Survey shows how deeply experts differ from ordinary folks on what’s healthy food

FireShot upshot2Sometimes it feels like there is so much information about diet and nutrition that it’s hard to know what to think about what we eat and how it affects our well-being.

The New York Times consulted with experts in nutrition to develop a story and informational graphic that capture how ordinary Americans and nutritionists differ in their views about the health value of foods.

Us:  we think granola bars, coconut oil, frozen yogurt, granola, Slim Fast shakes, American cheese, and orange juice tend to be healthful.

Them: nutritionists give more of a thumb’s up to quinoa, tofu, sushi, hummus, wine, and shrimp.

Both nutritionists and lay people are conflicted about popcorn, pork chops, whole milk, steak, and cheddar cheese.

“Where does this leave a well-meaning but occasionally confused shopper?” the New York Times asks. “Reassured, perhaps: Nutrition science is sometimes murky even to experts.”

I’ve written before about the importance of common sense and moderation when it comes to what we all eat.

Soggy study on pasta

It also doesn’t help, of course, when journalists open up and swallow hokum from food industry interests, including, in the latest example, a juicy sounding study that purported to show that eating a lot of pasta doesn’t make us fat but fitter. This paper takes a dodgy path to get to that neat-sounding notion, including the assumption that pasta lovers likely adhere to Mediterranean diets, which have some research basis in being called healthful.

But start to pull the strands of spaghetti off this plate and the research gets less tasty by the moment: It’s hard to ignore, for example, that the work was partially funded by a big pasta-making company. The work claims to have studied a large number of people. But the work is only observational, mixes many data sets, and tries to claim health benefits for one of many possible dietary elements (i.e. it credits only pasta with the benefits of every foodstuff in a varied, robust Mediterranean menu).

The best observation on this topic comes from Giada De Laurentiis, a well-known TV chef who specializes (with her famous last name, why not?) in Italian eats.  As she has been quoted: “Pasta doesn’t make you fat. How much pasta you eat makes you fat.”

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