Dietary myths debunked by the New Scientist

Body Mass Index (BMI)
Body Mass Index (BMI) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I always think it’s good to get rid of myths about human diet – so here are six care of last week’s New Scientist.

1. Drink eight glasses of water per day

Turns out we get plenty of water from food and drinks such as tea and coffee (the idea these dehydrate is also debunked).

2. Sugar makes children hyperactive

No scientific evidence for this one at all (to be honest I have always associated this with America – not really a claim you see made in Britain in any case).

3. “Detox diets” get rid of poisons such as PCBs.

Apparently it would take six – ten years of zero exposure to get rid of just half of these sort of chemicals from our muscles. As zero exposure is not possible, neither is that. As for a six week diet, forget it. You can, of course, stop smoking and cut down on drinking. But it is for regulators to cut our exposure to harmful chemicals, a diet is not going to cut it.

4. Antioxidant supplements help you live longer

Scientific studies show that taking antioxidant supplements may actually impair your body’s defences by weakening the natural mechanisms that manufacture these in our cells to tackle free radicals.

5. Being a bit overweight means you will die sooner.

Obesity is one thing – being overweight another. Obesity, certainly a BMI over 35, is correlated with higher risk of premature death. But a BMI of 25 – 29 is a different matter. But being overweight may make you more susceptible to illnesses that affect the quality of life, but there is no evidence to suggest it increases mortality.

6. The “paleo diet” is the way to go

We have no great idea what was eaten in the stone age, or even how healthy those who lived then really were. What is more humans have evolved the genetic ability to digest some of the foods the “paleo diet” suggests we should avoid – indicating a flawed argument (indeed the scientists on whose work the original claims for the paleo diet were based have revised their ideas to account for this – the diet’s advocates are seriously trailing the evidence).


9 responses to “Dietary myths debunked by the New Scientist”

  1. Hmm…a professional spin doctor promotes a New Scientist nutritional puff piece (i.e. completely ignoring the elephant in the room which is processed carbodydrates and the growing evidence about the toxicity of excess sugar use) and we’re supposed to now feel informed? Thanks.

    1. Thanks for the comment – which I might take more seriously if you had revealed who you were- do you have a financial interest in promoting a food fad? I can assure you I have no financial interest in food manufacture at all. I certainly would agree that eating too much sugar is bad for your health – but “toxicity”? You need to show some of the “growing evidence” you claim for that.
      In what sense is the New Scientist article a “puff piece” – it consistently refers to peer reviewed science?

  2. Sugar may or may not be acutely toxic for most healthy people. But it’s hard to argue it’s not *chronically* toxic in amounts consumed in the typical American diet. Insulin insensitivity is the first domino to fall when someone consumes too many calories from sugar over an extended period of time. Obesity and diabetes are far off once that happens.

    I have nothing to gain financially from this opinion. In fact, I have a sweet tooth, and eating the way I do now (cyclic ketogenic with less than 15g of sugar per day) ends up being far more expensive than the ineffective “low fat + high carb” calorie-counting approaches still advocated by too many doctors and nutritionists who should know better.

    Here’s a pretty even-handed and more technical article that expounds on why I believe that sugar is indeed toxic over the long term:

    1. Your opinions are interesting, but they are not peer reviewed science. I am assuming you are the original anonymous commentator.
      To add: Just want to make it clear I am absolutely no defender of sugar, indeed I think far too much of it is added to food (as with salt). The article merely makes the point it’s not linked to childhood hyperactivity. I am sure over-consumption is linked to lots of other health harms though.

  3. Correction to the previous comment. It should read: “Obesity and diabetes are *NOT* far off…”

  4. You are assuming wrong. How scientific of you. I have no idea who the original comment came from.

    As for peer-reviewed science to substantiate my opinions, there is plenty, and if you insist, I’ll waste some good weekend hours to find the relevant links. I’d rather not; if you’re interested, just look for it.

    That said, do you truly only believe things that have been in “peer reviewed” journals? If you look back at how many times these pillars of scientific inquiry have been duped, or have published conclusions that didn’t even control for obvious spurious variables, you’d at least be more open-minded to hypotheses that haven’t been experimentally upheld *yet,* or those that–because they buck the currently accepted wisdom of doctors and scientists–never receive funding sufficient to be tested.

    I’m all for science, and it’s slowly but surely reversing the damage that “high carb + low fat” has done to people. But until this nonsense has fully been erased, I’m not going to wait for a labcoat to tell me how I should be eating. Especially when a few simple changes I’ve made in my diet have all but eliminated symptopms of chronic inflammation (sinus & ear & digestive), mood swings and cravings, and taken inches off my waistline with no increase in exercise.

    Science is a valuable tool. But it always lags behind the reality it seeks to understand.

    Nevertheless, the science is there. Must I google it for you?

    1. Opinion is nothing more than that and frequently wrong – as my mistake, for which apologies, showed.

      I am not defending any diet regime by the way, so feel free to post links or otherwise, that’s up to you. My comment was merely that your opinion is not the same as science, which I do happen to hold in high regard.

      As I suspect neither of us have attended any witch burnings lately, I’d hope we’d both agree that the scientific method is rather more powerful that opinions, no matter how deeply and sincerely held 🙂

      1. Didn’t mean to go on the attack… Yes, the scientific method is more powerful than an uninformed opinion. But an informed opinion, shaped by experience, is still stronger than science that never gets performed due to pre-existing bias. And it’s also better than flawed science.

        If you look at any study that links high fat intake to elevated risk of heart disease, for example, you’ll notice that in every case they don’t control for sugar-intake. And yet, they assume that it’s the higher fat intake at fault. A much simpler and more accurate explanation, is that high sugar intake coupled with moderate to high fat intake elevates insulin too much, and it’s the insulin levels that do the damage. Which would be true even in the absence of calories from fat.

        Here’s a mouse-study for you:

        Human studies might be more relevant, however, it would be unethical to feed people sugar when you know it leads to health problems.

        At any rate, I respect your opinions and willingness to let my comments stand. Have a good one.

  5. And here’s the science I promised, plus a really good read to tie it all together:


    There needs to be more studies done, obviously–no argument there. But now that scientists and nutritionists arguing for the low-fat + high carb approach have been forced to question their beliefs, hopefully the high-fat + moderate protein + low carb researchers will be able to obtain more funding to prove conclusively that their approach will actually save lives and improve the quality of life as well.


    As I state before, I have no financial interest in this debate. I merely want to improve people’s lives by countering mis-information when I see it. Kudos to Adrian for playing fair and keeping an open mind.

    Now time for some steak and eggs and a salad!

%d bloggers like this: