Why are we the only animals that don’t know how to eat?

Why is learning about nutrition important? Its the first thing I ask my students every semester. 

I want you to take a minute to really think about that too.

Many responses I typically hear are: Wanting to know how to eat better, wanting to know how to prevent getting sick, wanting some new secret dieting tips or validation that what they are currently doing is the right approach. 

The unfortunate reality is that too many people are sick. Too many people are overweight and obese. Diseases like heart disease and diabetes are way to prevalent. Too many people have cancer. Autoimmune and anti-inflammatory diseases are rising.  The list goes on. 

Diet and proper nutrition are linked to all these problems. Which means that too many people are not eating properly or fueling themselves properly. Why is that? Why as humans do we have to figure this out? Why are we the only animals that don’t know how to eat? Lack of education? Poor food choices? Too many food choices? Doctors not being educated enough in nutrition? Food companies adding too many chemicals into our food? Too much information? Too little information? Conflicting information? I would say that it’s probably a combination of all of the above. Somewhere along the way, we got confused and our food stopped being nutritious.  

The great thing now is that people are very informed and want to know how to fix this. However, now its a bit of information overload with everyone telling you their way is the best way. News stories love to write fancy headlines about the newest and greatest way to live longer or lose inches around your belly. Its because people want to know these things. Food companies are using it to their advantage and will do anything they can to put a “health claim” on their packaging in order for you to buy their product. Everywhere on social media are people flaunting their healthy food and what their healthy ideas are (me included!). The health and wellness industry has become a billion dollar business as a result. Its trendy to be healthy. I think that’s great (and better than not wanting to be healthy, right?). But it also can be very confusing for a lot of people. How to do you sort out the noise? 

Unfortunately, nutrition science is also the only “science” that is allowed to be wrong. Numerous studies are performed and published everyday trying to figure out the best way to eat. However, many times they lead to more questions than answers. “Eggs are good, no eggs are bad. Eggs are good again!”

Nutrition research is extremely hard to do correctly. You have to really control and track what people eat for a long time. Many studies are usually done in a short time frame, like days, weeks, maybe months. There are ones that take years, but then it gets even more tricky because you have to trust that the people are being honest with what they are saying they are eating. Also, unless you do this stuff for a living, you aren’t reading the research directly. You are counting on social media or news outlets to tell you what’s going on and I have found many news articles to be incredibly misleading when I went back to actually read the original research it was based on. Which is why its always a good idea to do this, so you can make your own judgement. Another issue I have seen are many conclusions are based on correlation studies.

Right now, open another tab and Google “interesting correlation studies.” You will see some very interesting correlations like “eating ice cream is linked to murders” or “lack of pirates is linked to climate change.” You could correlate many random things together, so why do people believe these types of studies to answer health and nutrition questions?

Now, many nutrition experts and people in the field are questioning this approach and saying that it’s not the right way to do this. I personal think it can be very misleading. Many times you aren’t seeing the whole picture of what a person is eating or doing – their whole lifestyle. One study says eating meat is linked to lower life expectancy, but are those people also smoking? Or not exercising, eating a lot of processed food, or no vegetables AT ALL, or doing something else? Its very hard to just pick one piece and correlate it to living longer. You need the whole picture of what that person is doing.

I think we should do more nutrition research, but I also think its important to understand what important nutrients your body actually needs and why. Once you understand how your body digests food and where each nutrient goes in your body, it helps to you to make your own decisions about what you should or should not be eating. I believe that knowing basic biochemistry of your body and knowing exactly how nutrients are handled is one major step is figuring this out.

Knowing how incredibly smart your body is, shouldn’t it know and therefore tell you what food you should or should not be eating? 

Understanding, even at a basic level, combined with paying attention to how you are feeling will help you understand what foods you should and should not be eating. Everyone is different. Its the reason why there are thousands of different diet approaches out there. What worked for one person really worked, so they told others about it. Then it didn’t work for someone else, so they came up with a different way and told people about it, and so on. 

My approach to healthy eating is first understand how the body uses specific nutrients and second paying attention to yourself. I wrote about some of it here and here. It’s a combination of science and holistic information that empowers you to be your own nutritionist. You can figure out what to eat, you just have to pay attention

What do you think? Do you find it valuable to understanding how the body works and linking it to the food we eat? Need help sorting out the noise? I can show you how to listen to your own body, so you can figure it out.