Healthy Food, Why Is There So Much Confusion?

Are you are feeling overwhelmed regarding what is healthy food? There is a tonne of conflicting commentary in the media around food, and consequently, you may know who to trust or what to believe.

For many years there was confusion over whether eggs were good or bad. People even made up jokes such as "Eggs today, gone tomorrow!' Because of this conflicting advice around food you may start to tune out, and not believe anything you learn around food, and consequently, you follow your own devices.

So, why has there been so much conflicting advice about what food is healthy food?

Why are people so confused about what is healthy food?

According to Mark Hyman MD, author of What the Heck Should We Eat?, there is "a whole conspiracy of actions from a whole different set of sectors." In other words, many issues lead to the confusion around what is healthy food.

1. The Challenge of Science and Nutrition

One of these issues is that it is very very challenging to study what people eat.

In a conventional research study, you give a group of subjects a drug and another group you would not provide the medication. You then follow them along for a year, and you see what happens.

That approach is impracticable when studying food. No one is only going to eat certain foods for one year.

2. Food Bias

The second issue is that of food bias. A great example of food bias is red meat.

In the past, red meat was seen as dangerous because it contains saturated fat. Saturated fat was thought to be unhealthy, so hence meat was harmful, but there is no evidence that meat was unhealthy.

This food bias was built upon an association that was based on some poorly designed studies about saturated fat.

The people who ate meat in those studies did not exercise, ate processed food, ate few fruits and veggies, smoked, and drank too much alcohol. They were unhealthy.

The people who didn’t eat meat in those studies exercised, ate healthy food, fruits and vegetables, did not smoke, did not drink too much, and took their vitamins. They were healthy.

People in the studies were not unhealthy because they eat meat. They were healthy because they had unhealthy habits. So you have to look at the context of the research.

3. Nutrition Research Funding

The third issue is that the source of funding for nutrition research.

Traditionally there are three sources of funding for research, industry, government and phiphilanthropy. 

Philanthropy has not done a whole lot in the field of nutrition research, although that is changing. Governments funds only certain kinds of studies, which are not that helpful. Then the food industry is funding studies that, unsurprisingly, prove their products are healthy. If you look at the scientific research data, for example, on artificial sweeteners almost 100 percent of the studies done by the food industry on their products find out they are safe. Whereas almost 100 percent of studies, done by independent researchers, find that artificial sweeteners are harmful.

So you have to look at the source of the funding.

4. Government Guidelines Do Not Match The Most Up To Date Science

The fourth issue is that many government guidelines on food do not follow the latest research.

In this regard, the United States Congress recently mandated the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to look at how we come up with their dietary guidelines.

The NAS published a massive report in October 2017, where they outlined:

  • How corrupt the process was for producing food guidelines
  • How unduly influenced it was by the food industry
  • How people on the Guidelines Committee worked for the Dairy Council and other industry trade groups

5. Ill-informed Media Headlines

The fourth issue comes from poor media reporting on food.

Recently the American Heart Association said that that coconut oil is bad for our heart health. However, there is not a single study that supports that statement. Following that announcement USA Today paper ran a headline that said: “Coconut Oil Is Not Healthy, Never Was Healthy." This headline, naturally, leads to much confusion among the general population.

6. Lack Of Nutrition Education For Doctors

Due to lack of training, the majority of traditionally trained medical doctors know little about nutrition. Consequently, they know little about the association between a poor diet and chronic disease. Even if they do have some knowledge, it will be biased for the reasons we discussed above.

Fortunately, this is changing as some doctors especially in the US, and a few in Canada are learning about Functional Medicine. One of the underlying tenets of Functional Medicine is that food is information for the body. Put very plainly food can be either good or bad for your health.

Functional medicine trained doctors and other health practitioners including a Naturopathic Doctor learn how to untangle the confusing evidence on food and give unbiased advice on what foods people should be eating to be healthy.

If you are confused about nutrition I recommend seeking out an MD or other healthcare practitioner trained in Functional Medicine or Naturopathic Medicine.


This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.