POV: How Consumer Reports offers a dish of bad and biased advice on what we should eat, and why


The back cover says:

If you’ve ever paused before biting into a food and wondered, should I eat this? – Then this book is for you. Consumer Reports’ scientists, nutritionists, dieticians, editors and culinary experts are on your side. They sift through scientific studies. They conduct their own research. They separate food facts from fiction. They bring you clear and unbiased advice on healthy eating.

Now, the book goes to great lengths to offer a wide variety of good advice, which it does, but most of it is the same old diet clichés. What Consumer Reports (CR) had the opportunity to do, but failed, was to use its consumer education platform to critically assess many of the common mistakes that most consumers make again and provide somewhat more objective advice.

Breakfast the most important meal of the day

Credit: Amazon

There are many false assumptions related to this old cliché. However, the most important to consider will be your hunger cues. If you’re not hungry, don’t eat. If you are, eat. It’s not that hard. You have more than enough nutrients and calories stored in your liver, fat, and muscle tissue to sustain your physical and cognitive functions while performing most tasks for many hours. Choosing to wait and eat later when you are hungry only becomes problematic if you fall victim to all the inappropriate food choices that may be available on the job site. Skipping breakfast does not apply to school-aged children who will not have the option of choosing to eat when they are actually hungry.

Recommend organic products over conventionally grown foods

The ACSH, along with many other scientific organizations, have repeatedly debunked this myth. For CR to repeat this nonsense, given the conflicting evidence readily available, is a sign of very low quality investigative journalism. CR attempts to support their position by stating that there is evidence that organic materials contain more antioxidants.

Credit: Paracast Forum

Even if that were true, it’s a moot point. All plants produce more antioxidants when stressed, for example by pests, which would be true for organic plants due to their cultivation methods. However, more is not better, just more, as shown here and here. It’s ironic that CR, whose motto is to make sure you get the best value for money when buying produce, is offering the exact opposite in this case when they suggest organic rather than sustainably grown produce. conventional.

Eating Small Amounts of Processed Meats Regularly Increases Your Risk of Cancer and Heart Disease

CR relies on invalid interpretations of observational studies. Here is a better analysis of this question. CR also cites Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy Fang Fang Zhang MD, stating “there is no known safe level of processed meats.” Apparently Dr. Zhang was unaware of one of National Geographic’s glamorous Blue Zone cultures – with greater longevity and fewer incidents of cancer and heart disease, regularly benefits from SPAM, as noted in my last article.

Beans: A real superfood? Beans really deserve the title

CR suggests that “bean eaters may be less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.” It has nothing to do with a unique composition of beans, other than replacing higher calorie foods and possibly reducing the prevalence of obesity, an important risk factor. No argument that beans are great for you, but it’s general diet and lifestyle as usual, not some magical component that can be added to your diet like pixie dust.

Vegetables are healthier cooked

CR tries to argue that certain vegetables are better for you if cooked rather than eaten raw. CR says the advice they provide will “unleash their full nutritional potential. …” Is that true, or is that just another spin on an irrelevant question?

