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Is trying to make sense of nutrition news giving you indigestion?

Is trying to make sense of nutrition news giving you indigestion?

"Coffee Is Good for You: The Truth About Diet and Nutrition Claims," by Robert J. Davis, PhD (Perigee, 212 pages paperbound, $15)

Lynn Van Matre, LifeTimes editor

If you like to keep current on the healthiest fare to put on your plate, there's no shortage of nutrition news. Nearly every day, it seems, the media reports more "latest findings" on food and what constitutes a healthy diet.

Unfortunately, sooner or later many such claims prove to be contradictory – or are based on studies too small to prove anything. (Or maybe the studies were done on laboratory rats, were not scientifically done, or were funded by food manufacturers or others with a vested interest in the results.)

Small wonder many folks are confused. In fact, an FDA survey finds that more than two-thirds of Americans say the barrage of healthy eating recommendations makes it "hard to know what to believe," health journalist Robert J. Davis notes in his lighthearted but fact-packed look at a wide variety of current dietary wisdom.

Davis tackles more than 60 popular claims, devoting a page or two to each. Among them: "Produce grown locally is most healthful" (not true, Davis says); "Green tea promotes weight loss" (half true, Davis reports), and "Oats lower cholesterol" (this one is true, Davis writes).

Davis bases his conclusions on current credible scientific research, or in some cases on lack of it. While he cites research study references, he reminds readers that today's best scientific conclusions about nutrition will undoubtedly be superseded by new information in the future. Meanwhile, he concludes by offering a list of timeless tips for making sense of the endless stream of diet and nutrition claims. Among them:

*Don't fixate on particular foods. Instead of obsessing about supposed "superfoods" or "toxic" foods, concentrate on your overall eating patterns. Aim for a diet that includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and good fats. Limit the amounts of refined carbohydrates, junk food, red meat, and trans fats, Davis writes.

*Don't be influenced by just one study. "What matters is the big picture – what scientists call the totality of the evidence."

*Forget about fad diets. "In the long run, they rarely work."

*Recognize the limits of vitamin pills. "Supplements pack far less nutritional punch than food."

*Largely ignore health claims on food packages and in ads. A few such claims, such as those related to sodium content and high blood pressure, are approved by the FDA. But most, Davis writes, are not.

Finally, he cautions, don't get so overwhelmed by nutrition admonitions that deciding what to eat becomes a stressful chore rather than a pleasure. "Using science as your guide, focus on the claims with the greatest credibility and relevance, and tune out the rest."