Nutrition Basics Part 1: Why Nutrition is so Complicated

I see it all the time. It's that glazed over, deer in headlights look that people get when they are feeling overwhelmed by ALL the nutrition and diet information they've ever read and heard. What should I eat? And when? Am I eating too much or too little? Should I eat gluten or dairy or meat? This website says I should, but that book says I shouldn't... 

Nutrition is complicated. Even I, despite studying this science for years, still find myself baffled by the complexity of the human body and the role that food plays in it. It's very easy to become frustrated and overwhelmed by the colossal amount of (often contradicting) nutrition information out there.  Here's a few main reasons why nutrition is really effing confusing:

  1. We don't actually know very much. Our ancestors have been using food as medicine for thousands of years, but nutrition as a studied science is very new. Some very basic discoveries, such as the chemical makeup of carbs, fats, and proteins, were made in the 1700 and 1800's, but it wasn't until the 1930' and 40's that vitamins, amino acids, and various other compounds were identified. In 1968, scientists finally determined that eating the right amount of these nutrients can impact health and prolong life (seems obvious now, but it was a big discovery at the time)- which is where modern nutrition science as it relates to health and weight loss really begins. So, we don't even have a full 50 years of nutrition science under our belts. 
  2. The research we do have is limited and often flawed. One reason for this is the newness of it that I mentioned above. It's difficult to determine the long-term effects of specific diets or compounds if they haven't been around very long. (There's not too many 80 year olds out there who have been eating Splenda and GMO's their whole lives...) Also, non-biased funding for nutrition research is hard to get. In comparison to things like cancer research, nutrition isn't really seen as a priority. So what happens is major food corporations provide funding for these studies, but you can imagine the conflict of interest when, say, the sugar industry funds research on the health impact of sugar. Scientists get paid off, and the results are fudged and manipulated so that the outcome almost always (some studies say 90% of the time) favors their sponsor. 
  3. No two bodies are the same. Nutrition is not a one-size-fits-all, and in fact, it's the exact opposite. Everyone is so drastically different in what foods their bodies tolerate well, how much of each macro and micro-nutrient they need, and what allows them to reach their goals and feel their best.  Oftentimes, Joe Shmoe will find a diet that allows him to lose weight and feel amazing, so Joe goes out and preaches his diet as though it's THE way to nutrition salvation- and there are a lot of those Joes out there. What they may not realize is that even though that method worked amazingly well for them it, it could actually be detrimental to someone else. (Consumers, beware of health gurus that claim to have THE answer.)

Hopefully this information helps explain why nutrition can be so confusing, but there still lies the question of how. How do we navigate this maze of information to figure out what to eat to optimize health and weight management? Next week I'll be posting Part II of this article which will answer that question on a foundational level. In Part II I will give you three of the most important nutrition practices that can benefit anyone. So if you're looking for a good nutritional starting point, or just need a couple surefire things to fall back on when you get overwhelmed, you can always focus again on these three basics. 

Catch ya then!