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Food Matters

Food Matters

Science joins the table

The other selfie: a single case study experiment on “clean eating”

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Different locally grown bean varieties for sale at a New York City greenmarket.

Since I began routinely reading Scientific American comments online and in the magazine’s letters to the editor, I’ve encountered a recurring theme: Readers lament that the celebrated publication isn’t as scientific as it once was in the fifties or the nineties (depending on who is writing). Complaints pile up. Teeth gnash. But no disgruntled reader, to my knowledge, has offered solutions beyond complaints. Since commenters keep their arguments shallow, I don’t give them much credence.

But I chew away at questions.

What would these readers want? A content analysis of every issue available online since 1993? What content would be analyzed? Which words? What does “scientific” mean to them? Should writers perform actual experiments themselves? Would that help?

It might.

When fellow Food Matters writer Patrick Mustain wrote about giving up the marketing diet, he rightly summarized that diet fads and crazes over the single-tropical-fruit-that-cures-all-ailments breeze past deeper concerns: nutrition and fitness. And what is a food blog if it does not address the prevalence of diets in modern society -- especially in America? This gave me some ideas.

From a convenience-biased sample, I can rattle off four diets friends and family member have attempted or considered. Each approach boasts into its own massive marketing campaign.

My mother - started on a gluten-free diet after a doctor suggested it might cure her idiopathic intestinal pain. (What does gluten-sensitivity really mean? Julianne Wyrick can answer that question.) My sister - wants to go completely vegan. She read about the plant-based Engine 2 diet and tried some of their branded cereal. “It tasted worse beyond cardboard,” she told me. My cousin - experimented with the green tea diet last year and lost weight. But she coupled her drink regime with serious exercise. (A review published via the Cochrane Library does not look favorably on this type of diet by itself.) My friend - discovered The Fast Diet (aka 5:2) started by two Brits and reported back an instant access to more energy.

Cherry tomatoes for sale at the same greenmarket in NYC

The paleo diet has been covered here and here on Scientific American’s pages. These examples comprise the smallest ice crystal buried on an iceberg tip of 420 million Google results for the word “diet” — and I wager the Japanese parliament got mixed up in some of the pages.

Still, my curiosity is not satiated about the hyper-popular, so-called “clean eating” approach to eating. (“You should try it—your sweat stops smelling!” a yoga instructor told my sister.) This approach seems to focus on achieving overall health, not losing weight. To gather some material, I’ve decided to do what comes naturally to any researcher or scientist: a self-experiment!

For the month of October, I will follow a “clean eating” approach. What does this entail, exactly? Neither Google's nor PubMed's search engines seem to know. I could find only one lightweight news summary. Part of this challenge will include researching the origins of clean eating. In the meantime, I’ll carefully record all of my raw data, including food consumed each day, costs and any noticeable changes in energy or otherwise. The good news is I won’t need IRB approval for my experiment. The worrying news (for me) is that in order to make this a worthwhile case study, I should keep sleep, exercise and other factors constant.

Here’s my brief overview of what a clean diet… INCLUDES: - all vegetables and fruit, cooked or raw - all dairy products, including eggs and yogurt - beans, lentils, rice, quinoa, pasta - tea, coffee, hand-squeezed juice - nuts - dark chocolate (85 percent cacao) … please? - olive oil and EXCLUDES: - alcohol of any kind - bread - chips - frozen dinners, prepackaged/boxed meals and canned soups or meals - animal and fish meat - processed food (anything with more than 5 ingredients)

So, who would like to join me to compare notes?

Update: Go on over to the Scientific American MIND guest blog to read about "The fat-fueled brain"!

It's time for the pumpkins!

Photo credits Kathleen Raven

 

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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