The Manhattan Project to End Fad Diets

217 Comments

Today, a dream of mine came true.

Imagine what could be done if we had an X-men-like group of the world’s best scientists, independently funded and uninfluenced by industry, tackling the most important questions in nutrition?

Starting today, we have such a group: the Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI).

I am thrilled to be a part of their Board of Advisors, alongside a diverse group of experts including David Berkowitz (Ziff Brothers Investments) and Nassim Nicholas Taleb (of Black Swan fame), among others.

Funded off the bat by a foundation started by billionaire hedge fund manager John Arnold, and supported by a world-class Scientific Advisory Board, NuSI is off to races.

Born from a shared vision of its co-founders, Peter Attia, M.D. and Gary Taubes, this non-profit will fund research that applies first-of-its-kind, rigorous scientific experimentation to the field of nutrition…

Contributing researchers will span the dietary spectrum, including scientists who personally adhere to veganism; low-carb, high-protein diets; and everything in between. This purposeful “agree to disagree” mix is integral to the success of the project, as biases are discarded in favor of solid, experimental data.

No hidden agenda, no corporate interests, nothing to do with food subsidies or ulterior motives. Just good science. It’s about time, right?

Kevin Schulman, M.D., Director of the Duke Clinical Research Institute and the Center for Clinical and Genetic Economics at Duke University, had this to say:

“…Do we really have good science to support our diet recommendations? The answer is convincingly no. The largest public health crisis in the United States is being addressed with the type of data that we question in every other field of medicine: observational studies subject to selection bias, and small scale, short-term clinical studies which can’t offer definitive results…

It’s well past time for an effort such as that proposed by NuSI–to test our hypotheses with rigorous science. We owe this effort to the public and to our children who otherwise could suffer from the disastrous consequences of our scientific hubris on this issue.”

Here are two slideshows that introduce NuSI in more depth. The first is short (16 slides), the second is more in-depth (35 slides):

David Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D., Harvard Medical School Professor of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, echoes my sentiments exactly:

“…The need for philanthropic support of nutrition research has never been greater. With a willingness to focus its resources on the most difficult and risky projects, an organization like NuSI can have a transformative impact, not only on scientific understanding, but also on public health.”

And in closing, Peter Attia, M.D., the President of NuSI:

“Without all the elements – money, time and talent – working in concert, research efforts will continue to fall short of what is necessary to solve this problem [of obesity and related diseases]… NuSI will be successful because we are bringing together the best scientific minds and giving them the time and resources they require to find the answers we all need.”

Are you ready to settle some of these neverending debates, once and for all? I certainly am.

Learn more.
Join the team.

Posted on: September 12, 2012.

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217 comments on “The Manhattan Project to End Fad Diets

    • Really curious to see what book 3 will bring, must have kept Tim busy, nearly 1 month between blogs! Then again, this is a great one. Think Tim has thousands of test cases to bring to the NSI thanks to the 4 hour body…

      Been doing a mixture of the slow carb diet and primal diet, which basically is less carbs than the “officially recommended”, but as shown on slide 5 of the smaller pack, increasing of carbs and lowering of fats has had drastically bad impact on obesity rates! Cutting that down has meant shedding weight easily and increasing energy. Cant be bad can it!!

      Like

  1. Pingback: Quora
  2. Awesome. I hope that such a logical, research based group with no corporate interests will finally be able to provide real and sound information to the public. You’re the shit, Tim!

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      • No, but I suggest that researchers should not assume that everyone is the same. There needs to be some categorization so that different approaches can be aimed at different types.

        If they don’t, it would be like looking at the whole population and concluding that the average person is half man, half woman. Not very useful and wrong.

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  3. Thank you for this. This is among the most important things that we can do as a species right now. While Large Hadron Colliders and rovers on mars may be exciting and inspirational, it’s great to see people pursuing practical science that will positively impact people’s lives on a daily basis.

    Looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

    Like

  4. Awesome, this is a really great step forward. I really hate how every time I see a new piece of research I have to evaluate the financial gains behind it.. or the agenda… A lot of meat is bad research can be linked to vegeterian groups or PETA etc..

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  5. “No hidden agenda, no corporate interests, nothing to do with food subsidies or ulterior motives. Just good science. It’s about time, right?”

    Yes, it is. And it’s sad it’s taken this long! Can’t wait to see some results.

