by Jack Challem
Psychology Today

I’ve been writing about nutrition for 30-some years. As I listen to people, I often hear less science and more of what could best be described as a variety of belief systems.

There are the vegetarian, vegan, and macrobiotic sects. There’s the church of low-fat eating. And there’s the pervasive belief that everything boils down to calories in and calories out, with exercise being the penance for overeating.

But the fact is, there’s very little science to support many common nutrition beliefs. They’re just beliefs. And having millions of adherents or thousands of experts repeat the same mantras doesn’t make these beliefs truer.

I know this sounds like heresy to many of you. And I’m not trying to offend anyone’s nutritional or religious sensibilities. But the only food we definitely know we were meant to consume is breast milk, in infancy.

In anthropology, the term “belief system” is usually used to describe a religion. And when it comes to nutrition, many scientists and consumers are so wedded to their beliefs that they’re not interested in adjusting their beliefs in response to new scientific findings.

I’ll give you three examples.

Saturated Fat. Millions of people believe that low-saturated fat diets will prevent heart disease. But the research now shows the opposite to be true. Saturated fat is either neutral or protective, according to an impressive body of research. It’s the refined carbs and sugars and the trans fats that seem to be the real problem in cardiovascular risk.

Why do so many people still believe that saturated fat is bad? It’s a matter of belief – shaped by studies that failed to factor in the effects of carbs, sugars, and trans fats, as well as publication bias favoring the sat-fat-is-bad belief.

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