“the plural of anecdote is not data” . . . part 2 of 4

We have some strange logical fallacies that cause us to NOT learn what health and nutrition really are.   (That, and lots of voices compete in the world of nutrition, so the field truly can be confusing.)


First, let’s say Sue hears from her neighbor that eating caterpillars will straighten her baby’s bow legs.   So she collects a bunch of caterpillars and feeds them to the baby, who gags, refuses to eat most of the mashed caterpillar even though Sue hides them in Twinkies, gets diarrhea . . . and still has bow legs.   Sue says, “These ‘natural’ things don’t work–I’m going back to the M.D. who is a true SCIENTIST.”


Second, I have sister-in-law who writes off all the natural-healing folks as crazy because she has a sister-in-law who believes anything she hears and buys every supplement, product, gadget.   And said sister-in-law is none the healthier for it.   (This reminds me of someone who doesn’t believe in marriage because her ex-spouse was a jerk.)


Third, I have a family member who has basically discarded all information.   “They told us oatmeal would cure heart disease.   Then they told us it didn’t,” she says.   Her conclusion?   “I don’t listen to them anymore.”   She’s tuned “them” out.   (“Them” being all science, all studies, all media–essentially all new information.)  


So many things are wrong with these conclusions.   We have a tendency to throw the baby out with the bath water, like in the oatmeal example.   Or, we just don’t go down the path far enough to differentiate those with a true and deep knowledge base (Bernard Jensen, Joel Fuhrman, Robert O. Young, etc.) from the snake-oil, quack, purveyors of priestcraft–or, more innocuous, those who really believe in their product that is rather unproven.


I’m as skeptical of (while friendlier toward) natural cure claims as I am of Big Pharma and the medical institution.   (I do think the “cures” of the former are more innocuous than the “cures” of the latter, and some of them can be effective.)   You can find a lot of voodoo under the banner of “alternative healing.”  

The good thing about nutritional healing is that the evidence is beyond substantial–it’s an avalanche–that plant foods heal and prevent disease and create healthy populations.   Notice that I stay away from promoting this or that vitamin supplement (scientific efficacy being far from proven, and IMO sketchy at best whether they help us at ALL).  

Notice that I don’t promote all the concentrated, pasteurized juices whose “evidence” is always just anecdotal.   Note that I don’t promote miracle cures for cancer, which I think might be worth your time and money if you have money to burn and you’re sure trying it won’t hurt you–but they should be supplementary to a GreenSmoothieGirl diet, not in lieu of!  

Tomorrow, an excerpt from the 12 Steps to Whole Foods introduction, a crash course on how to evaluate the deluge of nutrition and health data you read in the news.  


“The plural of anecdote is not data” . . . part 1 of 4

I’m still laughing since I read that most excellent quote–thanks, Katie!


When I’m teaching my college students elemental data analysis and research, I tell them my two pet peeves about research in general, but particularly in the field of health and nutrition.


I say that I am completely frustrated with medicine.   The vast majority of research inside modern medicine is bought and paid for, motive tainting it to the point of near uselessness.   A profit motive is often counter to the interests of the public health (a flaw in the capitalist economic system, not that I’m advocating for any other system).   Nowhere is this more evident than in the field of prescription drugs.   The problem is highlighted by the 2007 release of a study of the world’s 20 largest pharmaceutical companies (often referred to as Big Pharma): they spend 2:1 on marketing (drug pushing) versus research and development!


On the other end, as Katie’s quote alludes to, “alternative health” doesn’t have big bucks backing it, so those who market natural remedies often rely on case studies.   One person, or even ten, saying their constipation improved taking X or Y herb?   That’s not compelling research.   Worst of all is the fact that many health/nutrition products are marketed by people with little knowledge base (in direct sales and network marketing models).   Those selling many products these days rely on nothing more than anecdotes, or “testimonials.”      







Their selling sometimes looks a lot like a revivalist religious meeting, and that turns me cold because it’s emotion based rather than logic based.   Look at the folks claiming their gout or their psoriasis or their athsma is better because of Product X, at those meetings, and tell me: do they look truly healthy?   Can you really believe that a diet of hot dogs and potato chips, with a little pasteurized miracle mangosteen juice or a pill of  some kind, is the answer to all health problems?  Do a product’s claims fit with what you already know, or is it just wishful thinking and preying on the desperation of so many people in poor health?