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  6. Is there a betting pool yet for results? I’d like to place a bet on there not being one right answer. I suspect you’ll find that different things work for different folks, and that for most folks more than one thing works well. I can’t imagine how all the fads around high/low carb/fat/protein could have persisted without such variation. What’s going to be awesome is to better understand which variants are truly healthy for which people.

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  7. Tim, we’re so honored to have you on our Advisory Board. With the help of people like you and your readers we WILL change the world. It won’t happen overnight, but the world our children will grow up in will be even better than one we’re growing up in.

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  8. The concept sounds great, but the board is missing the most important demographic: Naturopathic Physician(s). Their knowledge of whole food nutrition, combined with knowledge of inflammatory food, is far beyond the conventional wisdom.

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    • Excellent point. Continued simple cause-and-effect studies will continue to provide contradictory results. If we can approach our concerns with a holistic/systemic mindset, then we might begin to reveal the truth with clarity.

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  9. Baller.

    Do you plan on doing a 4HB2.0 to include the findings from this research? I’m sure the findings will be consistent with yours, but this movement could really benefit from your voice. Glad to see you’re on as an advisor.

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  10. Let’s just hope it’s objective. The slide show already implies a correlation between increased carb consumption and increased obesity. Let’s hope that they don’t jump to the conclusions before looking at objective data (as hard as that will be).

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  11. Amazing. So cool that this a philanthropic venture.

    I’d love to see something similar for cutting edge mental health stuff. Methods such as Neurofeedback and some of the new depth psychotherapies (IFS, Coherence therapy, Hoffman Process) are getting seriously great results for people – like really, truly fixing anxiety,depression,trauma – and are in desperate need of funding for some weighty studies that will actually convince people that hey, this stuff fixes brains.

    It’s time to get past the drug companies and get to the stuff that really heals peoples bodies and minds.

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  12. From the sounds of it this is looking pretty much exclusively into obesity and solving the health problems that it results in. Will the scope widen?

    I’m wondering if this is something I should check back on as a naturally skinny dude who deals exclusively with naturally skinny dudes. We’re all looking to build muscle, improve our health, improve our athleticism, improve our strength, improve our energy levels, look wonderful, increase the enjoyment of our food, eliminate unnecessary dietary restrictions, etc.

    We’re passionate about the most important questions in nutrition … except for obesity.

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  13. It’s an awesome project, and absolutely time something like this came together. The only flaw I saw was the thesis from the longer slideshow. Every marketer knows you need education plus motivation to get people to act.

    Luckily, I think there’s someone on the board of advisers who can help them with that.

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  14. I question who the science is for though, I promote the simplicity of what food once was, before science, research papers and the need to out shine corruption. To much time and possible creativity seems to be wasted on beating the same dead horse.

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  15. You’re a real life superhero for getting involved in this Tim – how do we eat has become the loudest question being asked by people from every walk of life I every arena as America starts to understand that our abundance of choice doesn’t necessarily equate to healthy .
    I can’t wait to see the results of this study!!
    Betty Rocker

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  16. This is really, really cool, and really needed.

    The question is, will Peter and Gary allow the science to take them where it will, or will they cling to their own pet theories?

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    • Thanks for the comments, all!

      Hi Matt,

      We all have our theories, me included, and the key is setting up good process (and checks and balances) so that the scientific method prevents any type of experimenter bias. This starts with study design and funding sources, of course.

      I am very optimistic about NuSI and have spent time with both Gary and Peter, who came to their current beliefs by following the available evidence. As NuSI produces more data, I trust they will continue to follow where it all leads.

      All the best,

      Tim

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      • This is very exciting, but it would logically follow that this kind of research can only be valid when done over several lifetimes–to see the long term effects from birth to death of thousands of test subjects, right? So what is the time frame in which this Initiative intends to publish results? Because I would be skeptical of anything released before at LEAST 20 years–or am I being a Negative nay-saying Nelly? (I do NOT want to be THAT chick, she is AWFUL at parties!)

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      • Cortney,

        I see where you’re coming from, but at the same time, I do think there can be some information released within even the next year or two as preliminary findings or whatever you want to call them. My reasoning is that if I personally ate at McDonalds every day and didn’t exercise at all, there would be some pretty big results in one year. On the other hand, if I ate chicken, fish, and veggies all year and exercised a lot, there would also be huge results. So a change in nutrition can show up quickly with results.

