Understanding Food Studies


A few months ago I went to a senior citizen seminar on how to invest your money for a worry-free retirement.  The financial company sponsoring the seminar provided free dinner at a very nice restaurant.

Five minutes into the seminar the host uttered these words, “I guarantee you could earn 90% interest on your money by investing in this plan,” which included purchasing  one of the financial company’s products.

If you didn’t catch it when you first read it, let’s look at that statement again:  I guarantee you could…………………

Could……meaning expressing possibility.

Well, hon, I guarantee you the sun COULD rise in the west tomorrow morning too. Not likely.  But it COULD.

This ridiculous statement got me to thinking about food studies and how confusing they can be.

Understanding the conflicting nature of all the hundreds and hundreds of  food studies we read and hear about in magazines and on TV every year is very difficult.

However, what you need to keep in mind is, food studies as cited by the media and by advocates for diets of various kinds are not so different from that statement the salesman made during the seminar I attended.

In many ways, food studies guarantee you COULD be healthy if you lower your fat intake, eat oats, consume blueberries., or whatever the food or nutrient du jour is.

We are constantly being bombarded by alarmist news of what you should or should not eat based on some study or other. We are told what we should eat, what we shouldn’t eat, what food is healthy, what is food is unhealthy; lower fat intake, lower salt intake, eggs are bad, eggs are good, etc., etc., etc., Ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

Then years later after we have been scared to near-death and have adjusted our diets a new study comes saying, Ooooppps. So Sorry.  Eggs are now healthy for you.

So why are there all these contradictory studies and information out there?

There are a several reasons why.

How Food Studies Are Conducted
Scientic Studies Vs Observational Studies

Most food studies are simply observational and risk factor studies. That is they are NOT scientific studies done in a lab under very rigorous standards.

Since food studies do NOT utilizie the rigorous standards of the Scientific Method that yield scientific evidence the “findings” of these food studies are often weak. Therefore a new weak study comes out months later to contradict the original study.

The main reason food studies are not scientific studies is that it would not be ethical to have someone eat food that might be detrimental or harmful to them.

What Specifically Are Observational Studies?

Here’s the problem. There is no study; at least no study as most of us understand that term. What happens is subjects are simply interviewed or fill out questionnaires on their food habits. 

As you can imagine there are inherent problems with interviews and questionnaires in food studies. How honest are people? How well do people remember what they ate last week or last month, let alone last year?

Then after the questionnaires or face-to-face-interviews the researchers then look to see how many people in their interview group develop some disease or not. In other words, what is the risk factor of eating this food and developing a particular disease?

 Small Sample Size

A huge problem with observational studies  is the number of people participating is often very, very small. Small samples do not yield strong associations. From our high school science classes we know the larger the sample size is the smaller the margin of error; or the more accurate the findings are.  A small sample size often means a larger margin of error. Small sample size makes it difficult to know where the truth lies.

Another problem with these kinds of studies is often times the number of people who develop some disease is also very, very small. And we don’t know other factors that may be in play, such as smoking.

Too often these findings are not large enough to make wild sweeping generalizations about what foods are or are not healthy for an entire nation of over three-hundred million diverse people.

This is especially true if the original sample size was small to begin with also. Small sample size + small association = Darn Little.

Yet the researcher concludes and shouts like Moses coming down from the mountain that eating this or eating that particular food leads to colon cancer or some other equally deadly disease without stating any of these qualifiers.

And the media reporting on these studies do not share with you how the research was done either; or sample size or margin of error, or much of anything else that would enable you to assess the study informtion. That would not sell airtime now, would it?  And the media is all about making money.

In Summary
In food studies what we too often have are small studies that yield a narrow finding that is then blown out of all proportion by the people paying for and/or conducting the study and by the media.

The information these types of studies yield is generally only speculative in nature. A particular food could [there’s that word again, did you catch it – COULD] be bad for us.

If you listen to and read these studies often enough you will find they are full of qualifiers like , “could,” “may,” and “might.” But  these words are often glossed over or ignored all together when reported on.

The long and the short of it is this: It just is not that easy to study the relationship between the foods you eat and your health.

These types of studies can identify associations. However, they cannot determine causation. That is: that eating carrots can or will cause hair to grow on your chest.

There is a huge difference between association and causation. Just because there might be an association between two factors does not mean Item A causes Item B.

In a court of law, these types of findings would NOT even be admissible. They would be considered circumstantial evidence.

Featured Recipe          Salmon Patties

I love salmon, even canned salmon. So when I do not have access to fresh and/or wild caught salmon I often make this recipe.

This is a Chicken-of-the-Sea recipe I found in a magazine ad for their products many, many years ago. If you like your food a bit spicier add some  to diced jalapeños and/or hot sauce into your salmon mixture. You can stretch this meal to feed 6-8 by simply making the patties smaller.

This is what you need to for 4 people:

 2-6 ounce cans salmon

½ cup dry bread crumbs

½ cup finely chopped onions

4 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 eggs, beaten

2 teaspoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons parsley chopped

¼ teaspoon garlic salt

Oil for frying

Here is is what you do:

Drain the salmon. Over the years I have found it is best to drain in a colander in the sink and let it sit a while. If I don’t all the juice does not drain off and then the patties are too moist and do not hold their shape well.

Chop the onion and the parsley, and assemble all of the other ingredients. Do not use too much lemon juice as that will also make the patties hard to shape.

Dump everything into a bowl. Mix everything together very well. I start out mixing with a spatula but end up using my hands. It really is the best way to mix thoroughly.

With a spatula I make lines in the salmon mixture dividing it into fourths so that the patties are uniform in size and weight.

Now I take one-fourth of the salmon mixture and I gently form it into small rounded compact shape, almost like meatball, but not as round. I do not flatten the patty at this time because it may start to break up. If it doesn’t here it will when you place it in a skillet. Continue until you have four rounded mounds of salmon mixture.

Put some canola oil in a skillet and heat over medium heat. When it is good and hot add the salmon patties. ALERT!!!!  Resist flattening the patties at this point. If you do, they will not brown as nicely and they may begin to fall apart. Let the patties brown nicely on the first side…………………

 ………….then carefully flip the patty to the other side. Let the patty cook a short while on the other side and then flatten it to desired thickness you want.

Fry the patty on the second side till browned. Remove from pan and drain some of the fat away by placing on paper towels. 

You can serve with lemon wedges with a side of some veggies…………

………or as a sandwich on a bun with some lettuce and a tomato slice.

Bon appétit!!!


2-6 ounce cans salmon                    $2.00

½ cup dry bread crumbs                  $0.30

½ cup finely chopped onions            $0.22

4 tablespoons mayonnaise               $0.22

2 eggs, beaten                                $0.18

2 teaspoons lemon juice                  $0.07

2 teaspoons parsley chopped            $0.05

¼ teaspoon garlic salt                     $0.06

Oil for frying                                   $0.05

Total cost for 4 = $3.15
Cost per person = $0.79

Quote of the Day    

You can tell more about a person by what he says about others than you can by what others say about him.  



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