat or vegetarian) "work." In my opinion, we can point to the big things that diet does, like lower blood glucose levels, lower insulin levels, reduce and prevent inflammation. And I think the biggest interventions lead to the biggest results (cutting out refined sugars and grains, reducing veg oil consumption), for most people. But the truth is, it's probably not one thing by itself that flips the magic switches, but rather the combination of many of the things that improve health and quality of life overall. Diet is probably #1 (at least, it is in my book), but sleep, stress management, daylight, fresh air, and just plain being fulfilled and satisfied with your life -- your relationships, your job, your home environment -- all plays into it. (Unfortunately I'm learning this the hard way, as many of the things I consider important are not there right now, and I gotta tell you, the cleanest, healthiest kind of eating and a good workout program can't "save" you from a life you can't stand, and you likely won't see stellar progress in body comp and overall vitality. But I digress...)

Aaaanyway, I agree with Robb Wolf when he says that the time for pussyfooting around with this stuff is OVER. The time has come for clinical trials with Paleo interventions (with or without comparisons to SAD, vegan, Mediterranean, Ornish, what-have-you), because people are DYING and the U.S. is flat-out BANKRUPT. So I think research has a strong place in our community, but I really, REALLY hope the researchers don't try to discern which is the one, magical piece to all of this or distill it down to one critical factor. (Because then they're gonna try to put it in a pill or a shake, y'know?) Maybe someone will finally admit that what is actually required is a drastic overhaul of how we grow/raise food, distribute it, cook it, and eat it. A wholesale rethinking of our food supply chain, from farm to table.

Sorry for rambling, but I've been giving this a lot of thought lately. We have millions of people unemployed. We have millions of people going hungry, millions of others who are "overfed but undernourished," and plenty of amazing land going fallow. We have school lunches that are pre-packaged, canned, or frozen and require little in the way of actual cooking except heating them up. I see a match, people! I know this is very pie-in-the-sky thinking and would take years to implement, but I think we could have a massive change if we could get more people farming and cooking. (More people working to grow and raise food, we'd need people to transport it to schools/workplaces/restaurants, people employed in kitchens washing, chopping, prepping and cooking.) I dunno...again, call me crazy, I see a ton of jobs out there not being done, and lots of people out of work, but it would require a fundamental shift in our entire food economy. (It might also require some people to pare down their idea of what's essential in terms of consumer goods and entertainment. I do admit that these food supply/service jobs wouldn't exactly pay 6 figures but that is a whole separate rant, hehheh.)

Apologies for semi-hijacking the thread. Bottom line: Research is good and necessary, but I think wed be better off at this point with less research and more DOING. More people just "getting in there and giving this stuff a shot." (Doesn't even have to be Paleo...they could try low fat, or vegetarian, and just SEE HOW IT WORKS. Doesn't work they way the TV news promised it would? Try something else.)

3b38bcc91dbfc6a114f4bdce544103d3

(409)

on May 16, 2012
at 05:11 PM

And of course Amy, most doctors are willing to put the obese on a pill of some sort, or worse yet do surgery rather than address the real issue. I was shocked when my doctor suggested the paleo diet. I'd never had a doctor actually tell me something that would be helpful and not just subscribe a "fix all pill" instead. It might have helped that my doctor knows I not only don't like pills, I will not take them or stick with them for a long period of time. I would rather find a natural solution to whatever is ailing me.

Fd70d71f4f8195c3a098eda4fc817d4f

(8014)

on May 16, 2012
at 04:33 PM

I guess I'm just a little frustrated. I'm 2 months away from a master's in nutrition, and you'd be *amazed* at what passes for "research" when it comes to health and weight loss. Will green tea extract help morbidly obese, type-2 diabetic menopausal women lose weight? Maybe. But you know what would work better? LOWERING CARBS! Will N-acetyl glucosamine help fight pain in 68-yr old women with RA living in Topeka, Kansas? Probably. But what might work better? Reducing the things that cause inflammation in the first place! It's an absolute jungle (and JOKE) out there in nutrition research land.

92d67b02a709cad2250f10848f9178e6

(2422)

on May 17, 2012
at 01:21 AM

Thanks for your input, Amy. The more I study nutrition and public health, the more I realize that the system itself is the culprit. But the system is not going to change until the general public is educated enough on this matter to introduce changes at the individual level. I am just wondering if solid research will alter the opinions of the scientific community, which can further push for changes in public health policy.

A3c56c85290f748410a6f340ddd552b3

(321)

on August 07, 2012
at 06:35 PM

Thank you so much for the vent, Amy. You hit the frustration nail on the head - there is so much good that can be done and it is so easy to get into analysis paralysis about what is the NEXT thing that will make a difference. There is always something easy to do next, and it is hard to just keep doing things in that good direction until they accumulate to something great. Sorry that was a weirdly rambly comment but I also wanted to say, "I concur", to you, Amy.

1
9225c8e3ea353a2c604cacd62506047d

on May 16, 2012
at 02:05 PM

I can't comment on the paleo side of things. With obesity in mind however, outside of the simplistic energy in - energy out formula, science needs to look a little more closely at how our gut microbiota might be implicated in obesity as per studies such as this one: http://www.gutpathogens.com/content/3/1/8

92d67b02a709cad2250f10848f9178e6

(2422)

on May 17, 2012
at 01:01 AM

Very interesting! I am just really amazed by how much we don't know about nutrition or anabolic/catabolic processes!

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