Nutrition is wrapped in multiple confusions. Why is it so hard to determine whether a food is good or bad for health? In medical science, proving any theory is difficult. The science of nutrition is no different, but it also has some unique challenges. In this feature, we outline just some of these stumbling blocks. Despite the many issues that nutrition scientists face, understanding which foods benefit or harm health is essential work. Also, the public is growing increasingly interested in finding ways to boost health through diet. Obesity and diabetes are now highly prevalent, and both have nutritional risk factors. This has sharpened general interest further. All areas of scientific research face the following issues to a greater or lesser degree, but because nutrition is so high on people’s agenda, the problems appear magnified. Although the water is muddy and difficult to traverse, there have been substantial victories in the field of nutrition research. For instance, scientists have determined that vitamin C prevents scurvy, that beriberi develops due to a thiamine deficiency, and that vitamin D deficiency causes rickets. In all of these cases, there is a link between a particular compound and a specific condition. However, the picture is rarely so clear-cut. This is especially true when investigating conditions wherein multiple factors are at play, such as obesity, osteoporosis, diabetes, or heart disease.
Understanding the role of food in health and disease is essential and deserves attention. Also, nutrition-related conditions have changed over time: the most common threats to health used to be deficiencies, whereas in Western countries today, overeating tends to be the primary concern; most hot issues concerned sugars and fats and their role in the onset of cardiovascular diseases and cancer. However, consumers’ views towards carbohydrates are becoming more negative, but fat is viewed more positively than before, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company. GlobalData’s latest report, ‘TrendSights Analysis: Health & Wellness – Carbs are Bad, Fat is Good’, notes that despite only 6% of consumers globally are trying to increase their fat intake, trending diets such as ketogenic and paleo that encourage eating fats and avoiding carbs have been incremental in changing the perception of these sources of energy. The keto diet has been trending in markets such as the US, where 8% of consumers are actively trying to increase fat intake. But the figures vary significantly with age and gender. For example, 24% of men aged between 35 and 44 in the US are aiming to increase their fat consumption, which is the largest proportion compared to any other gender or age groups.
Mitsue Konishi, Senior Innovation Analyst at GlobalData, commented meanings and implications: “What to eat is one of consumers’ key considerations. Pursuing health and weight management are two key motivations for consumers to seek specific diets. Consumers have also become savvy about nutrients, and understand that not all fats or carbs are equal in terms of impact on their health. All consumers have the potential to be drawn to products that favor fats over carbs depending on their specific needs and how they define value and quality. However, younger people will be key targets for ‘positive’ fat products, while women are more inclined towards reduced carb diets compared to men. Multiple methods can be used for innovating the product. Healthy swaps – for example, swapping traditional carbs with healthy alternatives – and added health benefits can be effective ways to raise product appeal. Offering products to support specific high-fat diets also have potential, as choices like ketogenic diet has many restriction and difficult to achieve efficiently, as recently recognized. This way, manufacturers have opportunities to develop the innovations that cater to this ‘carbs are bad, fat is good’ trend to help consumers achieve their specific goals and diets”.
- Edited by Dr. Gianfrancesco Cormaci, PhD, specialist in Clinical Biochemistry.
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