Food companies distort nutrition science. Here’s how to stop them. – by Julia Belluz on March 3, 2016

About a year ago, Marion Nestle finally got sick of the rotten state of nutrition science.

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Everywhere she looked, she found glaring conflicts of interest. “Without any trouble, I could identify industry-funded nutrition studies by their titles,” says the New York University professor. “It was so obvious.”

Nestle kept seeing studies with very specific names, like, “Concord grape juice, cognitive function, and driving performance,” or, “Walnut ingestion in adults at risk for diabetes.” These papers were funded by the food industry — a grape juice maker, walnut growers — and nearly always reached glowing conclusions about the food in question. (Study: Concord grape juice can make you a better driver!)

Nestle had been researching nutrition long enough to know that there’s rarely clear evidence that specific foods have such miraculous health effects. Healthy eating patterns can have a positive impact, yes. But independent researchers seldom discover that, say, a single food like walnuts can help stave off diabetes, as this study found.

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Juicing Is Bad for You and the Earth – Johnny Adamic 02.20.16 9:01 PM ET

There’s a reason your mother told you to eat your vegetables, not juice them.

But no one seems to be listening these days. According to IBIS World, the market for juices and smoothies is $2 billion annually and expected to grow by hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few years. You can scarcely go a week without hearing about a coworker or celebrity being on a “juice cleanse,” either.

Juicing is not just another fad though: it is a privileged, wasteful form of food consumption that’s worse for you than cooking and bad for the environment; juicing is the triumph of marketing over science.

When juiced, a basket of fruit would probably serve half—if not less—the amount of people as it would if eaten whole. Lost to juicing are fibers that satiate (including the skin which is loaded with heart-healthy, cancer-fighting flavonoids), vitamins, and most importantly, fat. Fat matters because the body needs it to absorb a whole host of vitamins like A, D, E, and K. Without fat in that juice combo, those vitamins pass right through you.

That sounds sort of like a “cleanse,” but what is being cleansed from the body to begin with? After all, the liver is the body’s own cleanser and it is so powerful it can repair itself in less than 24 hours under normal conditions.

Juicing fruits or vegetables high in sugar (like beets instead of leafy greens), can raise blood-sugar levels as much as drinking a can of Coca-Cola. That’s because fruit sugars (fructose) are consumed without fiber to control how fast they’re absorbed.

There’s a reason humans cook food instead of pulverizing and drinking it: we get more calories and nutrients.

Boiling, steaming and frying foods unlocks antioxidants, phytochemicals like lycopene and specific vitamins for the body to digest, according to a 2007 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. As Rui Hai Liu, a professor of food science at Cornell University put it in 2009, “the heat from cooking breaks down a plants’ thick cell walls and aids the body’s uptake of some nutrients that are bound to those cell walls.”

Think of cooking as a second, third, or fourth stomach like those inside cows, sheep, and goats who use each one to break down food. Moose spend their days chewing, swallowing, and digesting. Humans spend only a fraction of time eating compared to other animals because we learned how to break down food before eating it with heat and fermentation.

Juicing might even be worse for the environment than it is for you.

After the juice has been squeezed out of food, tons of pulp is left behind, thrown into landfills where they emit significant amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 21 timesmore potent than carbon dioxide. Only two U.S. cities, San Francisco and Seattle, have a required composting program that would prevent pulp from going directly into the landfill.

As always, mom was right: eat your veggies, just cook them first.

Why (almost) everything you know about food is wrong – by Julia Belluz on January 2016


There was a time, in the distant past, when studying nutrition was a relatively simple science.

In 1747, a Scottish doctor named James Lind wanted to figure out why so many sailors got scurvy, a disease that leaves sufferers exhausted and anemic, with bloody gums and missing teeth. So Lind took 12 scurvy patients and ran the first modern clinical trial.

The sailors were divided into six groups, each given a different treatment. The men who ate oranges and lemons eventually recovered — a striking result that pointed to vitamin C deficiency as the culprit.

This sort of nutritional puzzle solving was common in the pre-industrial era. Many of troubling diseases of the day, such as scurvy, pellagra, anemia, and goiter, were due to some sort of deficiency in the diet. Doctors could develop hypotheses and run experiments until they figured out what was missing in people’s foods. Puzzle solved.

Unfortunately, studying nutrition is no longer that simple. By the 20th century, medicine had mostly fixed scurvy and goiter and other diseases of deficiency. In developed countries, these scourges are no longer an issue for most people.

Today, our greatest health problems relate to overeating. People are consuming too many calories and too much low-quality food, bringing on chronic diseases like cancer, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Unlike scurvy, these illnesses are much harder to get a handle on. They don’t appear overnight; they develop over a lifetime. And fixing them isn’t just a question of adding an occasional orange to someone’s diet. It involves looking holistically at diets and other lifestyle behaviors, trying to tease out the risk factors that lead to illness.

Today’s nutrition science has to be a lot more imprecise. It’s filled with contradictory studies that are each rife with flaws and limitations. The messiness of this field is a big reason why nutrition advice can be confusing.

It’s also part of why researchers can’t seem to agree on whether tomatoes cause or protect against cancer, or whether alcohol is good for you or not, and so on, and why journalists so badly muck up reporting on food and health.

To get a sense for how difficult it is to study nutrition, I spoke to eight health researchers over the past several months. Here’s what they told me.

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