How Can We Trust Nutrition Science?

Annals of Internal Medicine Reveals Red Meat Studies’ Ties to Meat Industry
True Health Initiative
A recent correction by a major scientific journal, The Annals of Internal Medicine, spotlighted unreported funding by the meat industry. Lead author and NutriRECS funder, Bradley C, Johnson neglected to, “indicate a grant from Texas A&M AgriLife Research to fund investigator-driven research related to saturated and polyunsaturated fats,” says the journal. While this correction may shed light on the author’s assertion that red and processed meat is not harmful to human health, it is yet another assault on public trust in nutrition science—which perhaps was the authors’ goal all along.

True Health Initiative, with the help of our Council of Directors, and partner organizations, such as 50by40 and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, led the campaign for truth in October when the reports first came out, but this campaign for truth does not stop at unveiling industry interests.  

The campaign for truth means that we must not be duped into believing we cannot trust nutrition science. 

A few truths: nutrition science is imperfect, science is imperfect, there will always be outliers and exceptions, there will likely always be people trying to buy science. 

A few more truths: Some of the greatest scientific discoveries relied on observation and common sense, like, gravity.

So, how can we trust nutritional science?

By knowing how to spot a lie. For the most part, scientists work in pursuit of  greater knowledge and truth. They are a group of people who have dedicated their lives to solving problems, curing disease, and saving the planet. But, science is something that can be manipulated by inaccurate reporting and hyped up headlines. 

Here are a few simple ways to spot a lie- courtesy of THI founder, Dr. David L. Katz, from his recent book, The Truth About Food. 

  1. They rely on absolute conviction with no room for doubt. The NutriRECS red meat authors, were certain that new guidelines should recommend red and processed meat consumption with no limits, despite piles of research pointing to their adverse health effects.  Indeed, the NutriRECS guidelines were in contrast to their own data. 
  2. They identify a silver bullet.  In the case of the Annals red meat papers, the silver bullet is a bit less obvious; the authors dismiss the value of observational studies to conclude that popular foods, like bacon, have no negative health consequences. Simple, dismiss a large portion of the weight of evidence, and achieve your desired result. 
  3. They choose a “scapegoat food or nutrient.” Refer to every low-carbohydrate diet, ever.  If a diet insists that vegetables are the reason for your excess weight, there is surely a problem. 
  4. They denounce everyone and everything else, claiming they alone have the answer. Somehow, NutriRECS dismissed whatever evidence didn’t fit their agenda—including their own. 
  5. They sound too good to be true.  Really though, bacon is healthy now?

Unfortunately, we cannot trust everything we read.  But, with some attention, we can begin to trust our own judgement and sources of news that consistently show reliable reporting. 

Some clear signs of truths: 

  1. They are reliable across a diverse source of evidence. The Annals of Internal Medicine red meat reports dismissed evidence that red and processed meat can have adverse health effects by focusing on randomized controlled studies as the only real reliable source of evidence.  Lifestyle intervention is nearly impossible to measure with randomized controlled trials, and by dismissing other sources of evidence, such as observational studies and longitudinal studies, the authors were able to manipulate the weight of evidence. This is one reason True Health Initiative in partnership with ACLM has introduced an evidence matrix (Hierarchies of Evidence Applied to Lifestyle Medicine) to measure the value of lifestyle intervention practices.
  2. They are stable over time and resurface after they have been wrongly dismissed.  Note the recent American Heart Association discussion regarding dietary cholesterol. 
  3. They are devoid or magic and miracles. Sorry, the ice cream diet will never be a thing.
  4. They don’t sound too good to be true.
  5. They may be detailed but are always informed by the big picture. 

The media frenzy that surrounded the publication of the Annals of Internal Medicine red meat reports resounded with the familiar phrase, “scientific flipflop,” but there was no flip-flop. This was simply another inaccurate report, whose inaccuracies were amplified by an attention-hungry media.  The truth about food is a rather simple one, and has been proven time and time again, eat mostly plants, not too much.  We can add, drink mostly water and understand that the best foods for humans, are often best for the planet too.

Regarding the recent correction by the Annals of Internal Medicine, THI founder, Dr. David L, Katz says, “Corrections are rarely as widely read as the original content, and even if they were, it would be hard to undo the damage of all the echoes that result from clickbait and hyperbole.  But still, a correction is better than nothing. The Annals disclosure is welcome; attention to it in the Washington Post, even more so. This is content where getting it right matters enormously- there are, literally, lives at stake.”

Science saves lives, and the ongoing attack on scientific truths is a public health threat. Common sense has a weight of its own, and the simple truth is that the facts about healthy living have changed very little over time.