One of the fascinating things about scientific research – at least to me – is that the more studies there are that attempt to answer a particular question, the more likely there will be conflicting results.
The reason for the different outcomes is that every study that sets out to answer a particular question isn’t conducted in exactly the same way. Some studies use human subjects while others use animals. Some have only a few subjects, while some have hundreds. Some research is conducted for a week or two; other research goes on for decades.
There are also different methods used to answer scientific questions. One method is to design a study to prove whether “X” causes “Y.” This type of study is regarded as the gold standard in scientific research because it leaves no room for doubt - the same results should occur every time the study is done.
Another method is to look for common traits among a group of subjects and what outcomes are associated with those traits, such as the correlation found between gardening and longevity. This type of study is useful in identifying links between certain traits and conditions, but it does not provide evidence that the traits cause the conditions. In the case of gardening and longevity, further research would be needed to prove whether the act of gardening adds years to your life or something else, such as people who keep gardens eat more vegetables.
Understanding these differences in the way research is done is the key to understanding why new studies occasionally come along that contradict the old. Unfortunately, nothing improves newspaper sales, TV ratings or website hits like a good headline, so these offbeat studies are often blown out of proportion by the media covering them.
If you’ve heard or read conflicting reports about the safety of low calorie sweeteners, such as SPLENDA® Brand Sweetener (sucralose), then you know what I’m talking about. But it’s important to keep in mind that there’s more to the story (and to the study) than you can fit in a twitter feed!
The truth is, some of the people writing the news often have not even read the study; they rely on a press release for their “scoop.” By reading the complete study it is possible to see how the research was conducted – and how it differed from other research on the topic – and what conclusions were drawn at the end. What I have learned is they often do not match the claims being made in those newsreels.
But who has the time or ability to read every new study that gets published? I know I don’t, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be in the know. My rule of thumb is to simply wait six months for the dust to settle after the release of any contradictory report. Then, after all of the experts have had a chance to critique it, I wait for their conclusions to see if the contradictory study had any merit. Most often, it didn’t, which is why I continue to enjoy SPLENDA® Sweetener Products as part of my diet.
For more information, visit:
- International Food Information Council: “Everything You Need to Know About Sucralose”
- Calorie Control Council: “Sucralose”
- “FDA’s Food Ingredient Approval Process: Safety Assurance Based on Scientific Assessment,” published in Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology
- Kroger, M., Meister K., & Kava, R. Low-calorie sweeteners and other sugar substitutes: a review of the safety issues. Comprehensive Reviews Food Science Food Safety.2006;5:35-47.
- Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Use of Nutritive and Nonnutritive Sweeteners. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012;112(5):739-758
- Nonnutritive Sweeteners: Current Use and Health Perspectives. A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association. Diab Care. 2012;35(8):1798-1808 and Circ.2012;126:509-519
- American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention. Cancer J Clin. 2012;62(1):30-67
I have been compensated for my time by Heartland Food Products Group, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog With Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.
Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating again.