The Anatomy Of A Poorly-Done Food Study

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Earlier this year, we wrote about the fact that not all food studies are the same and that their results are often biased in order to push some agenda. There are other reasons besides profit why studies turn out to be mostly false, or at least imprecise, and one needs to be very careful when reading up on different research and especially before making any dramatic changes to their diet and their lifestyle in general.

Today, we will dive even deeper into this issue by taking one of those poorly-done food studies and dissecting it, checking out its anatomy, so to say. So, if you want to learn exactly how and why it is that they do it, stick with us and read on.

The study in question was done by a research team from the University of Florida and it was published in Nutrition Research, a peer-reviewed journal which anyone can read. In fact, if you wish to see the study for yourself, you can read it here. The goal of the study was to show that eating a handful of almonds every day leads to an improvement in diet quality, improves bowel function, immune system, enhances the bacteria in the gut and curbs the appetite.

The first sign that something is wrong with this study is the fact that it was funded by an organization called the Almond Board of California. We are not making this up. According to their own website:

“…the Board engages in production, nutrition and market research, advertising and promotion in domestic and international markets, quality control and statistical analysis and dissemination.”

In short, the entity funding the study is not really unbiased and objective, wouldn’t you say?

The next red flag is the scope of the study, both when it comes to the number of participants and to the period of time during which the results were monitored. The study involved 56 people. Literally 56 people, 28 of which adult and 28 of which children. In general, studies of this kind are done on thousands of people in order to reduce the chances of aberrations and statistical anomalies that might affect the outcome. With only 56 people, one person makes up for almost 2 percent of the entire sample. That is simply not sufficient.

Another problem was the fact the study lasted only three weeks. Three weeks is simply not a sufficient period of time to give any kind of conclusion on whether introduction of almonds would benefit one’s health long-term.

2The study was conducted on parent-child pairs, 28 of them altogether as we already mentioned. These pairs were then told to or not to eat 1.5 and 0.5 ounces of almonds (parents and children respectively) for three weeks. After three weeks, they were instructed the opposite for another three weeks. In short, all pairs both ate and didn’t eat almonds every day for three weeks.

The researchers then measured their bowel function, symptoms of digestive tract issues, composition of gut bacteria, markers of immune function and the overall quality of diet which they received from questionnaires that the study subjects filled in.

While there is no issue with the scientific methods of collecting majority of the data, we definitely wish to say a thing or two about the said questionnaires. Namely, these questionnaires are hardly objective and what is more, the parents filled in the answers for their children. The subjects were not in a controlled environment for the duration of the tests and, all in all, this whole part of the study stands on shaky legs.

According to the results of the questionnaires, the quality of diet increased from 53.7 to 61.4 on a scale of 1 to 100, for both children and adults. Adults also reported eating fewer “empty calorie” foods while children also exhibited certain positive “trends”. The word trend is used when the differences are so slight they could be nothing but pure chance. This, once again, brings us to the issue of having too few people in a study.

In the end, this slight increase in diet quality was the only thing the researchers could prove, this subjective and possibly faulty part of the study was the only “proven” one. Everything else that we mentioned, the effects on the immune system, gut bacteria and so on? They couldn’t prove a thing.

Of course, this did not stop various media and websites to start writing how “almonds make you healthier“, quoting the study. Some articles even claimed that almonds “do wonders“.

Do not get us wrong, almonds are good for you and you are not going to go wrong by incorporating them into your diet, but you need to know that you are making these diet decisions based on proper research, not studies like the one we talked about today.


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