Sunday, April 19, 2020


From today's Wall Street Journal review of Ingredients, the full title of the book: Ingredients: The Strange Chemistry of What We Put in Us and on Us:
.... In a slyly brilliant bait and switch, what is framed as a book about what we should eat becomes a thriller about the scientific method itself. For a gold standard about how we build a “bridge of truth” in health science, Mr. Zaidan explains the multiple strands of evidence we amassed to be absolutely sure that smoking causes lung cancer. As an example of “less certainty,” he then discusses sunscreen: It “unequivocally reduces your risk of sunburn,” he explains, but we are less sure that it reduces the risk of skin cancer, and wearing it every day might ultimately be bad for you because of the ingredients that can enter the bloodstream.

Things are still less certain in the field of diet and health. ....

The kicker to Mr. Zaidan’s witty and clever analysis is that, even if we assume that the nutritional studies are totally right, their worst-case scenarios are still not that bad. The strongest claim is that a diet high in ultraprocessed foods is associated with a 14% higher risk of death. That sounds alarming. But for most people it’s a 14% increase in a very low baseline number. And the risk of death gets steadily higher as we age, anyway. Simply turning 20 increases a person’s risk of death by “almost exactly” 14%, even if he consumes nothing but kale, blueberries and Himalayan glacier water. ....

...[T]he author’s health advice is refreshingly simple: Don’t worry so much. Do some exercise. Go on a diet if you want to (any diet will do). “If you decide to cut out all ultra-processed food, that’s totally fine,” he concludes. “It might make you feel better, whether from the placebo effect or, just as likely, because you’ll have to replace all the ultra-processed food with fruits, veggies, and other stuff most diets would tell you to eat anyway.”

But mainly his counsel boils down to this: “Relax, dude.” .... (more, perhaps behind a subscription wall)

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