WWB INSIGHT: Discerning What is Healthy For You to Eat and the Dangers of Sound Bites in Wellness Journalism…


As an avid reader of wellness journalism, I am particularly cautious about what I am about to read when there is a number in the title and a provocative headline. Today I had real trouble with a NYT piece entitled…

When I see this headline, I think, hmm let’s see what controversy is being churned here. I click with curiosity knowing more than likely, there won’t be anything I can take away that will inform me in any impactful way. It is not that I know everything, or that I believe all wellness journalism on-line or in print is a bunch of lies. I just know that the new form of on-line journalism that permeates and rules since the advent of  reading on the web is filled with exactly what the journalist call it themselves, ‘Sound Bites’. Here is what Wikipedia describes as a sound bite.

WIKIPEDIA “A sound bite or soundbite is a short clip of speech or music extracted from a longer piece of audio, often used to promote or exemplify the full length piece. In the context of journalism, a sound bite is characterized by a short phrase or sentence that captures the essence of what the speaker was trying to say, and is used to summarize information and entice the reader or viewer. Due to its brevity, the sound bite often overshadows the broader context in which it was spoken, and can be misleading or inaccurate. ”

Enticing the reader to click and stay is the goal of sound bite journalism, and with this approach you always lose context. Context is important. Context is the important grey between the black and the white, which can mean everything when it comes to your health and wellness. One of the reasons I made the editorial decision not to just regurgitate sound bite articles with ’10 Ways and Reasons’ articles on this blog is I wanted to share information that my readers can dig into themselves, and research further for themselves. You are ultimately your own wellness guru. This decision hurts my site-traffic but I feel good about the content I share and know my readers will either be inspired to learn more or investigate what I share.

So why do I have trouble with this particular article? There are numerous reasons and I will start with the first important one. The article pits researchers against doctors and leads you to believe all research is the last word and perhaps your doctor isn’t well informed. Here is what we need to remember. There are numerous studies released daily and how the studies are researched and conducted is extremely important. Often they are selective and they are narrow, just as the sound bites are when we read these articles about the studies. We would all hope our doctors could discern what the important takeaways are from the studies and incorporate them into their practice and treatments, but alas they too are overwhelmed with too many studies and they couldn’t possibly run their practice and read every article touting the latest research.

This leads me to the second thing I have trouble with in this article. The journalist seems to interchange words and meaning in her title and then in her article. Are we challenging medical wisdom or are we challenging medical research that we have since discovered doesn’t prove correct through further studies and investigation. Can one study discount all we learned about Omega-3’s in the last twenty years about its benefits related to heart disease? Let me be specific and just highlight number two on her list of ’10 Things’. Note the last sentence in this excerpt. She refers to omega 3 supplements which is different from eating a diet high in fish. Are we talking about supplementing to treat active heart disease or are we talking about the efficacy of eating a diet high in omega- 3 fish regularly. You really have to read the research article offered in a link to carefully discern.

“Fish oil does not reduce the risk of heart disease. At one point, the notion that fish fats prevented heart trouble did seem logical. People whose diets contain a lot of fatty fish seem to have a lower incidence of heart disease. Fatty fish contains omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 supplements lower levels of triglycerides, and high levels of triglycerides are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Not to mention that omega-3 fatty acids seem to reduce inflammation, a key feature of heart attacks. But in a trial involving 12,500 people at risk for heart trouble, daily omega-3 supplements did not protect against heart disease.” NYT Article 

When you click on the actual research article the NYT journalist is using as proof of doctors perpetuating myth about the established research that finds Omega 3 fatty acids to be protective of heart disease, you discover there are a number of findings in this study and it is far more complex. Take note of the title of this research paper.

