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Kids and Health Care: Trendy "Diet Science"

Generally, parents should treat any diet research they see or hear skeptically.

Some of these numbers are based on aggressive extrapolation from standard dietary impact charts, which lose their effectiveness the farther they move from empirical numbers. Infamously, for a report on the heart risks related to eating butter, the American Heart Association cobbled together different reports on daily fat intake over a lifetime...and forced some specific, short-term conclusions. To extrapolate such detailed, small numbers out of broad measures makes meaningless results.

Other statistics are based on animal tests, which have an important flaw: animal experiments necessarily involve large doses on sample populations. To measure a risk of one in a million precisely, you'd have to perform a million tests involving as many as 1,000 animals each. The cost would be prohibitive. The best scientists can do is experiment with large doses, adjust for the weight and metabolic activity of the animals compared with humans...and project the possible results of small doses on people.

A lot of guesswork is involved.

Through the early 1990s, an intense debate took place in scientific circles over whether some nutrients, such as vitamins C and E, calcium, coenzyme Q10 and zinc -- taken at levels well above the federal government's recommended daily allowance (RDA) -- provide benefits beyond their traditionally-defined essential functions. The theory that they would, called "super-nutrition" in dietary circles, was fashionable at the time.

The use of foods for medical purposes dates back many centuries. But advocates of super-nutrition base their position on modern science -- specifically, anecdotal evidence that certain nutrients, taken in huge doses, can reverse things like early-stage cancer tumors.

Scientists argue that cancer is not an on-off switch. It's more like a gradual deterioration with built-in stops. These stops are biological mechanisms: DNA repairs, cell-to-cell communications and other mechanisms in the body that repair cell damage.

Super-nutrition holds that you can boost these stops so that the body can participate more effectively in the recovery and illness protection process.

Nutrition and exercise ought to be protective factors. Unfortunately, for most, they are not. On any given day, only 18 percent of Americans eat cruciferous vegetables (i.e., broccoli, radishes, watercress and brussels sprouts) and only 16 percent eat whole grains. The rest of us are eating junk food.

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