Is Nutritional Science Flawed? Plus, Healthibella’s Book of the Year "Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition" by Dr. T. Colin Campbell
You’ll like the conclusion to this post: skip biochemistry class and take your cue from a preschool art class. Keywords: rainbow and eat.
Should we listen to our nutritionist or our health coach who uses nutritional charts? Yes and no. It’s at least a rough estimate of what we could be consuming, but factors such as bioavailability, food variability, and biochemical interactions greatly affect final nutrient content and absorption.
Is anyone out there confused by nutritional science? How do we differentiate fad from truth? There are so many trends, paleo, vegan, high protein, or the newest superfood to eat (2014 award goes to the Egyptian seed/grain Teff, Celiac safe with an amazing nutritional profile rich in iron, protein, calcium).
Contradictory nutritional evidence and poorly conceived studies mean that we really do need to be discerning and learn how to evaluate these numerous health claims independently for ourselves. Much of today’s nutrition research is based on reductionist thin-slicing studies of one chemical at a time rather than looking at the larger picture. This makes for good marketing, but flimsy health advice.
As someone who has been reading, applying, and studying the newest nutritional information for many years, I agree that the field can be full of contradictions. This is partially due to bioindividuality—the fact that we are not all alike and we do not all process food alike.
Working in the health and wellness industry, I have a deep interest—both personal and professional—about a food’s nutrient value. I like to know roughly how much vitamin C or calcium a food has. But, it’s not so straightforward. What we read on labels or charts doesn’t equal what will happen in the body. And if experts such as the esteemed Dr. T. Colin Campbell are correct, it seems there is no way to accurately know how many milligrams of this or that we will finally absorb.
To eat wisely, we should be consuming foods with the most bioavailable nutrients. Most experts agree that nutrients are most bioavailable through real food rather than through enrichment or supplements (not that these are not needed at times). But there are small details. Take wonderful flax seeds. Whole flax seeds pass through the body. To make them bioavailable, they need to be cracked open.
To put it simply, how much of a nutrient our body actually absorbs and uses is impacted by thousands upon thousands of metabolic reactions inside the human body. Every chemical can affect every other chemical, resulting in an infinite number of possible biological consequences, therefore the bioavailability factor of a nutrient can differ tremendously to the official nutrition chart data. To compound this discrepancy, there are large differences in food quality. Differences that are not apparent or simply cannot be known.
I recently watched a very interesting Integrative Nutrition lecture in my course by Howard Jacobson, PhD, a contributing author, with Dr. T. Colin Campbell, to the 2014 book Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition.
The lecture isn’t available online as it’s part of my nutritional coursework, but the topic of Dr. Jacobson’s talk was evaluating nutritional science. I was very surprised to learn just how variable a food's nutrient content can be.
For example, not all peaches are equal (or any food for that matter). Not even close. There can be a discrepancy of up to 40 times of a certain nutrient, such as beta carotene, depending on factors, such as soil, season, harvesting time, storage, and even from the fruit's location on the tree! We might not necessarily know this even if we farmed it ourselves, although we probably would have a much better idea of where the fruit falls on the quality spectrum.
Then add the bioavailability factor of beta carotene absorption in the human body, as well as the many chemical and biological interactions within the human body, and it’s nearly impossible to know the nutrient value of a food.
If we’re consuming the freshest, most seasonable, preferably organic or small farm produce, we are at least getting the highest quality food: best soil, best nurturing, no pesticides, best harvesting, storage, etc.
(But price tag doesn’t equal nutrient quality. For example, unseasonable exotic fruits are expensive because of transportation as well as demand, and veal is the flesh of a calf kept intentionally anemic to prevent the meat from turning red and is one of the most unhealthy, yet expensive meats on the market.)
Rather than relying on trying to measure nutrients in each of our foods, which we now know is sort of useless, we simply need to ensure we consume a variety of fresh foods, especially life-giving nutrient rich plant foods. Being vegetarian or vegan is on the extreme and may not suit everyone, but eating a diet rich in plant foods is unanimously considered to be the most health benefiting.
Conclusion? we don’t need to become masters of biochemistry to know what to eat. We can skip biochemistry class and take our cue from a preschool art class instead: eat a rainbow! Eat as many plant foods from each spectrum of the rainbow. To learn more about this and why this benefits us, please read my earlier post Eat the Rainbow: antioxidants to the rescue!
To your health and happiness.
With love, Juli
HEALTHIBELLA'S NUTRITION BOOK OF THE YEAR IS . . .
Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition by T. Colin Campbell, PhD, and Howard Jacobson, PhD.
For those of you new to the plant based food world, for more than 40 years, Dr. T. Colin Campbell has been at the forefront of nutrition research. His legacy, the China Project, is the most comprehensive study of health and nutrition ever conducted. He has more than 70 grant-years of peer-reviewed research funding and authored more than 300 research papers. He coauthored the bestselling 2008 book, The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health.
Here are some bits and editorial reviews from Amazon about Whole:
Nutritional science, long stuck in a reductionist mindset, is at the cusp of a revolution. The traditional “gold standard” of nutrition research has been to study one chemical at a time in an attempt to determine its particular impact on the human body. These sorts of studies are helpful to food companies trying to prove there is a chemical in milk or pre-packaged dinners that is “good” for us, but they provide little insight into the complexity of what actually happens in our bodies or how those chemicals contribute to our health.
''America's premier nutritionist, T. Colin Campbell, with courage and conviction, articulates how the self-serving reductionist paradigm permeates science, medicine, media, big pharma and philanthropic groups blocking the public from the nutritional truth for optimal health.'' — Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., MD, author of the bestselling Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease
''There are very few material game-changers in life, but this book is truly one of them. The information herein — backed up by extraordinary peer-reviewed science — has the power to halt and reverse disease, give you energy you've never known, and put you on a path of transformation in just about every positive way. Read it and get ready to soar.'' — Kathy Freston, New York Times bestselling author of The Lean and Quantum Wellness
''Dr. Colin Campbell opened our eyes with The China Study. In Whole, Dr. Campbell boldly shows exactly how our understanding of nutrition and health has gone off track and how to get it right. Beautifully and clearly written, this empowering book will forever change the way you think about health, food and science.'' — Neal Barnard, Founder and President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
About Howard Jacboson, PhD.
Co-Author of Whole, Dr. Howard Jacobson's website is: www.fitfam.com, where you will also find great resources, as well as his take on the misinformation and misinterpretation of the Mediterranean Diet, heralded by the New York Times and other papers as "the healthiest diet for humankind"—a study Dr. Jacobson believes was very poorly conceived. See video here: