Monday, 14 October 2013

Truth and cowboys. Finding your way through the information maze.

It's a very big world out there. The world wide web I mean. If I had a dollar (or perhaps the minimum wage ) for every hour I've sat here and read about sugar and other sweet things, I'd probably have enough money to buy a house with a double garage.

One thing I've found really interesting and obvious is that (approximately) everyone who writes about healthy eating has their own angle. Particularly bloggers. We're wanting to be gluten free or low GI or low sugar or low fat. We want to eat organic or we want to eat raw, we want to eat vegetarian, we want to eat local, we want to eat well. OK, many of these ideas can be combined, though doing the lot would be pretty hard work, and I do think most of us have our thing. And so do many readers.

The other issue I've run in to is how to find the truth. Really, in the world I've been looking at, I feel you can find any opinion on anything. People disagree all the time about what is good for you, and they write about it. People get passionate. People write blogs about their passion. I have learnt very quickly not to just take someone's word for it on any given topic, but to read, read and read.

You know what my thing is. Avoiding fructose. I believe it's the number one priority when it comes to looking after ourselves, and that's why it's my thing (oh heck, that was a big statement. In my life I mean. If I was a heavy drinker or smoker I'd be starting there). There are a few other aspects regarding my diet that I'd like to incorporate in to my life as well, but fructose is where I have started. Eating fructose alternatives is not very compatible with eating low GI (for example, glucose is very high GI), but I'm OK with that; I don't have a desire to eat low GI and my priorities are where I want them to be.

So, healthy eaters and want-to-be healthy eaters. What is your thing? You want to eat well, you want to feed your family well. How do you do this? And most importantly, where do you learn to do this?

Do you read other people's blogs? Do you read websites written by somebody with a Dr. in front of their name? Do you know anything more about these people and do you know where they've done their research? Do experts agree with their ideas, and how do you find the experts?

Do you read books? Do you get advice from your GP? If so, how do they keep up with the latest information and research? If a product or way of eating is promoted as healthy, how do you know it's healthy? Do you notice changes to how you feel after you make changes to your diet or lifestyle, and do you listen to them?

I don't have simple answers for you in finding your way through the maze. And I do know that the solution involves plenty of reading (and watching- thanks You Tube!). One great thing to do is read about one issue from one perspective, then read some opposing views and see what sits best with you. When I find something that I believe might be an "answer" for me, I hold it lightly, and am prepared to change my views if further reading convinces me to. I allow myself to follow the advice of other bloggers only when I know what their background is - and I don't mean they have to be a doctor or have an impressive formal education, but I need to know they've done their research, thought it through, tested things out, and we're all on the same page. I try very hard not to allow myself to follow someone's advice simply because they are popular or confident in their ideas. But just as importantly, I try not to dismiss new ideas just because they're new to me, or spend more time looking at the critiques of the new idea than the new idea itself.

While I don't have simple answers, if you're focused on good health and good eating (or indeed any other complicated topic) you may like to ask some of these questions too. If you haven't already. Do you have a particular focus or angle or priority? Do you know how to find the truth and not be fooled or innocently misled? I'd love to hear about what your thing is, how you go about learning about healthy foods, what you read, who you ask, where you shop, and how you go about getting it right. I expect none of us do all the time, but let's get as close to it as we can.

Two more things:

i. My next post, hot on the heels of this one, will be looking at a few products that are promoted as healthy options, but that don't fit the bill for me.

ii. What about me? I'm an amateur blogger, and may well be a total cowboy. Have you checked out any of the links I've included in the past, or done some further reading of your own?

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  1. Love this! Well done on summarising all of this.

    Who do I believe?

    I'm a fan of science, that is, showing that something continues to be true, test after test, so I can know that it's not just a fluke or dependent on someone's subjective experience. I find Ben Goldacre, who wrote Bad Science, to be a great guide to how to evaluate scientific evidence, and how to navigate the media and the web in this area.

    For this reason I find the Healthy Food Guide magazines to be helpful to a point (and their back catalogue online) as they are science-based, with an advisory board of nutritionists, doctors and scientists.

    But even they have their barrow to push, as you point out. They are solely focused on mainstream nutritional science, which is a great place to start, but not the whole picture for me when it comes to planning our family's eating. We also prioritise ethical food production, particularly including free-range animal products, organic stuff (sometimes) and lots of fairtrade options.

    We have food allergy considerations in our family and the science there (in terms of small children and allergy prevention) is not settled - as our specialist freely admits. That means that specialists disagree on what to do and therefore other health professionals give contradictory advice and are not uniformly well informed. A great source of wisdom - and one slightly surprising to me - has been the Allergy New Zealand Facebook group, made up mostly of mothers with kids with serious allergies. They have been around the block and have extensive, up-to-date knowledge and happily answer questions and share ideas.

    That's slightly off the topic, but worth sharing, I thought!

    1. Science. Yes. A sensible approach that can't really be argued with. Gosh the testing after testing can take a frustratingly long time, and in the meantime there are children to be fed and good health can really be a matter of urgency! The old food pyramid is something I have been frustrated with, it seems to have had a lot of trouble catching up with new information - a topic for another time or place perhaps.

      I expect a lot of people feel they are following science - but have they really checked it out?

      I would certainly be more cautious and keen to wait on science before making radical changes to my diet, such as cutting out a lot of things or adding in some unusual things, than I am in this situation. Sugar (sucrose) has never been shown to have any nutritional benefits and there is no debate over whether cutting it out is safe, just over whether it is necessary. Adding in some of the sugar alternatives does require more caution.

      Thanks for the tip on Bad Science, that sounds really helpful.

      Looking forward to your next round!

  2. Oh, I have heaps I haven't added. Dinner is ready. More later! Thanks, Angela!

  3. Well, well, well. This morning I had a clear phrase pop into my head "Separate the wheat from the chaff". At the time I was also thinking about business and pondered that. I then was thinking about all the information I have been reading, and thoughts moved onto collating information. I imagined that if I had a blog, maybe I would call it that. I haven't really worked out what this day long rant in my head means but reading the above somehow ties a lot of this together and perfectly timed again!

    I often research things randomly, then find sites through sites. When I find a blog that I enjoy I often seem to end up on their linked sites through them and others. I do sometimes look at medical research in medical journals and often am surprised at the findings compared with what is marketed through certain drug companies, health boards etc.

    Mainly I go with what feels right to me. My personality means that I like to try new things all the time, so I have to be careful not to join the latest bandwagon and then fall off.

    My thing is sugar free and wholesome food. I would like to have more sustainable organic food in our household and have started to grow more food so at least we can get some to fit in with our budget.

    Enjoying your methodical, well researched and exceptionally well written blog. Thanks

  4. I listen a lot to a friend of mine who is an amateur blogger - but she may well be a total cowboy!