Where do our Beliefs on Health Originate?

A significant number of the studies on the long-term effects of your nutrition and exercise on your health are done in the United States or Europe.  Studies on the effects of adding or taking away an aspect of your diet are by their very nature difficult. The trends or outcomes are only visible in the long run and finding willing people difficult. These concerns do not even take into account studies that are sponsored by a vested interest to promote an agenda.

For example, how did we conclude that fat was unhealthy for you? In the early 1900’s cardiovascular diseases were not common in the United States. So much so that when a young intern at Harvard Medical School, Paul Dudley White, introduced the German electrocardiogram to his colleagues, he was asked to focus his energies on something more productive. So how did we go from there to having one of the highest incidents of heart disease world over?

One hypothesis was that it was being caused by fat or worse saturated fats. Ancel Keys in the 1950’s propounded the view that saturated fats caused heart diseases. Similarly, Nathan Pritikin became famous for advocating a low far or practically no fat diet. He also supported a low-processed food, low-sugar diet. In any case, he committed suicide when he realized that a low-fat diet had not helped him prevent leukemia. Clearly neither a low fat or a low saturated fat diet was preventing cardivascular disease. For years though, millions of people world over gave up fat and saturated fats with the hope of reducing risk.

So how then do we decide what to do when so many research studies are either confusing or worse just wrong? My learning has been to go beyond the headlines. If you research enough, it is possible to tell the difference between advocacy and fact. It is after all your health. That extra effort is worth the benefit in the long run.


Ritesh is a born again health enthusiast and holds a Certificate in Physiology from Harvard Medical School and a Certificate in Nutrition from Tufts University.