The old adage, “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know”, is probably true for everyone who has ever taken an interest in an area of study. After spending nearly 20 years in the field of nutrition I have more questions than answers, and that’s not necessarily because I haven’t looked, or haven’t the time to look, but rather because answers sometimes simply don’t exist in a neatly wrapped knowledge-gift for convenient consumption.

These days, when I give a lecture, or discuss something with a client I have to literally refrain from voicing a long list of caveats regarding the words coming out of my mouth. Discussing a complex (or even a simple) issue in nutrition cannot always be easily categorized into “good or bad” or “should or shouldn’t”, or “healthy or unhealthy”. At best everything is relative and there are always plenty of exceptions, and pros and cons to everything…. everything. Yes; even when discussing broccoli.

What's important is that there are clear and definitive answers to many questions, where pros vastly outweigh the cons (or vice versa); answers that guide nutritional and naturopathy for the best outcomes.  Just don't expect an answer for everything.  

This little guy wants you to think he's eating healthy.  But is he?

Baby Borscht and Broccoli by Carolyn Coles licensed under CC BY 2.0

After 20 years I’ve heard so many discussions for and against a particular outcome that the variables cancel out because ultimately it simply didn’t matter. When I first started my pursuit in nutrition, I would draw conclusions rather quickly and even today I’ll take whatever I read first as the “definitive answer” until I read something contrary a few weeks later and so on. If you’ve ever spent some time researching on the internet you’ll know exactly what I mean. And on the internet, everything is compounded and complicated further by an army of armchair experts giving their opinions and experiences to make a controlled pursuit for knowledge nearly impossible.

Not a day goes by where Shelly and are asked questions without definitive answers, not because we don’t know, but rather because we haven’t found a consistent answer outside of various and opposing theories. In some cases, the opposite is true – what makes total logical and rational sense in theory is disproven by experimental studies. We find nutrition and medical science as exciting as it is surprising, so I can guess where that leaves the typical web-surfer trying to get a clear answer on a complex topic.

Do we take probiotics with food or without food? How much flax oil do I need to take to equal fish oil? If curcumin is normally fat soluble in nature, is it unnatural if this company makes their turmeric product water soluble? If oregano oil is cytotoxic, does that mean it’s killing my healthy cells too? If mushrooms are a fungus and candida is a fungus, and I have a candida infection, will the mushrooms make it worse? If I take 1,000mcg of B12 per day, how long will it take for my levels to become normal? A newspaper today said that chromium causes cancer in mice in dosages nearly as high as their body weight, so why does the government still allow it to be sold in stores? How do homeopathic remedies work…I mean really work?

Sometimes the answer isn’t simple. Sometimes logic is being stretched way too far. Sometimes studies were designed to fail (or succeed). Sometimes marketing masquerades as fact. And sometimes, most of the time, publications created as entertainment or as quick layperson-internet-reference will draw conclusions for you – the reader, even when it would be a mistake to do so.

Spending 20 years in a particular field gives you plenty of time to stew in these issues and bear witness to dozens of conflicting answers to a single question. With enough time and attention however the knowledge tree does produce real fruit, but sometimes we must accept that the most truthful answer is that there is no answer.