Where can I find up to date, quantitative studies on diet and exercise?
January 3, 2014 7:25 AM   Subscribe

It's a new year and there have been a lot of articles about diet, nutrition and exercise around the internet lately. Most seem to be based on hearsay, personal anecdotes or scientific studies of extremely small samples - as do most Google results when I try to search for a current 'scientific consensus' on what a healthy diet and exercise program looks like. Can any one point me towards an evidence backed report that covers these topics and is accessible to a layman?
posted by jonrob to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
The National Weight Control Registry might be relevent to you.

Wikipedia is a good source of evidence-based references because the diet-related areas are heavily-edited. There is one surprisingly large reference on low-carb diets, but I can't seem to find similar pages for other diets.
posted by saeculorum at 7:37 AM on January 3, 2014

For exercise, I like the blog Sweat Science, which looks at exercise and fitness studies objectively and breaks them down. The same author also has a book, Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? which is excellent.

On the nutrition front, as far as I can tell there is no consensus, but I like Denise Minger's blog for a non-biased discussion that looks at studies objectively and is honest about the limits of our knowledge. (She also has a book, Death by Food Pyramid, but it just came out and I haven't read it yet, so I can't speak to that.)
posted by pie ninja at 7:39 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you like visuals, I love this as a quick shorthand/starting point--data link at the bottom. (Note, pay attention to relative position, not size.)
posted by blue suede stockings at 7:48 AM on January 3, 2014

To be honest, the problem with what constitutes 'healthy' is so hard to quantify and study, that you'll be hard pressed to find very good strong results, and if you do, they will often be conflicting compared to previous studies and such. The reality is that there is no unanimous scientific consensus on what a healthy diet should be, really. The Mediterranean diet, the French diet and the Japanese diet are all completely different, but they all appear to have their respective merits, and all have been studied to some extent.

Journals are your best bet. The The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is a decent place to start and searching through Google Scholar helps to at least weed out sites like Livestrong et al, that are generally not based on anything but hearsay and anecdata.

As for excercise, it's a kind of similar thing. Studies on humans are problematic for a number of reasons because they are difficult to control. If you're really interested, Sports Medicine and similar publications are a concrete place to start. You would need to look at the research carefully though, to weed out things with small samples, sample bias, or such. But that's generally a risk with anything you read though.
posted by Dimes at 8:11 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by djb at 8:22 AM on January 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Harvard School of Public Health for a better food pyramid and version of My Plate.

I would look at other generally trusted medical information websites such as World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health, and Mayo Clinic
posted by fieldtrip at 8:30 AM on January 3, 2014

Lyle McDonald and Alan Aragon hate bro science and cite peer-reviewed articles their writings.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:35 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding examine.com for vitamin/supplement information, it really is well done.

Evidence Based Fitness is also good for discussions of exercise science developments, if infrequently updated (partially because new and generally relevant sports medicine research isn't that fast of a moving field).
posted by andorphin at 8:41 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

This recent NEJM article is free: Myths, presumptions, and facts about obesity. Casazza K, Pate R, Allison DB.

It discusses evidence for/against some common beliefs related to weight loss and obesity, and the language is friendly. Look for the "correspondence" link to read responses from other researchers.
posted by esoterrica at 8:44 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Gretchen Reynolds examines a lot of exercise myths and studies in her book, The First 20 Minutes. She busts a few myths and makes a lot of the research more accessible to the layman.
posted by ambrosia at 9:21 AM on January 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics position papers are readable and well-researched. Here's a good overview - The Total Diet Approach to Healthy Eating. You can get the full-text pdf by clicking the link under the synopsis. And their book, The American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide looks promising as well.
posted by Ouisch at 12:46 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Gretchen Reynolds book is very good indeed, and written in a super accessible way... but one big caveat, she doesn't actually list the studies she references, which is an incredible downer.

First and foremost you must specify what your goals are. If it is purely health, then the easiest way to approach the research is to look for well designed longitudinal studies with the critical outcome being all-cause mortality. You have to be really careful with studies that only find morbidity-specific outcomes, because there is always the possibility that what is good (in diet or exercise) for one thing may actually be bad for another. So the golden standard must be all-cause mortality.

For exercise, I really like The Copenhagen City Heart Study PMID: 23449779, it is well worth getting the full length text. Simply outstanding stuff, with very specific outcomes - I've referred to this study on many occasions here in the green. If you want to potentially gain as much as 6 years of lifespan, follow those recommendations for aerobic exercise.

Diet is unfortunately a much more fraught subject, because there is much more complexity and more factors at play. Still, the golden standard of all-cause mortality still applies - accept no substitutes.

However, the fact that you want to shy away woo and anecdote and only rely on solid research is a huge, huge plus and puts you miles ahead of most diet+exercise NYResolutions crowd.
posted by VikingSword at 2:08 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'll third Examine.com as an aggregator for other studies. It has an excellent FAQ for beginners, and every page is meticulously sourced (scroll down to the bottom of each article for links). It assembles a lot of information in a really user-friendly way, which is what I like most about it.
posted by stolyarova at 8:09 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Gary Taubes has written two books that evaluate nutrition from a scientific point of view. "Why We Get Fat" is accessible and should be available at many libraries. May I also say that you can find "evidence" and studies to support many conflicting ideas about health and nutrition. Best to pick an approach you can live with.
posted by conrad53 at 9:10 AM on January 4, 2014

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