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Foods & Health

The Myth of Healthy Food

Foods, even ‘healthy’ foods, don’t have the same effect from one person to another. Here’s why…

Foods, even ‘healthy’ foods, don’t have the same effect from one person to another.

This goes directly against what we hear in the media when they quote medical research. It’s very common to hear that one food or another is a great cancer-fighting food, or that it lowers cholesterol, or even that it slows aging.

For example, we’re told that garlic may lower blood pressure, red wine may prevent cancer and heart disease and soy is a healthy protein alternative.

Unfortunately, all of these ideas are, to one degree or another, myths.

There are multiple reasons such statements about any particular food are myths. Let’s dive in so we can understand the problems with these myths and why they should never be taken at face value.

Problem #1 – Generalization

Most studies that conclude a particular food has one healing quality or another use statistical analysis to reach their conclusions. And although statistical analysis works great for some things, the more complex a system is, the less reliable such analysis becomes.

Why is there this loss of reliability when using statistics to understand complex systems? It’s because statistical analysis is by its very nature generalized. It can’t account for individual differences.

And since the body has around 50,000 biochemical reactions happening daily, there’s plenty of room for individual differences when it comes to health.

The best way to understand this is to offer an exaggerated example. Let’s say for this example, that someone studied the connection between shoe size and longevity. I know it’s a silly idea, but bear with me for a moment.

Further, let’s assume that this study found that people who wear size 9 shoes live the longest in general. If this were the case, would you try to force your feet into size 9 shoes so you could live longer? Of course you wouldn’t, unless you had size 9 feet.

In the same way, it makes no sense to think that just because some statistically significant number of people who eat one particular food are generally healthy that the food in question will be good for you. You aren’t a ‘people’ (plural) you are a person, singular and unique.

In other words, one man’s meat is another man’s poison, regardless of what statistics tell us.

Problem #2 – Isolation

Many of the studies done on a particular food isolate one component of the food for its results. The classic example of this are the studies on red wine and its effects on health.

It turns out that there is a component of red wine that does have tremendous health benefits. That component is resveratrol. Taken by itself, there is plenty of evidence that resveratrol improves health and longevity.

The problem with drinking red wine for health benefits is that resveratrol isn’t the only thing in red wine. The obvious additional component is the alcohol, and that has its own set of problems.

For example, in the body, alcohol turns into sugar very quickly. High levels of sugar in the body create dramatically bad health consequences.

In addition, alcohol, particularly when taken in excess, has at least 180 health damaging effects. These range from hangovers to causing cancer and heart disease.

Wait… wasn’t red wine supposed to prevent cancer and heart disease? Hmmm…

Problem #3 – Every Person is Unique

When it comes to food, each of us has our own unique metabolic requirements. That means that our bodies work best when we get our own unique metabolic fuel needs met.

And, since ALL of the 50,000 biochemical reactions in the body get their raw materials from the food we eat, the only way we can expect perfect health is to provide the ideal foods for our unique requirements.

Put more simply, in the same way we need to wear the shoes that fit our feet, we also need to eat the foods that fit our body’s unique requirements.

So the next time you hear the latest research about the amazing health benefits of one food or another, remember to take it with a grain of salt. Even if the food has wonderful properties, it might not have the same level of health benefits for you. And in some cases it might even make you feel worse.

That doesn’t make the research ‘wrong’ as far as it goes, but please use this as a reminder that the research may not apply to your unique situation.

All the best to you for your health and happiness,

Dr. Bruce Eichelberger

Dr. Bruce

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References:

Hyperhealth Pro Database, In-Tele-Health, Hansville, WA, 2008.

5 replies on “The Myth of Healthy Food”

Hi Karen,

You’re welcome!

One additional point is that ironically, organic food is even worse for someone if it’s not the right food for their metabolic needs. That’s because organic food is generally more nutrient dense, therefore will have more of the nutrients that are wrong for a person.

Take care,

Dr. Bruce

Hello, and thanks for this post! I completely agree with you here. There are a lot of ‘myths’ out there, and as a pharmacy student, I get asked about them all the time. I always turn to an evidence-based resource like http://www.naturalstandard .com to see a summary of available evidence concerning a topic. The website even offers a grade for efficacy based on the number/size/quality of the studies. Sure some things ‘may’ do this, or they ‘may’ do that…on the other hand, they may not. Thanks again.

You are quite right about that. And for one thing, research papers and studies are meant to make their conclusions work in a way that fits their goal. I’m not saying they’re all compromised or all of them are wrong, just that they are riddled to subjectivity and as you said, isolation.

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