Which foods are good for you?

For most medical issues random control trials, involving sometimes thousands of people, are usual.  But  most research on food is only observational, using unreliable food diaries and then tracking the health of participants.  About a million nutrition research papers have been published, but a fraction of these are good quality, randomized studies.  Most are very short in timespan.  The fact is that the effects of diet change take years to become obvious.

It turns out that you can take vitamin supplements and eat whole grains, fruit, vegetables and fish, and there is no reliable proof that they have any affect on mortality rates, heart attacks. cancer or anything else.

The problem is partly explained by the fact that people with low incomes tend to have unhealthy lives generally.  On the other hand those who are prosperous and who eat, say, blueberries, have fewer heart attacks because they have more effective healthcare and other privileges of money. How do you judge whether health outcomes are due to the poverty or the prosperity? Do  the blueberries matter?

What has happened over the years is that researchers have been able, without huge projects or even a lot of work, to find “evidence” that their favorite health food is the answer to long healthy life.  Moreover the media boosts interesting findings that make headlines, without looking at the scientific evidence.

The answer lies in Epicurean moderation:  eat a wide variety of foods but moderately.  Then  you will be reasonably (moderately?) fit.

(Written after reading an article on food by by Clare Wilson,  New Scientist, July 13, 2019)



  1. An excellent point. Part of the problem of researching food and its effects is that unlike randomized testing of drugs or devices, which require very specific “objective” parameters for the data to see the effects, especially vs placebo or sham surgery (for devices), our consumption of food now is at least, in great part, social-behavioral. Good social behavioral data for the hypothesis being tested is much more difficult to tease out from confounding factors, and the placebo effect is difficult to apply to social behavioral research. How we eat now has changed much in just 50-60 years. I grew up in a time when people ate because they were actually hungry from working physically; that’s more of less disappeared for most of us that sit and type. And just 50 years ago, much of the food one bought was by necessity local and fresh. So much has changed and we use food differently now. Epicurus’ request for a mere “pot of cheese” for sumptuous dining is both amusing and instructive for our time, but its difficult to see how we can easily return to such moderate behavior.

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