Will researchers ever make up their minds?
Time and time again, a researcher or team of researchers releases a study saying that something is bad for us. Or that something is good for us. Then, months later, another study is released saying it isn’t.
It’s happened twice in just the last couple of months.
Nothing exemplifies this better than egg studies. Researchers said for years that eggs were bad for us. They were high in cholesterol, would clog our arteries like sludge in a garden hose and cause us to keel over any minute. Eating eggs was Omelet Roulette. Two eggs sunny side up might as well have been twin gun barrels pointed at our livers.
Then a study was released saying that eggs weren’t so bad, after all. We could eat a few eggs a week and be just fine. The ink on the study had hardly dried when another study was released saying that eating any eggs at all would shorten our lives.
So which is it?
The answer, of course, is that no one really knows because whatever the latest study says is almost certain to be refuted by the next study.
The chicken study, for example.
The chicken study, published several weeks ago in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, reported that white meat from chickens is just as bad for our cholesterol levels as red meat from cows.
It’s an understatement to say this came as a shock. For those who have been eschewing rather than chewing red meat for health purposes, it was a little like saying that fruits and vegetables are as bad for us as doughnuts or lard.
Though not a vegetarian, I’ve been cutting back on red meat for years. Not because of a dislike for it, but because the so-called experts who study these things said it was bad for us. While my wife happily consumed bacon with breakfast, a burger for lunch and steak or pork chops for dinner, I made a prolonged if not always successful effort to stick with chicken or fish.
If you think that’s easy, try watching everyone else enjoy a juicy steak or a burger with all the trimmings while you’re opening a can of smelly sardines.
It will be interesting to see how advertisers react to the chicken study. Will Chick fil-A switch from cows telling us to “eat more chickn” to chickens telling us to eat more cheeseburgers? Will pork go from being “the other white meat” to being “the other pot roast?”
Red wine used to be good for us. Then any alcohol at all was bad for us.
Butter was bad for us, until the researchers decided that margarine was worse for us.
Coffee was bad for us. Until it was good for us.
It isn’t just food, either. Even something as basic as walking, once universally thought to be a healthful form of exercise, has come under the skeptical eye of a researcher.
My father walked every day of his life and enjoyed good health until he died at almost 84. I’ve tried to follow his example, and nothing has been a better incentive than the Fitbit received a few years ago as a Father’s Day gift.
Until recently, the benefits of Fitbit’s 10,000 steps a day mantra were unquestioned. Dr. Oz, among others, repeatedly told us to walk “10,000 steps every day. No excuses.”
Some Fitbit junkies were neurotic about it, which wasn’t great for their mental health, but for millions of people the goal was an incentive to avoid becoming a couch potato. I hit the target a couple of days a week, came reasonably close other days, lost weight, felt better.
Then I-Min Lee came along. A Harvard epidemiology professor, Min Lee is the lead author of a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It reported that the previously accepted goal of walking 10,000 steps a day is little more than a marketing strategy.
The conclusion was based on the premise that the Japanese figure for 10,000 looks like a man walking, and research claiming that 4,400 steps were enough to lower the mortality rate for elderly women.
So what about the rest of us?
If 4,400 are enough for elderly women, how many are enough for elderly men?
And how about everyone else? Do young, fit people need to walk more or less than old people?
Or should we all just settle for a stroll around the block and a nice nap?
My wife has a Sleepbit. I call it that because she uses it to track her sleep rather than her steps. She walks in moderation and eats pretty much whatever she wants.
I religiously walk thousands of steps every day, try to avoid eggs and red meat, have increased my intake of fruits and vegetables – and still have to take a statin drug to lower my cholesterol. She doesn’t do those things and her cholesterol numbers are perfect.
So maybe the researchers are right. Maybe we should throw away our fitness trackers, increase our intake of eggs, meat lover’s pizza and pork rinds and wash them down with Singapore Slings.
It might not improve our numbers, but it would be a lot more fun.
Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.