I see the problems with  common reasoning flaws on a micro level, constantly.   Three examples tomorrow.

Who you gonna call, Part V top-secret advice!

So I just wrecked the pedestal underneath the Fat Diet Docs and celebs, the personal trainers, the network marketers’ pills, potions, and juices, and the blood type and metabolic typing docs.

I hope you’re not feeling without answers.   Moms write me and tell me they read about nutrition and go to bed in tears because of all the complexity and confusion, and that’s heartbreaking.   Who can blame them?   There is no subject wherein the most educated among us are more confused than the field of WHAT TO EAT.

But answers are usually easy and pure.   Remember the Biblical story of the man Jesus told to go and wash his eyes in the river?   The man cost himself a cure because it was too simple.  In an age of technology, complexity, and an excess of information and opinion, we expect the answers to be hard.   But the answers, when it comes to what fuel to put in our body, are so simple that they’re (ironically) hard for a modern mind to comprehend!

It’s hard, I know, to let go of the idea that you have to eat a bunch of pills every day. The calcium! The fish oil! The hair-growth formula! It’s endless, and it’s just a variation on the drug approach to health, really.  Here’s the secret:  

Eat simple food that grows in the dirt.   Wash it first.   Cook it as little as possible.   Drink lots of clean water.

An orange is better than a two-ounce drink of magic juice (pasteurized, in a really sweet-lookin’ bottle that costs $30) from the tip-top of a mountain range some peasants climbed barefoot to harvest, in a remote part of a country you’ve never heard of.   If you are going to pay for foods not quite in their original form, as much as possible, make sure they’re

not heated above 100 degrees

not changed, concentrated, or adulterated in any way

devoid of chemicals, sweeteners, and fillers

That makes  a rather short list of things that are worth your hard-earned money.

Who you gonna call, Part VII the guys telling you to eat for your “type”

Joe Mercola’s been hyping his metabolic typing program to his 1.5 million readers.   You, too, can pay big bucks for it, as soon as he’s done creating it.   He continues to tell people to eat lots of whey protein powder (which he sells) and avoid eating  grains, despite a massive body of evidence  telling us otherwise.   (Mercola’s a great watchdog and right on so many other things, though.)    Peter D’Adamo has already sold millions of copies of his book Eat Right for Your Blood Type.   He prescribes a certain diet to follow for A, B, AB, and O blood types.

People following the plan quit eating wheat and dairy and think that it’s the blood type diet that helped them feel better.   In fact, it’s eliminating foods that many people are sensitive to that makes a difference, because no scientific evidence underpins D’Adamo’s recommendations.    Those recommendations have just made us all more anxious and confused.   And they’ve led more people down a path of eating a death-promoting diet rich in animal products like the Diet Docs recommend.   (Unless you’re Blood Type A–D’Adamo says you folks are supposed to be vegetarian!)

Joel Fuhrman, M.D., methodically took D’Adamo’s entire theory apart, using the  body of scientific literature easily accessed in medical databases.   D’Adamo says Type A people should eat vegetables since they’re more prone to heart disease and cancer.   Problem is, they’re not, when all types of heart disease are examined.   Any slight differences in a few studies don’t warrant radically different nutritional recommendations.   Type O, B, and AB folks get PLENTY of heart disease and cancer, and sending them down the track toward more disease is a travesty.

All the other blood types are supposed to follow D’Adamo’s specific recommendations for lots of cheese, or lots of meat, or both.   It’s all underpinned by terribly flawed logic and gross misunderstandings of human physiology and nutrition.

We do have some variations in our genetic makeup and needs (especially as more and more people develop sensitivities and allergies to good foods).   But many genetic factors affect your risk for various diseases, blood type playing only a small role at best.   Please don’t trouble yourself to buy/read/follow this misguided program, yet another of the false gods of nutrition at whose altar we worship.

Tomorrow I end  this “false gods” series  and sum it all up, just before leaving town for the rest of the week to collect some Vitamin D watching my son play baseball in a sunny place.   Yesssssss!