Episode 49: Alan Flanagan Defends the Science of Nutrition

When it comes to nutrition, there’s an elephant in the room. Actually, a few. And Alan Flanagan, M.Sc., Ph.D. candidate studying chrono-nutrition, and former lawyer, joins us on Episode 49 to confront them.

He begins with a particularly stubborn impediment to progress: Post-Truth Anti-Intellectualism. This movement, characterized by a growing public disdain for academia, drives a wedge between nutritional scientists and consumers.

By alienating the public from research on nutrition, Post-Truth Anti-Intellectualism results in the proliferation of what Alan calls “belief systems based thinking.” Reliant on emotional impulse rather than substantiated fact, this type of thinking is especially susceptible to the persuasion tactics employed by likable profiteers.  

Which brings Alan to another, more subversive elephant: Well Marketed Bad Messaging. With the advent of social media and the accessibility of digital outlets, anyone can disseminate false information about nutrition and make a profit doing it. As Alan points out, when consumers buy opinions as fact, there are dangerous consequences.

While the public is bombarded with misleading information about nutrition, people do have a basic understanding of what they should eat. Thanks to public health efforts, almost everyone knows, for example, that fruits and vegetables are good for you.

But here sits a third elephant: The Great Education-Application Divide. The problem isn’t simply that people need more education about nutrition. It’s that people can’t feasibly apply what they know. “On a macro level, what’s preventing that information from coming into practice is a whole plethora of different environmental, social, and economic circumstances,” explains Alan.

And one of those environmental issues is the relative accessibility of calorically-dense, high fat, high sugar food in comparison to nutrient-dense, low fat, low sugar food. As Alan explains, this is especially problematic because humans are biologically designed to seek out calorically dense, palatable options to prevent starvation.

Biology, economic constraints, marketing tactics, an anti-intellectual culture-- that’s quite a few elephants. When they’re dominating the public’s decisions around nutrition, it’s no wonder chronic lifestyle disease is widespread.

Alan describes viable solutions to these issues, solutions which recruit the aid of public policy. He concludes by discussing the role health and fitness professionals can play in improving the well-being of the general public.

To learn more about Alan and his work as the Nutritional Advocate, follow him at @thenutritional_advocate.