  • Carrots: CR states that “cooking ignites the cancer-fighting carotenoids of this vegetable” increasing the “concentration of carotenoids by 14%”. First, carotenoids are one of many plant chemicals associated with reduced cancer rates in those who consume them. However, this is an association and not a cause and effect relationship. The synergistic effect of several thousand plant chemicals appears to be responsible for this effect and not the isolation of any specific product. To claim that the mere fact that cooking increases carotenoid concentrations will “ignite” the cancer-fighting potential of carrots is an illusion. Getting more of any plant chemical doesn’t necessarily mean better health. The carrot already provides more than enough carotenoids in any state of ingestion. More does not mean better; it’s just more.
  • Mushrooms: According to CR, “one cup of cooked white mushrooms contains about twice as much muscle-building potassium, heart-healthy niacin, immune-boosting zinc, and bone-strengthening magnesium as one cup of raw mushrooms.” Before you continue reading, stop for a moment and re-read what CR just said. The glaring problem has to do with a simple word: mug. A mushroom is 92% water by weight, so when you cook it the volume is greatly reduced – so of course a cup of cooked mushrooms will contain a lot more nutrients, it probably contains four times as much mushrooms as a cup of raw mushrooms.
  • Spinach: CR says, “Leafy Green is packed with nutrients [true], but you will absorb more calcium and iron if you eat it cooked. This is blamed on the oxalic acid in spinach, which is generally thought to bind iron and calcium and prevent absorption. However, we get iron and calcium from other food sources, for example, milk for calcium and any meat or bean-based food for your iron. And the oxalic acid in spinach may not prevent iron absorption. A 2008 study of iron isotope absorption in humans concluded that “oxalic acid in fruits and vegetables is of minor importance in iron nutrition.”
  • Asparagus: CR states, “Cooking these stalks increased the level of six nutrients, including cancer-fighting antioxidants by more than 16 percent.” The value of individual antioxidants has been overstated for over a decade. It’s one of the most overused clichés in nutritional science and a popular buzzword for marketing products. They are important, but all plants contain them, and they are easily supplied by any plant-based diet, cooked or not. CR also states that cooking asparagus “more than doubled the level of two types of phenolic acid, which some studies bound [my emphasis] to reduce cancer rates. A “link” has nothing to do with cause and effect. I can pick anyone out of the thousands of chemical compounds found in produce or grain and say the same thing. Diets high in phenolic acid simply reflect that these people eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, which will lower their cancer rates. Who eats raw asparagus anyway?
  • Tomatoes: CR states, “Heat increases a phytochemical, lycopene, which has been bound [my emphasis] to reduce cancer rates and heart disease. See my comments above regarding “links”. You don’t need more lycopene than is already in a fresh, raw, uncooked tomato. If you think there’s magic in lycopene, try ketchup.
Is green ketchup healthier because it’s green or because it has Shrek on the wrapper? 1 credit

Low calorie sweeteners

CR says, “Some studies suggest they might not be better for you than sugar. The latest evidence suggests that low-calorie sweeteners may not have a positive effect on health or weight. This is a major misunderstanding on CR’s part. CR does not provide a link to the “latest study“, so impossible to quibble on it directly. But there are many documents to illustrate that CR must have selected its reports. An international group of experts in food, nutrition, dietetics, endocrinology, physical activity, pediatrics, nursing, toxicology and public health met in 2017 to develop a consensus on the use of low calorie and zero calorie sweeteners (LNCS ) as sugar substitutes and other caloric sweeteners. They concluded

LNCS are among the most widely evaluated food constituents, and their safety has been reviewed and confirmed by regulatory agencies around the world…LNCS in weight reduction programs that involve replacing caloric sweeteners with LNCS as part of structured diets can promote sustained weight loss. Additionally, their use in diabetes management programs may contribute to better glycemic control in patients, albeit with modest results. LNCS also provide dental health benefits when used in place of free sugars; It is proposed that foods and beverages containing LNCS be included in dietary guidelines as alternative options to products sweetened with free sugars.

Another consensus workshop in 2018 concluded:

Low calorie sweeteners (LCS) may benefit weight management when used to replace sugar in products consumed in the diet (without energy substitution). The available evidence suggests no reason to be concerned about the adverse effects of LCS on sweet preference, appetite, or blood sugar control; indeed, LCS may improve diabetes control and dietary compliance. Regarding effects on the human gut microbiota, data are limited and do not provide sufficient evidence that LCS affect gut health at doses relevant for human use.

A more in-depth review of this issue can be found here.

The CR book does not separate food facts from fiction as it says. Other than the common sense nutritional advice it provides, it is no more helpful to anyone reasonably familiar with proper eating habits than the nutritional information on a water bottle label.

David Lightsey is a food science and nutrition advisor at Quackwatch.org and author of “The Myths About Nutrition Science.” You can read more about David and his work in nutrition on his website davidlightsey.com

A version of this article originally appeared on the American Council for Science and Health (ACSH) and is republished here with permission. You can follow ACSH on Twitter @ACSHorg


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