Which diet and health habits are backed by science? There’s a tool for that

Does eating red meat increase one’s risk of heart disease? Would eating more vegetables help? Is leaving high blood pressure untreated really a death wish? The answers might vary, depending on who a person asks, which friend or TikTok nurse, and when. Researchers at the University of Washington want to make it easier to find current, evidence-based health advice. 

A new tool from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, unveiled Monday in Nature Medicine, uses a 5-star rating system to show how much evidence exists to support some diet and lifestyle changes. The researchers analyzed hundreds of studies in hopes of helping consumers, clinicians and policymakers — awash in a landscape of wellness influencers, food lobbyists and quack advice — cut through the chatter and know the scientific consensus. The result is what they are calling the “Burden of Proof studies,” since it’s on the research to prove something is legitimate. 

Other such reviews exist, the Cochrane Library being a repository of many of them. This new tool, the authors say, is complementary to what exists, but also slightly different. Many epidemiologists assume that risk increases about the same no matter how many grams of vegetables someone eats a day, for example. “Burden of Proof allows us to understand better how the risk actually changes with consumption,” the authors said.


In medicine, “there’s always been some skepticism” about how changes to people’s behaviors can affect their long-term health, especially when it comes to recommending specific foods or activities, said Christopher Murray, senior author of the papers and founder of the IHME.

Clickbait headlines and grocery cart contents reflect the uncertainty. Cow’s milk is bad, and then it’s good. Butter — nay, all fats — must be gone, but then they’re back. Once the shopping cart is full, the Mediterranean, Keto, Paleo and South Beach diets compete for dominion on magazine covers in the checkout line. The peanut butter cups loom. (Is chocolate good or bad? Wait, what about peanut butter?)


“Diet research is really challenging,” said Jeffrey Stanaway,…

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