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Making Sense of Nutrition Studies

Fruits and veggies in clear drawers in the fridge
(Image credit: <a href=''>Refrigerator photo</a> via Shutterstock)

Have you heard about the latest superfood? You know, the one that cures cancer and everything that ails you?

Sadly, most of us have heard of more than one of these so-called magic bullets. As a society we always seem to be looking for a quick fix. We want something that will make us instantly slimmer, healthier and younger, all at the same time. So when we hear about some amazing tropical fruit that was harvested from the depths of the Amazon rain forest, we jump at the chance to get our hands on it.

Now don't get me wrong: The claims are rather tempting – especially when those claims are linked to scientific studies. Before these results make it to us, respected researchers typically conduct studies under controlled conditions and allow their peers to review the work.

So it’s not the data that is problematic. It’s the fact that we often forget that we’re only seeing one piece of a much larger puzzle.

It’s great when foods prove to be effective against cancer and other diseases, but it’s rare that one food on its own provides us with the right nutritional balance we need to stay healthy. There are usually many things to consider.

Bottom line: Studies are great, but we always need to remember to look at the bigger picture. Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re trying to interpret a clinical study:

•   Look at the source. A study about the benefits of milk funded by the American Dairy Association doesn’t hold as much weight as one funded by an independent party. Not that any organization would deliberately present inaccurate information, but it’s always better when those in charge don’t have a financial interest in the results.

•   Pay careful attention to the quality and quantity of food consumed. Some studies use concentrated versions of a particular food, or an extract that contains only one component. For example, a September 2012 study from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine suggests that bromelain, an extract taken from the stems of pineapples, may be an effective treatment for allergic asthma. Would eating a pineapple have any of the same effects? Unless there is a study that used actual pineapples, it’s hard to say.

•   Take note of the study subjects. In the study I mentioned above, bromelain was used to treat allergic airway disease in mice. That’s not to say that it isn’t promising for humans. Just know that more research must be done before that connection can be made.

•   Don’t change your lifestyle based on one study. If something seems particularly intriguing or alarming, talk to your doctor. Otherwise, just keep your eye out for more research on the topic. But above all, continue eating a healthy, balanced diet.

Healthy Bites appears on MyHealthNewsDaily on Wednesdays. Deborah Herlax Enos is a certified nutritionist and a health coach and weight loss expert in the Seattle area with more than 20 years of experience. Read more tips on her blog, Health in a Hurry!

Deborah Enos
Deborah Enos, CN, also known as "The One-Minute Wellness Coach," is The Health Coach for busy, working people. She pares her good-health messages down to simple and fast bullet points that can impact lives in 60 seconds or less. Deborah serves as a board member of the American Heart Association.  In addition to writing the Healthy Bites column for Live Science, Deborah is a regular on FOX Business News, NBC and ABC, and is a frequent contributor to The Costco Connection, Parade Magazine, Self Magazine, Good Housekeeping and USA Today. Deborah is also The One Minute Wellness Coach for The Doctors TV Show.