A scientist’s dilemma

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I would like to consider myself a scientist – or at the very least a man of science. I do science for a living, although admittedly I don’t actually know what science is.

When I talk to people about nutrition, whether in person or in front of a class, I make an attempt at presenting nutrition from what I believe to be a scientific standpoint.
But there invariably comes a point during my rambling monologues when the listeners who aren’t sleeping realize that my advice on nutrition is roughly the opposite of what everybody else say, the opposite of what their textbooks says and the opposite of what the government recommends.

Eat fat,” I say, “preferably saturated fat. Butter is great. Avoid sugar and eat proteins. In fact, just make sure that most of what you are eating was also once eating something. Don’t eat grains, at least no wheat. If you don’t like seafood you might want to supplement with omega 3.” You get the picture.

At this point, a hovering hand usually catches my attention.

Are you telling us the government is wrong?

Yes, that is correct,” I think to myself. But I don’t say it.

Instead I try my best at working around question and feeling very much like a greased up politician I effectively avoid the question by saying something about how scientific results are often disagreed upon, how it takes time to change scientific paradigms, how textbooks are slowly updated, how science is not immune to the ways of money and how even scientists rarely admit to being wrong even though the evidence calls for it.

But, what I would like to say is, “Yes, that is correct.” In fact, what I would like to say that it is hard to be more wrong than the official guidelines.

I dodge the question, because I know I will lose credibility by asserting myself. Claiming to possess a knowledge that has escaped most everybody but me will drive my audience away and luckily so. It is after all a sign of healthy skepticism in my audience.

If I succeed in getting across the message that even the government might get it wrong, there invariably is a follow-up question.

Who then should we listen to?”

Me,” I think.

But I don’t say it.

Instead I talk about how, if you really want to know the truth, if you really want to know about nutrition and health, you have to read. You have to read and study and accumulate your own knowledge. Only then can you make sensible decisions about whom to listen to.

If however, you don’t want to spend your time learning about nutrition and navigating the maze of confusing information, you’ve got three more or less sensible choices:

1. You can trust your experience and the experience of those around you. A lot can be learned from listening to the body, cleaning out the senses and having a keen eye for the obvious. Humans however, are prone to deceiving themselves.

2. Find any random person or organization that promote a dietary strategy and follow it. This strategy is commonly used in religion and judging by the number of religious people around, I would say it’s an easily followable approach.

3. Don’t give a crap and eat whatever you want to eat.

I hate that there are no better options. When asked about whom to trust I would like to give people a name. Preferably the government, as it should be their responsibility to make correct and important knowledge available to the public. But I can’t give a name. In truth, the only option for those who really seek the truth is to find it themselves.

And how bloody ineffective it all is. But as I claim that those who should be trusted can’t be trusted there is no way people will or should blindly trust me.

And who’s to blame for this sticky situation? Much of the blame lies with scientists; the very group of people I would like to consider myself a part of.

Scientists have disagreed far more than the evidence permits. They have been led by money, fame and feelings and are in general guilty of being just like ordinary humans.

I do not think nor hope that the day comes when I can teach a nutrition- and health approach that everybody agrees upon. After all, the progress of science rests entirely on disagreement. But it should be possible to agree about the important issues. It is possible, but agreement honors us with its absence. And in the meantime everything is so much more difficult than it has to be and the obvious question poses a dilemma where there should be none.

9 kommentarer

  1. Wow! This is great. Thanks.
    I am not a scientist like you, but I read and study everything I can find related to wheat and saturated fat and all things related–for over a year. Plus I have successfully put into practice most of the paleo principles of Dr. Kurt Harris and others.
    I too am passionate about sharing my «knowledge» and I do. I refuse to hold back whenever I have the opportunity, telling others that I share it with them only because I care.
    One thing I add is that I don't want my listeners to believe me or trust me. They must do their own research so they can be confident about their choices.

    I wish there were a faster way, but,…
    I am pleased that I do already have much of my family «converted» so that's a good thing.

    I look forward to reading more of your blog.


  2. Pål

    It's for this reason I have been pushing a self-monitoring agenda. The weakness in the mainstream nutrition wall is that it admits that there are food sensitivities, that one should not eat a food that one has a sensitivity to and that one should personally test to find out what these food sensitivities are.

    You, Ned and Jamie, among others, have used impeccable logic to make your points but what you are making your points against isn't based on logic therefore: how can logic in anyway make any headway?

    I do a «sick» blog on Ketosis Prone Type 2 diabetes. The recommendations of the ADA force a KPD to take in as much as 300g of carbs a day. The only way this can be done is by them continually taking insulin to balance the actions of these carbs. The net effect is that they can rarely get their A1c's below 6. The truth is this type of diabetes responds very well and also very badly to diet, meaning carbs. When I told them to cut their carbs, they simply pointed to their dietetic recommendations and continued. Once I explained G6PD deficiency and how they might have certain sensitivities, they were allowed to take a look and as you know, a look is worth a thousand words.

    I've no credentials but I don't need them and, frankly, having them has done little or no good for others in breaking down this wall. I don't have to deal with the wall because there isn't one where I wish to direct people.

    The tools to test are there now. All I wish to do is to convince people that they might have sensitivities and to test for them. Once they cross the Rubicon, the pixies in the garden vanish.

    Never play to an enemies strengths.


  3. Anonymous: Thanks! I think we have to settle for the slow approach for now.

    Jamie: can't see the trouble with being both.

    Michael: True that logic often fails when the wall you're beating your head against is made of bollocks. Exploiting a weakness such as food sensitivities might be a better approach. Credentials or not, as far as I can see you are doing a better job than any of the men with lots of abbreviations in front of their name in helping people with KPT2D. Keep up the good work!


  4. Ooops! Sorry Brian.

    Accidentally deleted this comment from my email, but meant to publish it. So here it is copied and pasted. And thanks by the way. Hope things are moving forward, scientific wise that is.

    «Excellent post!

    I just stumbled upon your blog but I feel your pain. I am a Chiropractor with a strong interest in nutrition and often feel like I am being viewed as «just another quack» when I share my knowledge. This used to be much worse, but after 21 years of practice it finally seems like «science» is catching up with reality.

    Brian Seitz, DC»


  5. The one shining gem you can point your students to is Anthropology. Biological Anthropologists and Archeologists who study modern day HGs and the remains of our paleolithic ancestors and their tools have achieved quite a consensus that a paleo diet is what we are adapted to, and that neolithic foods, especially from grains, has been detrimental to our overall health.


  6. Awesome post! I pretty much feel exactly the same way when someone goes 'So… the government says saturated fat kills and you say it doesnt. And I should trust YOU?… Hmmm!'

    On the flip side a lot of people are becoming familiar with the damage grains cause and are not too hesitant in trying to embrace a grain-free diet. Now if only these people can spend a wee bit more time and read about them awesome fats!

    Thanks for the well written post. Will keep checking for more!

    – Raj


  7. Aaron: I try pulling the anthropologic arguments as much as I can. They are much to nonexistent in nutrition.

    Raj: Hopefully if people find one flaw in conventional nutrition advise, they will more easily admit there might be more. Maybe the grains debate will be a door opener.


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