Fed Up With Dietary Flip-Flops?

Singer Tommy DeVito, actor John Lloyd Young, and singers Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio stand onstage during the curtain call for "Jersey Boys" on opening night, Nov. 6, 2005 in New York City. GETTY IMAGES/Paul Hawthorne

Celebrity Chef Wolfgang Puck knows more about sauces than science. But he knows a lot about America's voracious appetite for medical studies on what, when and how much to eat.

"You know there are some people who are always on a new trip. They think this is good, and all of a sudden they eat no more pasta," says Puck. "Then they said okay we can't eat red meat, then they said we can only drink the red wine."

Nutritional information has become a smorgasbord of science with contradictory opinions about healthy eating, reports CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger. For instance, coffee has been shown to decrease cases of Parkinson's disease but increase cases of Osteoporosis. It's decreased suicides but increased arthritis. And over the course of a little more than a year, coffee was shown to both increase and decrease the rate of miscarriages.

"It's clear that studies are fallible," says Ruth Patterson, a Seattle dietician and cancer prevention specialist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center who has studied the studies and concluded that Americans are getting confused and fed up. "What they perceive as conflicting messages gives them sort of an excuse to throw up there hands and say 'I can just eat anything I want. What difference does it make?'"

For years healthy eaters banned butter because of its fat content. So instead they turned to margarine, only to learn it can also cause heart disease. "If you love butter and you gave it up and then you find out that margarine is just as bad, you're mad. You've been betrayed," explains Patterson.

Eggs, which used to be bad for you, are now not bad, if eaten in moderation. Even fat, which nobody thought was good, is now being scientifically rehabilitated.

"There are areas where I'm simply confused at this point in time," confesses Dr. Walter Willet, Harvard School of Public Heath. Willett holds a M.D. and a Ph.D. and has been involved in more than 200 studies on health and nutrition. If he's confused, where does that leave everyone else? He says, "Science does get it right but often there's a lot of back and forth and confusion in the process."

And it's all played out in public by researchers and medical journals anxious to serve people hungry for news. One of the latest studies now says fiber can cause colon cancer. "The problem is that the newest, latest study often isn't the one that stands the test of time," warns Willett.

From his kitchen, Wolfgang Puck watches all the dietary fads come and go with every new study and has his own un-scientific advice: "Forget the scientists for one night, in the morning we'll worry about the scientists."

And there's one more recommendation from the nutritional experts: while you watch what you're eating, watch what you're reading.


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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