“The power of pecans: Including them in diet can protect from heart attacks if you’re overweight” [Source] What’s your first thought when you read this headline? Mine was ‘what bloody idiot wrote this?’
I’m sure that articles like this are well meaning and the headline was as a result of some research (a study of 26 overweight but ‘otherwise healthy people’) BUT, to my mind, it gives the impression that there is some sort of quick fix for the health problems associated with obesity. It’s true that pecans contain monounsaturated fats which are acknowledged to be significantly better for us than saturated fats but that’s true of all nuts and also avocados. However, it’s also true that nuts and avocados are very high in calories – around 700 per 100g in the case of pecans so suggesting that ‘adding’ them to the diet of someone who is already obese seems to be more than a little counter productive. There is also the risk, if it’s not made clear in articles like this, that people will assume that pecans will be good for them whatever form they come in. Pecan pie may have pecans in it but it also it also contains vast quantities of sugar and around 650 calories per slice so not really the best thing to include in your diet if you’re already overweight.
Not only that but the study, as is the norm, had the participants on a ‘control’ diet for the first four weeks which was low in fibre, fruits and vegetables, so basically lacking in the very foods that contain many of the nutrients we need to keep ourselves healthy. For the second part of the trial 15% of the calorie intake was replaced with pecans and the researchers noted an improvement in the insulin sensitivity of the participants. This may or not be a significant finding (I’m not a scientist) but, by the time that the research results were picked up by the tabloids, the message had almost become “Don’t worry about having a heart attack if you’re obese, just eat some pecans and you’ll be fine”.
People in general pretty much have selective hearing when it comes to things that the like or don’t like and I can’t help feeling that this headline will send out a false message of hope to people who are struggling with their weight and putting themselves at risk of a heart attack and other obesity related illnesses. If you know that something is bad for you but some report or another hints that actually you’ll be fine if you do this or that, you’ll cling to that and cite it as evidence because it’s exactly what you want to hear. I’m not sure if stark warnings are any better because, equally, people can mentally stick their fingers in their ears and sing lalalalalala if it’s something they don’t want to hear.
However, I feel that this type of journalism is both lazy and irresponsible. There was nothing in the narrative about being at much less at risk of a heart attack if you are not obese and nothing about the positive effect that cutting processed foods out of your diet can have. There was also nothing about the positive effects that regular exercise can have on your heart health, it was just all nuts!
P.S. I couldn’t help but laugh: the study which found that pecans could be beneficial to health was funded by the National Pecan Shellers Association ;O)