Several great points in one fell swoop:
- When you read about dietary studies, go to the root study from where they found the news item
- Learn about the population on whom the study was done and then ask yourself: “would they include me in _that_ study?”; If not, you do not have to apply the findings to you.
- Sub point: if the study was on animals, ask, “Am I similar to this animal”, then ask “Body weight for body weight, how much would I have to consume to get the same benefit?” Several years ago, a student worked with me and argued that turmerics are best for weight loss for diabetics. It turned out that her information came from a study on mice that were fed equivalent of 1 kilogram of turmeric per day to overfed mice who were on insulin with their pancreas partially removed! But if you did not know that, what would you think? Besides, not every disease that occur in humans can be reproduced in animals, and not every disease that occurs in animals can be reproduced in humans. So, when you read studies on animals published in press, be extra careful to draw your own conclusions.
- Think about what exactly are they claiming about the food. Are they (“the reporter in the news item or the researcher in the story”) claiming the participants/subjects had “food” adjusted for their body weights or were they claiming “food” on the basis of biochemical ingredients? If latter, consider the evidence “with a pinch of salt” (intended pun).
- How did they know about the dietary intake? Did they use food diaries? Did they ask people how much did you consume over a lifetime? Or how much did you consume over the past week? Can _you_ answer _that_ question in a reliable manner? Does that reflect your lifetime pattern of consumption? Assuming their respondents were all true and the researchers faithfully reported what they found, would You belong to the researched group?
- Who did they compare with?
- How much was the effect?
- What else could explain the results?
- How likely would it be that the researchers themselves had biases?
- How likely would people who were in the study (assuming it was a study where they studied real free range people) would respond differently in different arms of the study?
Gid M-K goes at length in discussing the differences between absolute and relative risks. Think about baseline risks of the disease or health condition in the study they reported. Absolute risk is what you will need to decide for yourself as Gid writes here.
Well, so many things to worry about when you read a report on food and health. Who knew?