Do You Want Ideas, Or Do You Want Results?
Have you ever felt that a shortcut could save you time, only to find out the result was a dead end? I sure have. I'd like to make sure you avoid dead ends and get the results you want this year.
To get good results, you need to be able to effectively sort through information. Why does this matter? Prior to the Internet, health information of any kind was hard to find. There were a few books in libraries and bookstores, but general newspapers and periodicals said little about food or lifestyle. Now, in the Internet age, there is no shortage of health advice. Unfortunately, more advice is not always helpful since so much of it is conflicting. The result is you're often left more confused than ever.
I've got an easy trick for you that will help you sort through this chaos without making it a full-time job. All you need are two easy things:
1. The ability to tell the difference between ideas and results.
2. The knowledge that results always trump ideas.
What is an idea? Let's look outside of the health world for an example. In late December 1999, I bought a few cases of canned food and water storage containers because I was worried that Y2K could cause a collapse of society. This is laughable now, but I wasn't the only one who did this! Many experts told us about an idea that computers were about to give out due to flawed date codes that would not work in the year 2000. You already know the result from that one. The idea turned out to be wrong. All that happened to me was that a huge box hogged up space in my garage for a decade before I threw it out.
Just like in world affairs, ideas about health are a dime a dozen, and here's why: Your body is regulated by an amazingly complex, interconnected system. With a little imagination, it is possible to look at this system and imagine that any food, nutrient, herb or drug could do anything at all -- good or bad. Let's look at an example of how ideas can go wrong. One could start with a couple of pieces of data like these:
• Grapefruit has an alkaloid, called naringin (true).
• Naringin slows one of your liver enzymes (true).
From these true statements, you could imagine an idea like this:
• Grapefruit might cause liver damage (not true).
How can you quickly tell ideas from results? Ideas use words like "might" or "should." They also make absolute and categorical claims, using words like "always," "only," and "never." Results are pretty low-key. They stick to the facts and tell you about what actually happened, not what someone thinks will happen.
Below is a fun game that will give you some practice. Take a look at these competing health claims, and see if you can tell which column has ideas and which has results. Once you get the hang of it, it is pretty easy to tell the difference.
* Beans might cause cancer because they have lectins, and some lectins cause cancer in test tubes.
* Only carbs cause weight gain.
* You should be able to get all the nutrients you need from a well-balanced diet.
* Studies have shown that beans kill colorectal cancer cells. (1)
* The largest studies comparing the long-term results of high-carb vs. low-carb diets show that there is no clear difference. (2)
* Severe vitamin D deficiencies have been found in more than 80 percent of the adult African-American population. (3)
If you guessed that Column A has ideas and Column B has results, you were right!
Next time you hear competing health claims, don't even worry about who the expert is or how good the opposing arguments are. Start by figuring out which is an idea and which is a result, and you'll know which you should pay attention to and which you can safely ignore.
1. Vergara-Castaneda HA, Guevara-Gonzalez RG, Ramos-Gomez M, Reynoso-Camacho R, Guzman-Maldonado H, Feregrino-Perez AA, et al. Non-digestible fraction of cooked bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) cultivar Bayo Madero suppresses colonic aberrant crypt foci in azoxymethane-induced rats. Food Funct. 2010;1:294-300. doi: 10.1039/c0fo00130a.
2. Abete I, Astrup A, Martinez JA, Thorsdottir I, Zulet MA. Obesity and the metabolic syndrome: role of different dietary macronutrient distribution patterns and specific nutritional components on weight loss and maintenance. Nutr Rev. 2010;68:214-231. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00280.x.
3. Forrest KY1, Stuhldreher WL. Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults. Nutr Res. 2011 Jan;31(1):48-54. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2010.12.001.