I was in college, I found it odd that the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI) was one of the sources recommended to us to find studies in regards to hydration, exercise and performance. Obviously a company that has a goal of helping athletes perform better, wants the science to know what they can do to improve their product. But, if they discovered that drinking water is actually more beneficial to athletes, would they publish that information?
I don’t want to call out the GSSI or any one organization, because corporate money and influence in scientific research is rampant. T. Colin Campbell, the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, wrote the book “Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition,” which covers aspects of the ties that affect how we study nutrition, what gets published and how government regulations are affected. (Marion Nestle’s “Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health” has been on my reading list for a while and is another resource.)
It’s also important to note that this is a two way street. Recent found documents from nearly half a century ago that were uncovered in an old house suggest a very different dietary belief than what we hold to be true. While looking at the risks of animal fat on coronary heart disease, the results indicated replacing animal fats with vegetable oils as cholesterol levels were lowered by an average of 14 percent. But what not announced was how the risk of death due to heart disease was not reduced. The researchers reportedly withheld their findings because it did not match their belief that replacing saturated fat with vegetable oil was good for the heart.
Additionally, a recent article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association uncovers how 50 years ago the sugar industry shifted the focus from sugar to fats as being responsible for coronary heart disease by paying scientists to publish a research review. This led to years of Americans being told to cut out cholesterol and to eat a low fat diet, while our sugar consumption went up dramatically. Since then, doctors have suggested processed margarine with hydrogenated fats over butter, while people are missing out of the nutrients of the yolk by eating egg whites only. Meanwhile, our consumption of sodas and processed foods has increased dramatically. Sugar is hidden in a wide variety of foods which means that we have to consciously shop and consciously consume. Personally, I don’t think a diet with immensely high fat is wise, but many of the alternative diets, that include romanticizing sugar, is possibly even more detrimental.
The world of nutrition is already confusing. Now we have to second guess everything that we hear. It doesn’t help that a new study is touted on the news on a regular basis that conflicts with the one that was announced the week before. However, this is what do know:
1) Funding sources are often covered up in scientific studies. Even if it is released, companies may donate money to a university in a general capacity, which will not be attached to a specific study.
2) Legit studies may have been buried.
3) There will be distrust in the scientific industry. There are many scientists doing research who do everything right with no agenda. Yet, the more we hear about how studies are linked to corporate agendas, the more we hesitate to trust any scientific study.
4) Our health as a nation has declined as a result of misinformation. When the corporate dollar is more important that our health, we fail as a country. Especially when the money is tied in to our government policies. This is hard as the FDA and USDA have been linked to corporations like Monsanto.
So what should we do in the wake of this information?
Well for starters, remain calm. Science is science; however, as we have discovered, in today’s world science is often influenced by money or personal belief. The good new is these studies don’t have to dictate your life. You are the ruler of your world. You decide what goes in your body and you should do so based on how it makes you feel.
Personally, I lean toward encouraging everyone to eat whole foods. The closer we are to the source, the better. This gets complicated when we think about the pesticides, insecticides, antibiotics and genetically modified foods (GMO’s) that exist; but we can rule with the dollar. The more we seek and purchase foods that are organic, pasture-raised, hormone and antibiotic-free, the more corporations will adapt. The shift has already begun as there are more options now than ever before. Stay tuned to how your body feels and use your dollar to support that feeling.
The original study can be read here: here.
You can read articles by the NY Times, NPR, and Forbes about their coverage on the science and politics behind food.