Generally Eclectic

Food/Nutrition Research

Where does on information about health, nutrition and food come from. It is useful to understand the research methods used to generate information about food/nutrition.

  1. Anecdotes. These are stories of individuals, taking singly or grouped.
  2. Dietary histories of traditional populations. Traditional diets are based on biological, economic and other factors. Traditional diets are being replaced by "modern" diets, as cultures change, economic factors allow foods to be transported large distances at low cost, and people move.
  3. Surveys of populations. These can take a variety of forms in terms of the selection of people to be surveyed, whether the participants are tracked over time, the information collected, and how the information is collected (responses to questionnaires, and physical information such as blood pressure readings and blood tests).
  4. Controlled experimental studies in human populations. Typically, study participants are divided in groups, each group follows a particular regime (general diet, single nutrient, specific drug under test), data is collected on the participants before, during and after the study period, and the group results are compared at the end of the study, to determine for example whether a drug or particular food or exercise regime was made a difference in whatever was being measured.
  5. Controlled experimental studies in animals. These are like controlled unman studies, but the use of animals allows for greater control and observation of the subjects. Since animal lifetimes are accelerated versions of human lifetimes, animal studies allow for long-term effects to be more visible. On the other hand, animals are biologically different from people.
  6. Administrative records. These include information in hospitals, health insurance programs, government records such as birth, death, tax, pension and other records.
  7. Biochemistry. Chemists put different chemicals together, observe the reactions, and ultimately strive to develop rules that predict the reactions. Biochemical studies focus on body chemistry. Biochemical studies related to the foods we eat attempt to figure out what happens chemically when we eat food. Not surprisingly, foods have different chemical compositions, and generate a variety of chemical reactions in the body. Many of the chemical reaction to particular foods are influenced by other foods eaten or not eaten at the same time.
  8. Cellular biology. Cellular biology seeks to understand how cells work. Understanding how all the cells in humans function would provide significant insight into how humans function. From a nutrition perspective, cellular biology studies look at the reaction of different human cells to different food chemicals. For example, chemicals in foods may be put with cancer cells, with a view to observing whether particular chemicals kill or encourage the growth of cancer cells.
  9. Toxicology. Toxicology attempts to determine whether particular compounds are harmful to health. Typically, these studies begin by giving low doses to animals, observing the reactions, increasing the dosage if there is no negative reaction, and repeating the process in humans if there is no negative reaction in animals.
  10. Genetics. Genetics looks at genes, and particularly gene differences, in determining outcomes. For example, a genetic study could select for study the genes of a healthy population and of an unhealthy population, with a view to isolating the common genetic differences between the two populations.

The most convincing theories about food and nutrition come when multiple methods lead to the same conclusion.