Myths about how good or bad what we eat does to us

In the world, a large number of statements circulate about foods that are used to lose weight or drinks to detoxify. Most, however, are erroneous or the result of commercial interests

Pineapple, vegetable smoothies or coffee to lose weight. Green tea, ginger or Goji berries to detoxify. Cinnamon, turmeric or flaxseed to control diabetes.

The Internet is full of these kinds of claims. At best they are “wrong” and at worst the result of commercial interests.

What is the function of food?

Food acts as nutrient transporters. The digestive system is responsible for releasing these nutrients from the food matrix so that the intestine can absorb them.

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Once in our cells, nutrients participate in numerous biological processes that allow them to function properly.

To mention some of them, B vitamins, magnesium, or zinc they assist in the biochemical reactions that take place in our cells.

Vitamins C and E are antioxidants that protect them from oxidative damage. Iron is essential for hemoglobin to carry oxygen in the blood. And so an infinite list.

The B vitamins, magnesium or zinc assist in the biochemical reactions that take place in our cells. (Photo: Getty Images)

If we focus on the popular vitamin C, for example, as a consequence of its functions it contributes to the functioning of the nervous system, the immune system and energy metabolism.

What vitamin C does not do, no matter how antioxidant, is prevent aging or colds.

Direct relationship between food and disease

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an unhealthy diet is a fundamental risk factor for Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), responsible for 70% of deaths in the world.

The four most common NCDs are: cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and respiratory diseases.

In 2017, a meta-analysis concluded that increasing the consumption of vegetables, fruit, nuts and fish reduces the risk of mortality.

Another review in 2019 concluded that the eating pattern of the Mediterranean diet can be recommended for the prevention of type 2 diabetes in the long term.

By the way, the Mediterranean diet has also shown beneficial effects in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

The thing does not end there. The World Cancer Research Foundation (WCRF) reflected in its 2018 report that there is significant evidence that whole grains (whole grain), foods containing fiber, and dairy products lower the risk of colorectal cancer.

Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet has also shown beneficial effects in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. (Photo: Getty Images)

In the same way, it relates high intakes of vegetables, vegetables and fruits with a lower risk of various types of cancer that affect the respiratory tract and the upper part of the digestive system.

Regarding body weight, the WCRF tells us that the “consumption of foods with dietary fiber probably protects against weight gain, overweight and obesity“.

After reviewing the evidence, they came to the same conclusion regarding “Mediterranean-type” dietary patterns.

It is very tempting to turn the previous four paragraphs into statements such as “fruit prolongs life”, “fiber prevents cancer” or “the Mediterranean diet prevents diabetes”.

But we must be aware that, if we did, we would be giving them a categorical look that studies do not support and that, therefore, would be wrong.

Generalizing is a mistake

In addition to the evidence already cited, there are many published works that study the effects of foods, extracts or active principles present in food.

In order to demonstrate beneficial effects, a single research work is not enough, but several of them are necessary whose results point in the same direction.

Foods rich in amino acids
Which of these foods should not be missing from your diet? (Photo: Getty Images)

The free availability of these works on the internet can cause confusion among the population that consults them.

Because in order to properly interpret the results obtained in these studies, a certain background in research is necessary.

For example, searching for the health effects of ginger in a specialized database (Pubmed) returns more than 800 articles, of which more than 200 are reviews.

The conclusions of one of them, from 2019, tell us that more studies are necessary to determine the benefits of ginger on nausea and vomiting, metabolic syndrome and pain.

To evaluate other benefits of ginger, you should read the rest of the articles and reviews. I doubt that everyone who talks online about the health wonders of this food has done so.

In fact, you may not have read any.

Therefore, it is essential to properly interpret the research results to avoid incorrect generalizations.

The benefits of certain foods can be confusing to non-specialists. (Photo: Getty Images)

In addition, one must be especially careful with language, because misuse can suggest or imply beneficial effects not supported by the evidence.

Where non-specialists should look for information

If we want to find out about the therapeutic use of food, extracts or active ingredients, the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products is officially in charge of authorizing them for this purpose.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) evaluates the beneficial non-therapeutic effects of foods and the European Commission publishes them in the register of health claims.

At the informative level, the institutional pages of the WHO, EFSA, the Ministry of Health, the Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition (AESAN) are reliable sources of information.

So are those of interest-free universities or scientific societies.

By way of conclusion, who subscribes recommends ignoring any information that indicates, suggests or hints that some food has great effects on health.

What is proven is that a healthy eating pattern is an important factor in reducing the risk of disease. Although applying it on a day-to-day basis requires a great deal of effort, the results make it worth it.

* Ana BelIn Ropero, she is a tenured professor of nutrition and food science and director of the BADALI project, the Nutrition website, of the Miguel Hernández University.

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