"What Makes Us Healthy", or "Was Woody Right"
September 19, 2007 6:58 PM   Subscribe

Dr. Melik: This morning for breakfast he requested something called "wheat germ, organic honey and tiger's milk."
Dr. Aragon: [chuckling] Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.
Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or... hot fudge?
Dr. Aragon: Those were thought to be unhealthy... precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.
Dr. Melik: Incredible.
Has anything changed?
posted by caddis (11 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Taubes is the same guy who wrote What if it's all been a big fat lie?, a much-discussed NYTMag piece arguing the merits of the Atkins diet against its scientific detractors. He's a funny writer. I think he makes very good points about the pitfalls of overreliance on statistical tests applied unreflectively, and on this subject he writes with a level of mathematical sophistication you rarely see in the popular press. On the other hand, he seems to me to have a weak spot for arguments of the form "Institutional science has everything wrong!" when a more accurate, though less sexy, claim would be "Institutional science is a complicated process, whose time-scale is measured in decades or longer, in which most people are conscientious and draw measured, tentative conclusions, or none at all, from necessarily incomplete or not fully reliable data -- and when it's necessary to make policy recommendations based on this data, scientists are typically up-front about the fact that decision-making under uncertainty is hard and results aren't guaranteed."

That said, I recommend that people read the article if they haven't. There's a lot of worthwhile material there. But don't take it as a license to go on Atkins.
posted by escabeche at 7:14 PM on September 19, 2007 [5 favorites]

That article's just a load of rich creamery butter.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:21 PM on September 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

butter your bacon, boy!
posted by anthill at 8:14 PM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Awesome--I've had that quote in my head my head for years, but didn't know the real wording or where it came from. Thank you!
posted by Citizen Premier at 8:18 PM on September 19, 2007

Tiger's milk? Whose gonna go out and collect some of that every morning?
posted by three blind mice at 8:41 PM on September 19, 2007

Tiger's Milk was a popular health supplement in the 1970s, when Sleeper was made. It was probably the first modern nutrition bar in history, sold by body builder Joe Weider.

Probably the most anachronistic part of the above dialog is that anyone would remember what Tiger's Milk was in the distant future when nutrition bars are so common and ubiquitous as to be without history.
posted by stbalbach at 9:41 PM on September 19, 2007

Tiger's Milk is still around. Quite popular in my area actually. My store sells out of the peanut butter at least once a month.
posted by M Edward at 10:42 PM on September 19, 2007

I was thinking this morning that this article would make a great metafilter post. Good to see I'm not the only one thinking this (even if I am too slow).

The article was sent around to a big email list I belong to at work as it raises a lot of points relevant in my field of study (nutrigenomics). Basically we're trying to deal with a lot of the problems in traditional epidemiology studies by investigating underlying variation between individuals and populations that influence how nutrition has it's effect. I'm not a nutritionist so this isn't quite my field, but it's still a well written and interesting article.
posted by shelleycat at 1:24 AM on September 20, 2007

What amazes me is how this article is being sent around prefaced by allusions to dietary myths--fiber is good; cholesterol is bad--and their reversal. This FPP is an example of such.

However, the article is largely about Hormone Replacement Therapy and the unforeseen consequences of HRT for cardiac health.

What I'm curious about is why advances in medical science (e.g recognizing the effect of HRT on the heart) are promulgated as the "inevitability" of overturning what is presently known about nutrition.

One of the things science does is correcting errors in present knowledge on the basis of evidence, and error in one part of medical science does not invalidate scientific knowledge in other areas of medical science and certainly not medical science as a whole.

If one eats saturated fat on the hope that medical science will reveal that it is in fact good for one's health, one may as well start reading chicken entrails for information about the weather.
posted by mistersquid at 4:49 AM on September 20, 2007

Mistersquid, the case for and against cholesterol is more nuanced and complicated than most know. Cholesterol is not some external chemical, it's generated by the body, in fact most cholesterol is internal, diet accounts for a small portion. Also many native peoples who eat extremely high fat diets (Eskimo's and Masai) have almost no history of heart disease until they start eating industrialized diets. Then there is the "French paradox" and many other "paradoxs". I'm of the opinion cholesterol is the agent of death, but it's a symptom of something else going wrong. With satins and diets its possible to reduce that agents force, but we still need to find out the root causes.
posted by stbalbach at 5:26 AM on September 20, 2007

Steven Johnson uses that quote for something he calls "The Sleeper Curve" in Everything Bad is Good for You.
posted by mattbucher at 8:21 AM on September 20, 2007

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