For the Last Time, What Should We Eat?

With $5 million in seed money from billionaire philanthropists, a new nonprofit called the Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI, pronounced new-see) has found its footing and will begin the work of figuring out, “once and for all,” what makes a healthy diet and what we can do to reverse the obesity epidemic. Co-founder and science journalist Gary Taubes has been arguing for some time that today’s dietary guidelines and theories about the causes of obesity are based on bad science. NuSI, therefore, will focus on “improving the quality of science in nutrition and obesity research” as it searches for answers.

On its website, NuSI lays out what it believes is the problem with the science behind current dietary guidelines:

1. Authority and consensus of opinion are treated as scientific fact even in the absence of rigorous experimentation.
2. Observational studies, which only determine correlation, have been used erroneously to assign cause and effect between associations.
3. Negative evidence (e.g., evidence not supporting current hypotheses) is ignored.
4. Poorly controlled experiments and observational studies form the basis of dietary recommendations.

In response, NuSI proposes to design studies that are far more rigorous and scientifically sound — including controlled experiments and large-scale, long-term studies — and, as stated in a press release, it will call on “independent researchers from varying backgrounds and divergent beliefs. The combination of skeptical experts holding opposing theories, coupled with the shared belief that nutrition science in its current state is inadequate, demands that the findings will be based on rigorous science rather than popular opinion.”

Yet, however divergent the researchers’ backgrounds and beliefs may be, it’s worth taking note of the founders’ own biases and experiences. As John Horgan of Scientific American reminds us, there’s no such thing as objective science.

On his Scientific American blog, Horgan tells us that years ago NuSI co-founder Gary Taubes “struggled with his weight. Exercise didn’t help him slim down, he said, but the Atkins diet did.” Based on this experience, it appears, Taubes went on to write two influential books citing evidence of the benefits of a low-carb, Atkins-type diet. Today, he continues to eat “lots of meat, cheese, eggs, butter, oil and nuts and avoids bread, pasta, rice, cookies, soft drinks and even fruit and vegetables.”

Likewise for Peter Attia, the other NuSI co-founder. He, too, follows a low-carb diet and encourages his young daughter to have bacon and eggs for breakfast. In one blog post, he discredits the work of T. Colin Campbell, “the most influential current example of observational epidemiology” from one of the country’s leading proponents of veganism. Against Dr. Campbell’s claims that “the science is clear” and “the results are unmistakable,” Attia, who “wholeheartedly” believes Campbell is wrong, argues “he has not done any real science to advance the discussion and hypotheses he espouses.” In short, Attia disagrees that meat causes cancer and heart disease and that a whole foods, plant-based diet is best for health.

This is not to say that NuSI’s researchers will ultimately find in favor of its founders’ own meat-based diets, and it will be interesting to see what they discover. Whatever they do discover, however, won’t change my mind about what I believe constitutes a healthy diet. To my mind, there is no one-size-fits-all diet. In a review of Taubes’s “Why We Get Fat” in The New York Times, Abigail Zuger, a physician, notes that “in virtually all head-to-head comparisons of various diet plans, the average long-term results have invariably been quite similar — mediocre all around.” Given the “remarkable diversity of the human organism,” she adds, perhaps “it is foolish to expect a single diet to serve all comers.”

What I often look to for insight into what to eat — over rigorous science, clinical studies and dietary guidelines — is evidence about what has worked for people throughout the world and history before the industrialization of food. Did flourishing societies o’er the world all follow an Atkins-type diet? Are the USDA’s five food groups, said to be the building blocks of a healthy diet, relevant for people in every corner of the world? On the African continent alone, dietary researcher Weston A. Price observed tribes whose traditional diets showed wide variation — from the carnivorous Masai to the largely vegetarian, insect-scavenging Bantu to the pescetarian, grains-focused Dinkas — and each one of them had rare incidence of any degenerative disease.

What kind of diet do you follow? What’s your philosophy on healthy eating?


Related Stories:

Mediterraneans Abandon Their Traditionally Healthy Diet

How Taste Can Be Your Guide to Healthy Eating

Who exactly is the Weston A. Price Foundation, anyway?


Photo Credit: Thinkstock


4 years ago

Love L...I'd give you another star if I could. Thanks.

Love Love
Love Love4 years ago

(cont.) Some are cool, but a lot like to make others feel horrible about their food choices instead of caring about the individual who may be going through health issues. It's nice to have an agenda, but not at the cost of your health (like Michael Duncan Clarke). They don't even speak on him and how he died. Others attack science like they have some clue... they do not. Veganism and the VJF is cool for a temporary thing. Eat modestly & sustainable, where possible. But, don't go to an extreme and kills yourself over it. I go by my genes and by what I am feeling. All ways been the animal lover, just not into getting pushed around by corporate showoffs with no concern for other people except when it's time to trash them. Google Betty White... she was down with certain groups and us a strong animal rights activist, but she does NOT give these extremists the time of day anymore. They do too many crazy things and try to bully their agenda too much.

