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Issue #20 (June 2016)

From the Editor

Volume 1

Attention all nutrition nerds! Here’s a seemingly boring, yet crucial question: how do you organize your research?

There are a few different methods that nerds commonly employ:

1) Don’t organize your research

Albert Einstein had a famously messy workspace, and was quoted as saying, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

That was in the early 20th century. Nowadays, if you can’t find a file you saved, it might take all of 30 seconds to search for the file using the magical keyboard combination called “CTRL-F”. Back in the day, it might have taken 30 minutes of flipping through actual physical pages and file folders.

Still, this system isn’t optimal for most people. It makes browsing through related research a pain, among other problems.

2) Email the research to yourself, possibly tag it

This is not a terrible system. Email is one of the four constants in modern life: you’re born, you die, you have to do taxes, and you check your email. So, might as well just save your research in your email inbox, right?

Like I said, it’s not a terrible system, especially if you’re using systematic tags. But email systems were designed for sending messages to people, not for storing files or articles. If you find an excellent blog post on vitamin dosages, you can certainly send yourself the link by email. But that won’t capture the full text, and copy/pasting the full text into an email can turn out quite messy.

Not to mention, many people get overwhelmed by email, and tacking on another layer makes the inbox potentially messier.

3) Try one of those newfangled apps the kids use

This is an increasingly popular method, but not without shortcomings. Email can capture most any type of content, but not all apps can. So some people choose to use more than one method, such as saving blog posts to an app and saving PDFs on their computer or cloud drive.

Other people use a single service that’s decent at everything but might not be the best at any one thing. Maybe it can do tags and full-text search of attachments, but highlighting isn’t so easy on mobile platforms. Maybe it’s dead simple to use on mobile, but doesn’t deal with PDFs very well. You get the picture.

4) Whatever works for you

Cluttered desks aren’t optimal, but Einstein got pretty far in life even with the clutter. Whether you have a One-True-System-To-Unite-Them-All or a mishmash of methods you’ve used over the years, the important thing is that it works.

But, if you’ve gone years accumulating research that you don’t read, then take some time to explore options. List out features that you absolutely need and features you ideally want (such as full-text search, ability to handle both PDFs and blog posts, mobile ease-of-use, highlighting, etc.) and get cracking on finding a tool that you’re actually likely to use on a regular basis.

Kamal Patel,
Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Examination Research Digest

Volume 2

You don’t need to be a scientist to determine whether a diet is healthy or not.

And what's healthy for one person (and their gut bacteria) isn't necessarily healthy for another person.

But just in case you wanted some rules of thumb, these three things tend to be strongly correlated with a healthy diet:

1) The water contained inside your food sums up to at least half a liter a day

A liter of water weighs one kilogram, so half a liter weighs 500 grams. A large apple has almost 200 grams of water in it, and a serving of strawberries has almost 150 grams.

Food contains water, we all knew that already, right? Well, a slice of bread contains just 10 grams of water. Not very much at all. In general, foods that are highly processed are also “acellular”, whereas less processed plants and animals have cells, complete with some water in them. Even a large piece of steak contains 100 grams of water! If you eat a ton of acellular foods like flours and powders, you’re more likely to end up with concentrated sources of carbs and fat, without the satiety benefits of cellular foods.

2) Most of the foods are somewhat recognizable as plants and animals

Speaking of plants and animals … they taste good, and are healthy. But they’re also harder to prepare than something like an energy bar. An energy bar might match plants and animals in terms of vitamins and fiber, but the healthiness of a diet is likely to have a higher correlation with how many plants and animals you eat than what your specific vitamin intake is.

A skeptic might point out that everything we eat can be traced back to plants and animals. Yes, that’s true. Modified corn starch, mono and diglycerides, and a ton of other ingredients are extracted from corn. Hydrolyzed beef powder is a newish type of protein powder that comes from meat. These aren’t necessarily unhealthy ingredients, but the more unrecognizable things you eat, the more you get used to choosing convenience, and the fewer recognizable things you tend to eat.

3) The food tastes good, and your life isn’t dictated by dietary strictness

Some people go on extreme or extremely strict diets, then chastise their friends who don’t appreciate their diet du jour. Yo-yo dieting is common when you eat a diet that doesn’t taste good or doesn’t fill you up. A very strict diet works well … until life becomes difficult and it’s time to binge. So flexibility, at least to some degree, is typically a good idea.

You won’t see these three factors investigated in many randomized trials. The majority of trials research things that are likely to be funded (such as calcium research funded by the dairy industry) or are hot topics due to changing scientific opinion (such as saturated fat).

And these are just factors, not rules. You can certainly eat a strictly bland diet and lose a ton of weight. Some people’s gut microbiomes don’t actually do well with much plant matter. But for most people, these factors are both fairly easy to follow and likely to provide benefit, which can’t be said for most dietary rules out there.

Kamal Patel,
Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Examination Research Digest

See other articles in Issue #20 (June 2016) of Study Deep Dives.