The only respectable position is a hunch
I had a guest over at my house the other day, and my dad offered her some home-brewed kombucha. She tried it and said: “I like kombucha…I hear it’s really healthy, and it doesn’t taste bad.”
That quote just about sums up dietary science for me. You have a hunch, but you can’t really test it. In medicine we run experiments to measure things like mortality improvement after a treatment, but it’s hard to run long-term experiments with food as the treatment because of logistics, money, and time.
You could do quicker studies where you see how foods affect a lab value, like cholesterol, but it’s hard to know what that means. We don’t know that high cholesterol is bad. Here is what we know:
Statins -> Lower cholesterol and improve mortality in heart disease
But this doesn’t mean that everything that lowers cholesterol is good for your health. Unless you measure real outcomes like mortality, you can’t be confident saying that something is “healthy” just because it lowers cholesterol.
I overheard this conversation in a coffee shop:
Lady: So this hibiscus tea is supposed to be good for you?
Barista: Yeah. It’s got…anti-oxidants.
Lady: They say green tea is the best for you. Is that true?
Barista: I don’t know.
That’s just how it is. We usually don’t know. Super-confident isn’t the truth.
Every day, we decide a million times what to put in our bodies, and there isn’t much science to base these decisions on. So we go with our hunches. We stay away from car exhaust, drink our kombucha, and shrug our shoulders a lot.
*Healthy = We have a hunch that these snacks are healthy, but haven’t done experiments to prove this. We are a small company, and doing experiments that control diet in a randomized way over a long period of time is way out of our league.