Friday, September 12, 2014
Any Diet Will Do
Apropos of my essay last time on how we put too much faith in the products that are sold with fancy scientific jargon and magic-sounding ingredients, here are two examples from this week’s news.
The first is an article from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) explaining a comparison of several different research studies on the effectiveness of the various popular diets, the ones people love to argue about with friends and neighbors as celebrities hype one or the other on TV talk shows. After reviewing “59 eligible articles reporting 48 unique randomized trials (including 7286 individuals) and compared with no diet,” trials of such programs as Atkins, Zone, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and a few others, they found that low-fat and low-carbohydrate diets were most effective but with little difference from one plan to the next. The conclusion of their research was that doctors should continue the “practice of recommending any diet that a patient will adhere to in order to lose weight.” There is no magic in the diet itself. If there is any magic at all, it’s in the discipline to stick to the diet – and you can’t buy that!
The second example made me laugh, until I remembered that, for the reasons mentioned last time, many people take this seriously. It’s called “5 Foods That Keep You Young.” The slide show and related articles are crammed with those trigger words (shown in bold) that we hear every day in health-related promotions. For example, an “Avocado and Oat Facial mask” will “hydrate and exfoliate your face” or use a “Red Wine Mask” for the wrinkles. Next for your face they offer pumpkin seeds with “tons of zinc” to lock in moisture and increase collagen production. For our hair we need vitamins A and C, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and more zinc. Try some walnuts. Don’t forget your fingernails, which require iron, beta-carotene, folate, and vitamin C from dark green vegetables. Your eyes need plenty of lutein and zeaxanthin. And to put a smile on that wrinkle-free face, try some “endorphin-releasing foods like chocolate and ice cream.”
There was once a day when people could eat well and keep their weight down without mention of all these magical ingredients and programs. Then we discovered fast food, processed foods and a sedentary lifestyle. Before long people were eating unhealthy diets and being overweight. Now we act like victims of the clown, the king and big business and expect to be rescued by science and technology. As part of this over-reaction we look to the US government to dictate dos and don’ts for school menus. For many Americans an ordinary grocery store is not good enough, and we spend billions of dollars on dietary supplements, just in case. This is not how we managed in the past.
The solution to this problem does not come from the outside. All we really need is a little discipline, critical thinking and perspective.