This Doctor Says Everything You Know About Healthy Food Is Wrong. Here's Why

Photo: Andrew Cebulka

Aaron Carroll, M.D., says we’re thinking about food all wrong.  In his new book, The Bad Food Bible (which author John Green said dramatically changes how he thinks about food), Carroll goes through the latest scientific research to disprove a number of common food claims. He thinks GMOs aren’t so bad, eating red meat is OK, and gluten is not nearly as bad as it’s made out to be. We sat down with him to chat about these claims and why he lets his kids drink diet soda.

mbg: In layman's terms, what's the problem with scientific studies and how the media interprets them?

AC: I think the biggest problem is that the media treat every new study, no matter how limited and small, as if it replaces everything that has come before. This is especially true if the new results are "scary." Panic sells.

mbg: What is the biggest myth about a food being super healthy that you've heard? Why isn't it true?

AC: I don’t understand why people assume that organic food is so much more healthy than conventionally grown food. I’m excited that people are interested in eating a fruit or vegetables—period. People who want to attack others for eating the "wrong" fruits and vegetables somewhat baffle me.

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mbg: What is the biggest myth about a food being super unhealthy that you've heard? Why isn't it true?

AC: I think the most obvious example is eggs. For so long, we were told that the cholesterol in them was going to kill us. Then studies showed that the cholesterol we consume isn’t really related to the cholesterol in our blood. So eggs are fine again. But for years I ate egg-white omelets—which are a crime against nature. I’m still a little bitter about it.

mbg: Which is healthier—a vegan or paleo diet? What are the problems (roughly) with each?

AC: It’s possible to create diets that are both healthy or unhealthy that conform to the rules of being "vegan" or "paleo." In general, though, I don’t like to judge how people choose to eat. If it works for them, and they’re happy, so am I.

mbg: Gluten: friend or foe? Why?

AC: It’s certainly the foe of people with celiac disease or wheat allergy. But they comprise a very small percentage of the population. For everyone else, I’d say gluten is like many other foods—neither good nor bad—unless you’re counting deliciousness, because gluten is in many things that taste great.

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mbg: Your reasons for arguing against GMOs are interesting and different from what's typically heard in the health world. Can you summarize your stance on GMOs and why?

AC: The problem many people have is imagining that non-GMO food is "safe." It’s not. There’s a small risk in everything people eat. GMO food is no more unsafe than non-GMO food, and it has the potential for a lot of good. There are legal and corporate reasons to have a negative opinion about GMOs but not really health ones. At least, that’s what the evidence tells us.

mbg: You let your kids drink diet soda. Why do you think it's not so bad (and potentially better than sugar)?

AC: There’s really no good evidence that artificial sweeteners are problematic and plenty of evidence that added sugars are. Therefore, if I’m choosing between a drink with sugar and one with artificial sweeteners, even for my kids, I’d pick the latter every single time. No one needs diet soda, of course, but no one needs dessert either, and we sometimes indulge there. My kids eat really well, are active and healthy, and if they want a diet soda once in a while, I’m not really against it.

mbg: Based on the research, what are a few foods you think ARE really healthy to eat? What are a few foods that are definitely not?

AC: Lots! In moderation, there’s very little I’d fight against. I think the key is trying not to overconsume any one food and be mindful of what you’re eating. In general, I think we spend far too much time being afraid of food. It’s really limiting the joy in too many people’s lives.

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