Last week's column on the alternative nutrition facts propagated by self-appointed experts reminded me of some of the most popular recent healthy eating alternative facts.

I will preface this by saying that science is always evolving, and nutrition science is no different.

But it's evolution, not revolution. Rarely, if ever, does one single research study negate the whole body of evidence that has come before, writes Niki Bezzant.

Those "everything we thought we knew about [insert topic here] is wrong" headlines are inaccurate and misleading. The ones listed below have all been the subject of that type of media coverage.


Coconut oil as health food
I am so impressed with the marketers of coconut oil. They have managed to create a whole mythology - not to mention a new shelf in the supermarket - about coconut oil as not just a cooking oil, but as full-on health food.

They have done such a good job that over the years I've felt compelled to keep checking with oil experts about new evidence on this.

Every time the answer is the same: no, coconut oil is not a health food.

The best the true experts can say, based on current evidence, is that coconut oil is mostly saturated fat and as such we're advised to limit it. It won't make us skinny or cure disease.

It is, according to the research, a bit better than its fellow saturated fat source, butter. But for the most part we're still advised to treat them in a similar way and use sparingly.

Also the benefits of coconut oil. Photo / Supplied
Also the benefits of coconut oil. Photo / Supplied

Saturated fat is good for us

Related to the above, this one is almost accepted wisdom in certain circles now.

Except it is not backed up by evidence, or by any official health body anywhere.

There's a bit of nuance here, but the upshot seems to be there are lots of different types of saturated fat, and they're not all equal.

The evidence suggests some sources may be less bad than others. But less bad does not equal good and it definitely doesn't equal health food.

There's a lot we need to consider about context: what the rest of the diet is like; how much whole, fresh, unprocessed food we're eating; how much of everything we're eating.
Bottom line: a little is okay, but loading up on bacon and butter is probably not the way to go for most of us.

Humans were not designed to drink milk
This one has persisted for years, since before people started going paleo and everyone started ordering almond milk lattes.

The argument goes that humans are the only species to drink another species' milk; our bodies are not designed for it, as demonstrated by lactose intolerance. But again the evidence doesn't back this up.

Yes, some people - in fact large chunks of certain populations - are lactose intolerant. But that's a product of evolution. Some populations have evolved and adapted to be able to digest dairy, and so have access to its nutritional benefits.

"Design" doesn't really come into it.