At the most fundamental level, our food choices build our bodies and drive our health. But scientists may never be able to unravel all of the ways that diet affects our well-being. It’s simply not practical to randomize large groups of people and expect them to change their food habits over years or a lifetime, the kind of study it would take, for example, to precisely calculate how certain food patterns raise or lower the risk of cancer or heart disease. Since many nutritional questions will forever remain out of reach of classic experimental science, there will always be room for debate. Low-carb, low-fat, low-glycemic, vegetarian, vegan — people follow many paths to healthy eating, and some diets are bound to be more realistic and effective than others.
In 2014, David Katz, a physician at Yale University and the founding director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, cut through the clutter with “Can We Say What Diet is Best for Health?”, an article he coauthored with Stephanie Meller in the Annual Review of Public Health. By examining the pros and cons of popular diets, Katz made the case that many dieters and nutritionists have misplaced priorities. His message: Instead of counting carbs or grams of fat, we should embrace the basic framework of healthy eating.