On March 29, the New York Times published an article that described a recent scientific discovery: that olive oil, touted as a healthy form of oil for its antioxidants and positive effect on the heart, may have the additional benefit of helping with satiety.
A two-part study took place at the German Research Center for Food Chemistry to determine what effect extra-virgin olive oil had on the eating habits of those being observed. In the first part, food intake was compared between those who had olive oil added to their yogurt and those who had another type of oil added -- or no oil added at all. In the second part, the aromatic extract of olive oil was added to one group's nonfat yogurt but not the other. What the scientists found was that the members of the groups who either had olive oil added to their yogurt in the first part or the aromatic extract added in the second part consumed less food and experienced less weight gain. And while Dr. Malte Rubach, a scientist who helped carry out the study, conceded that this experiment was too small to draw any recommendations from it, we as readers are left to consider the possibility that yes, consuming and even smelling olive oil helps us to manage our eating habits.
This article captures the underlying process that takes place when observing nutrition through a modern scientific lens. Scientists ask a question about the properties of food, create a simulated environment in which to analyze those properties, and then draw conclusions based on their findings. From there, the scientists -- as well as the media outlets that cover the findings -- announce that certain foods do certain things to our health. We as consumers are then to modify our behavior accordingly: Consume more red wine because it has healthy properties, consume less butter because it has unhealthy ones, and now, smell more olive oil.
But if this process was such a reliable way to ascertain the properties of any given food substance, then why are the findings often reversed with new and different findings? The nutritional community has debated for many years on the relative benefit or detriment of consuming eggs. And even still, after years of research and all of the modern technology available to us, some studies say eggs cause health problems while others say they don't. If this scientific process was so reliable, then how could something as simple as an egg cause so much confusion?
Thousands of years ago, certain members of the Indian subcontinent immersed themselves in meditation. Known as rishis, some of these people scribed many words of ancient scripture that now form the heart of Indian spiritual traditions. Others formulated the structure and ideas of what we now know to be yogic philosophy. And still others developed ayurveda, a medical system that helps people to resolve illness and disease and prevent such imbalances from ever taking hold of the body again. They determined the properties of herbs like ginger, coriander, and turmeric, and they developed treatments for everything from hives to osteoarthritis. How did they do this? Did they conduct double-blind placebo studies? Did they debate the merits of what their colleagues published in medical journals? Did they act like modern experts that draw ever-changing conclusions about things like eggs? No. Rather, they used their intuition to uncover the truth.
The truth. Quite an ambitious idea on which to assume a level of authority. What gave them the credibility to make this assumption? They slowly uncovered the qualities found in nature by continually stripping away their ego and realizing how something like turmeric affects one's health or how eating a certain way leads to a lessened incidence of disease. Modern scientists may spend a few months or years conducting a study, but these rishis devoted their entire lives to uncovering the nature of existence.
When we feel thirsty, hungry, or tired, do we need a scientist to help us determine if those feelings are true? No, we know these things to be true because our body is programmed to send those messages to our brain. We're naturally inclined to drink when we're thirsty, eat when we're hungry, and sleep when we're tired. When someone devotes themselves to spiritual practices for many years as the rishis did centuries ago, their understanding of the truth about turmeric emerges as naturally as the sensation of thirst would after sweating throughout a really hot day. They came to develop ayurveda as a result not of analytical deduction over the course of a few months or years, but through the pursuit of divine guidance over the course of generations. And how do we know that this process ultimately led to the truth claimed in this article? The rishis developed the system of ayurveda about 5,000 years ago -- and its use by practitioners has been helping people to overcome illness and disease of every kind ever since.
Much like Dr. Rubach and the other facilitators of the study described in the New York Times article, the ancient rishis of India made a determination that olive oil has certain properties of benefit to those who use it. It, along with other natural oils, has been a staple of not just ayurvedic treatments but of all natural medicines for centuries; no new studies are required since its properties have never changed. And while Rubach and his colleagues are reluctant to make any recommendations regarding the use of olive oil as based on their study, we are left to wonder what the use of such studies is in the first place.
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