I would love to invite Dr. David Katz author of The Truth About Food’ Why Panda’s Eat Bamboo and People Get Bamboozled to weigh in on this as he has done in his book. Until then, I will pull an excerpt from his book where he flushes out the argument of whether fish oil is preventative or not. I encourage you to read his book even if it is long, because what you will learn is how doctors have to weigh efficacy not in a silo of research data but in context to everything else we know about health and wellness thus far.  Guess what? A lot of it is common sense! Here is what Dr. Katz concludes about the research and the findings…


“What if the true benefit of omega-3 fats to, say, cardiovascular risk is not about treatment, but prevention? What if those anti-inflammatory effects are most important over a span of years to decades by preventing inflammation that propagates vascular injury and plaque formation in the first place? Intervention studies in people with established disease might be blind to such effects, guilty of too little, too late’ transgression. I suspect just this explanation for some of the negative studies of omega-3.  That doesn’t mean we can or should dismiss such studies. They tend to indicate that the effects of fish oil supplements, when added to state of the art conventional care for high risk cardiac patients with established vascular disease are apt to be modest at best. But going from that to headlines announcing “no cardiac benefit” from omega 3 fats is rather a fishy story.” I remain convinced of the health benefits of omega-3 fats across an array of conditions, likely including cardiovascular health. It is an established fact that these nutrients are essential, and that the typical American diet provides a relative deficiency of them. It is all but established fact that an imbalance in our dietary fats contributes significantly to inflammation. And it is established fact that inflammation is one of the key processes propagating all chronic diseases–cancer, diabetes, and heart disease alike, as well as many others.” ~Dr. David Katz

Why does context matter? For exactly the reasons Dr. Katz spells out in his book. Sound bites can be misleading and do not offer full context to discern whether the content relates or matters to your individual state of health. At World Wise Beauty bio-individuality is constantly reinforced because your health and wellness is personal and unique to you. While we know what is generally healthy and not healthy for our species, we have to consider how different we all are, when it comes to our chemistry, genetic profile, lifestyle and environmental conditions we are exposed to. The first thing to do when you come across latest research sound bites is to practice discernment and ask these good questions:

  1. What is the state of my health right now?
  2. How is this research meaningful or not to my personal health and wellness?
  3. Does this sound bite about research offer context and what more do I need to learn about the study and findings?

I will leave you with another book worth reading, even if it is a much older book. It speaks to exactly what Dr.Katz is saying about lifestyle as medicine. This is the book that put Omega-3’s on the world stage and particularly a fish diet. What I like about this book is the balance and context in which we learn about a diet high in omega fats from fish. “The Okinawa Program’  book is based on a scientifically documented 25 year Okinawan Centenarian study ( 25 years!). The breakthrough book reveals the diet, exercise and lifestyle practices that make the Okinawans the healthiest and longest lived population in the world. Unfortunately since the book was published in 2001 the Okinawan population has been suffering from the same diseases that plague Americans when fast food and processed food was introduced to their society.

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Is fish the end all be all to longevity and low heart disease? I suspect the Okinawan’s diet high in fish is in concert with other lifestyle factors outlined in the book, is more likely the takeaway. As Dr. Katz said in his book, inflammation is the cause of many diseases including heart disease. Fish offers beneficial omega 3-s, which tackles inflammation, proper exercise and stress reduction also keeps inflammation low. These are all things that were prevalent in the lifestyles of Okinawans. I am a believer of lifestyle as medicine and I also believe there is no one magic bullet for ideal health and wellness. Each person must have self-knowledge about their own state of health and take care of their mind, body and spirit with daily wellness practices. Cultivating wellness wisdom for yourself  is a very personal journey and discernment is necessary no matter what the latest study says.

With regards to the NYT article, first we have to ask was it based on truth? Perhaps. This piece definitely substantiated it’s content with research data. The second very important questions to ask is, did it overshadow the broader context and mislead you with a definitive conclusion? If a reader bothered to click through to understand the research data it might be okay. But the fact is, many will read, digest quickly and then pass on this information at the water cooler at work or on their Facebook page like this… “I read in the New York Times Omega 3-s  ( fish) does not prevent or stop cardiovascular disease. It is based on the latest scientific research study recently released.” This is exactly how ‘myths’ are spread. Myths are spread mainly through sound-bites, word of mouth and a lack of comprehensive context. Comprehensive context can’t be presented in a sound bite. To be fair, the NYT does take pride in their in-depth journalism, but they too are subject to the pressure of catching eyeballs and motivating click throughs on-line.

My WWB Insight is simple. Beware of the sound bites and practice discernment when making any major decision about your personal health and wellness. Cultivate wellness wisdom, and nurture your nature, which is the unique body you were born to live with for as long as you are alive. If you made it this far, congratulations on reading beyond the sound bite!




Laura Connolly, Founder of World Wise Beauty and Rise of Wise presents

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