I think most people would agree that nutrition is science. After all, researchers are able to make predictions, test hypotheses, and draw conclusions; and from this work, we’ve gained a deeper understanding of how food impacts our health.
But with so much conflicting nutrition advice that’s “backed by science,” I feel compelled to state the not-so-obvious:
Science is not fact.
It is true that science provides the evidence that can support – or go against – our beliefs about what is fact. It is true that the more evidence, the stronger our beliefs about what is true are defined and supported. But it is also true that we are human, and we will never have all the answers.
In lecture the other day, my professor cautioned, “do not make the mistake of thinking anything is proven.”
This is especially true in nutrition science, where there’s a lot of room for error.
For example, many nutrition studies are conducted using surveys and questionnaires. But sometimes people just don’t remember what they ate! Sometimes people lie. And even without these issues, oftentimes a snapshot of a person’s diet at one time does not give an accurate picture of that person’s long term diet and nutritional status, the status on which researchers base their conclusions.
Researchers also must consider the fact that nutrient status of food varies depending on when and where it was grown, and some nutrients and chemicals in foods may interact with others or within the body in unexplainable ways.
Add in the complication of other confounding lifestyle factors (like exercise, drug use, stress, and sleep habits), and genetic variability and bioindividualty (the notion that what works for one person’s body may not work for another’s), and it’s a freakin’ miracle we know anything at all about food’s effects on the human body!
Don’t get me wrong, science is valuable. Nutrition science has, in many cases, changed for the better what we know about health and the human body.
It’s just that somewhere along the line, we’ve forgotten that evidence is not proof.
We’ve come to accept science as cold hard fact. And when the facts contradict each other? Well that’s just downright confusing. It leaves many of us baffled and unsure how to best take care of our health.
I’m here to offer this reminder. Remember to take things with a grain of salt, so to speak. Stay curious, and stay skeptical. Be your own advocate. Tune into your body and learn what works best for you. I promise, it’s worth it.