Stymied by Studies


Confused about which studies to believe?
Confused about studies

“Studies show”–two words you can’t quite believe any more.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve about had it up to here with studies. You know the ones I’m talking about, the ones that come on the evening news, or show up in the Sunday paper. The ones that tell you something you’ve suspected all along, like how corn chips are bad for you. Like you didn’t know corn chips were bad for you after you spent a winter eating them, and then nearly broke the bathroom scales when you finally got up the courage to get on them.

And then there are the other studies, the ones that go back and forth. I cannot count the times in my life when I’ve been told that coffee was good for us, then coffee was bad for us, then it was good for us, and on and on. I can’t keep track any more if coffee is good or bad, so I just gave up and I drink it because I like it. At least it isn’t loaded with calories.

Or eggs. Goodness, can’t we get a straight answer about eggs? Some studies suggest cholesterol from eggs is bad and others say “hogwash,” that eggs are good for you. And it’s gone back and forth just like coffee over the years. Sometimes I think the switching back and forth between eating foods and not eating those same foods is probably more harmful than eating them.

We Americans want to do the right thing. Just tell us honestly what is good and what is bad. But when “good” changes constantly it almost makes you want to give up. Another example is chocolate. “Chocolate contains endorphins” or “chocolate lowers blood pressure” or “chocolate accounts for obesity.” Which is it? Or is it all of those? Do we take a little bit of good news (dark chocolate is actually healthful in small amounts) and pervert it into binges with Snickers bars and Reese’s cups? (Ok, so I’ve done that before too.)

Another study that has changed in my lifetime is the one regarding meat in the diet. We were encouraged to eat meat regularly when I was young. We were poor, so we didn’t exactly overeat, but there were certainly no restrictions placed on hot dogs, ground beef, bacon, or bologna.  I ate cans of Spam and Vienna sausages.  Meat was good, meat was healthy, meat was necessary.  You need protein! Now we are told to eat only lean meat in portions roughly the size of a deck of cards. Say what? My taste buds barely register a piece of meat that small.  It doesn’t seem fair.

One of the longest-surviving–and still controversial–subjects, revolves around dairy products. I’m trying to eat well and stay healthy, but some studies show that dairy products are a necessary component of any balanced diet, while others cry foul, that we have been led down the primrose cow path when it comes to dairy. That dairy products should only be consumed by baby cattle (or baby goats).  I hate that. I love milk and always have. It’s not the same eating my Paleo chili without a cold glass of milk.  And cheese, oh don’t get me started. Cheddar and Parmesan and mozzarella–yum. Goat cheese, and blue cheese and Philadelphia cream cheese.  And what about sour cream? My goodness, a baked potato just isn’t the same without it. And what about butter? I think I could sit down with a pound of salted butter and eat it all, one slice at a time.  But I don’t dare, because studies show…

Similar studies have attacked alcohol. Alcohol is bad, alcohol makes you depressed, makes you dehydrated, makes you an alcoholic. Or alcohol is good. One glass of wine a day is good for the blood, the arteries, the heart. Drink red wine! It has tannins, or so they say. Tannins are supposed to be healthful, or they are today. Wait until tomorrow if you want an excuse not to drink alcohol, for that will probably change.

In fairness, some studies have been 100% correct. I think we knew, even way back in the 60’s before the warnings were added to the labels, that cigarettes were bad for you. Those studies just get more accurate as people die of smoking-related illnesses.

But the food and beverage studies that go back and forth just about drive me bonkers. I’m waiting for the day, like in Woody Allen’s “Sleeper,” when officials discover that health foods and exercise are actually bad for you–while meat, sugar, fat, and inactivity are actually good for you. Won’t that be the day?

When that happens look no further for me than my couch. I’ll have a fried pork chop in one hand and a bag of chili cheese Fritos in the other. And on the table in front of me will be a big jug of ice cold milk–right next to the box of wine.  I can just taste it.


© Wade Kingston