Love Love
Love Love4 years ago

Hey Busy Marilyn,

Glad you found a way to listen to your own body. Yeah, I stopped listening to gurus and started listening to my body. I did everything a vegan was "supposed" to be doing. I monitored all my labs and crafted a really great diet. Google: "Bernardo LaPallo". He is 111 and is a "seagan" (some fish), and at times, veal (like once a year). I'm not a beef or chicken person. Never really liked beef, but fish is what gave me my brain boost again. The human brain evolved because of cooked meat. Many will try to deny this, but science is science. I love veganism. I just can't take the bullying and the superiority complexes and the "you should be ashamed for eating animals" bit some ppl like to run on others. I never did that. Even Betty White was like some of these organisations are out to lunch with how they act. Bernardo won't even deal with some of them and tells people to go only to his website. They seemed to want to bend what he was saying to FIT their agenda. He eats fish and veal. Why are you trying to make it seem like he's not? I guess they left him alone cause it would look really wack to push around a 111-year old who was a chef. That superiority complex of "we are macho and healthy, but you are not" is a common thing amongst them. I don't hang with folks like that. Too extreme and too annoying. Some are cool, but a lot like to make others feel horrible about their food choices instead of caring about the individual who may be going

4 years ago

Love...I'm glad that you feel better now.
I had a very similar experience as yours, and thankfully, I also feel better now.
Everyone I know who was veg-by-diet has gone back to eating some fish and small amounts of chicken occasionally, and they ALL say they feel better and wish they had done it sooner.

I guess the veg diet can be ok for some people, but it's NOT right for everyone, and we all have to eat what makes us healthy individuals.
I honestly don't see how anyone can say that one single diet can be good for matter what it is.
We all have different requirements.

Love Love
Love Love4 years ago

(cont.) Many of them so want to be right. Pescetarians live the longest, according to studies. It also helps to have good genes. Even still, MODERATION seems to fly over some people's heads as they get caught up in having their arm twisted by some so-called "guru" who doesn't know his azz from his elbow. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Don't buy into what some push to you. Many of them are just trying to make money off this industry and are just as guilty as the ones pushing red meat. Once you have an industry, you will want it to succeed. Telling folks the TRUTH is beyond many of these folks. In any event, I did feel that vegetarianism/veganism helped me to establish a good diet, but I started eating fish to compensate. I no longer feel depressed, suicidal or hopeless. I have my confidence back and feel strong physically. I like vegetarianism, but I can't get stuck with snake-oil salespeople who are extremely putting their body through much duress in order to fight for animal rights. Listen to the Elders... many of whom are NOT vegetarian, but eat MODEST amounts of certain types of foods. They LISTEN to their bodies needs rather than what others are saying.

Love Love
Love Love4 years ago

Pesectarians live the longest. My great grandmother lived to be 112 on this diet. I was a vegan for 3 years. I can't even begin to tell you how horrible a long-term vegan diet is. Lots of these mean vegans online are so adamant about their beliefs that they overlook how negative an effect this diet tends to be when continued over a long period of time. I did the Vegetable Juice fast for about 31 days and then went Vegan. It was fine at first, but then I started to wane. My body started to react negatively to it and my mind started to go. After my labs, I started adding fish. I had good labs for some things, but some things were horribly lacking. I feel awesome now. Vegetarianism is good for those wanting to purge or lose weight. But, only for SHORT-TERM use. Once you start to get close to the edge of the cliff, it is a steep drop. I started to have palpitations and a couple of incidents scared the hell out of me. Once I added the fish back in, I felt WAAAAAY better. I love having a strongly vegetable diet, however, I need fish. Wild, of the small type... but, I need that. The human body evolved because of eating meat. What people do is go to extremes. Instead, they should just not OVEReat. Stay close to vegetables, but to not add some kind of animal protein when the body and BRAIN evolved because of this is killing yourself. I will not listen to vegans again. I found many of them so staunch and nasty that it was difficult to even have an opinion. They s

Lika S.
Lika S.4 years ago

Well, in this day and age, there are so many GMO foods, animals that are injected with hormones, steroids and antibiotics that it's so difficult to say what is actually healthy or not. I blame these various hormones and such for the fact that kids are hitting puberty at a much younger age than ever. When I was in grade school, a 9 year old having a cycle was virtually unheard of. The average age of a girl getting her cycle was more like 12. Now 9 barely raises an eyebrow, and boys are hitting it at 12, when it used to be more like 14.

I guess try to apply as much common sense as you can, and buying what you can afford as well. It's a tight rope situation.

Erica B.
Erica B.4 years ago

Alex J said "Erica B, being vegan does not = weak and sick."

Alex, you didn't fully understand my post! I did NOT say a vegan diet makes everyone weak and sick, so don't try to make me out to be a villain! SOME people get weak and sick on a vegan diet...either because they substituted meat with processed fake meats and are not eating a balanced diet, or because of genetic/health issues that require some animal protein to remain healthy and thrive. I'm an example of someone whose genetic makeup AND health prevented me from succeeding as a vegan. I am naturally anemic and hypoglycemic, and have a very low B12 count. That isn't the vegan diet's fault that I have those conditions...I was that way PRIOR to going on the diet (I just didn't know it at the time).

I'm a vegetarian...I will NOT make the leap to veganism again. I purchase naturally nested organic eggs and goat cheese for my animal protein needs. I may eat sushi on occasion, as well as a Heritage free-range turkey at Thanksgiving, but that's it! I don't let animals die for my taste buds...they die because of my genetic and health status screw ups!

John S.
Past Member 4 years ago

Thanks, I think humans can eat a lot of things, just do it with moderation.

4 years ago

Great info Heidi...and when you consider that the brain doesn't finish developing until well into the 20s, then young people should NOT be going on exclusive diets in their teens because they're inhibiting their brain development !