        I can only speak for myself, but from what this sounds like, I’m very excited about any positive findings the group has, and am hungry for anything helpful (pun intended :) ) That being said, I totally agree that anything absolutely concrete and long-term would need to be thoroughly tested, and I’m sure that takes time.

        I feel like there can be tested results and findings that could make a really big positive impact in people’s lives a lot sooner than people might think, but I’m not an expert in this area. I hope so though, because I know for me personally, if this group even had a recommendation or two that might make a positive impact, I’d be willing to try it in my life just to see the changes it might make for me.

        Thanks!
        Paul

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      • Thanks Paul, I agree that many things can be seen in a year–I was thinking about long term diseases as per the findings of The China Study, etc…you might not develop cancer in a year of eating McDonalds, (or an immunity to antibiotics after eating heavily dosed chicken, etc) but would you in 20 years? that kind of thing… I am very excited about this project and STOKED that someone like Tim is involved. Watching developments closely!

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  17. I can’t believe this has never been done before….but at the same time I can see why the big companies have maybe kept it from happening. This is going to be huge! Obesity is a big problem in our country. This is inspiring to hear they’re tackling it and other related health problems from the food we eat.

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  18. Thank you Tim and all the founding directors and staff of NUSI. I am so exhausted from trying to hack my body by reading endless books and articles, trying to piece together what seems to be contradictory “science” and hundreds of items of information, just to try and be lean and healthy.
    The day some concrete reliable evidence starts to emerge from NuSI will be a great day.

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  19. Hi Tim,
    Would love to see this group research more the effects of Green Tea consumption in particular Zen Green Tea Matcha on cancer prevention, weight loss etc. This type of Matcha green tea is gaining more and more clinical trials for its overall health properties!

    Like

  20. Is there a public commitment to share the results of all trials, regardless of the outcome? I ask this because one of the most troubling trends in clinical trials is to publish those that fit a given narrative and bury the rest.

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    • A well-informed request. Clinical trials are no better than what they say about statistics (lies, damned lies, and ..). One tip: if a placebo is used, state what it is!

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  21. The initiative is awesome. Only one gotcha for me though. There’s a promise about “the world’s best…”, yet, a couple of lines later: “the best scientists from all corners of the country” (being United States), which is fine…

    Why exclude scientists from near-200 countries? It really doesn’t feel like a “world initiative” like this…

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  22. This is great. Hopefully when the results come back they will be given the attention and respect that is deserved, the world will need to see it.

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  23. Hopefully you guys are benchmarking the Japanese diet…It’s amazing here to see all of my students go to Japan and gain 40lbs and then come back to the Japanese diet to return to normal.

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  24. Good luck to everyone involved in the project.

    What is the plan to go against the government with any new findings though? Governments are slow reacting as mentioned. I guess your internet marketing expertise will help here, but it’s still got to change the entire system no matter what is found.

    Cutting down on sugar and corn is the obvious thing that can be done on a individual level, but on a mass production level to feed an entire country? It’s there for economic reasons, and the world is in bad shape economically so people who are not rich will continue to have the cheap corn/sugar meals which are causing the problems. As prices rise for everything, more people will turn to this diet too.

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  25. Fantastic initiative!

    I have been following an “overlap diet” of Schwarzbein, Paleo and 4HB for a while now (not always that strictly I must admit).
    I recently had a Cardiovascular Health Risk Assessment done at a local surgery . I turn 42 in a fortnight and eat quite some eggs (over 20/week), too many nuts (sorry Tim), etc but avoid white carbs, sugars, and so on. Many people (family, colleagues) were telling me that this surely was bad for my cholesterol and health in general.
    The test results showed a 1% risk of cardiovascular disease and only because 0% is not an option… the GP said “keep eating what you eat!”
    Oh, and I only do sports once a week (if that) but my heart rate at rest was 45bpm… the GP associated this with people who do loads of sports, I just thought it was because I wasn’t allowed coffee before the blood tests ;-)

    Looking forwards to the first scientific conclusions of the NuSi and thanking the initiators!

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    • I ran a personal experiment where I ate 12 (whole) eggs + 1/4 pound of butter every day for 90 days. The result was a much healthier cholesterol balance. Turns out dietary cholesterol (from natural sources) and serum cholesterol don’t have the relationship most doctors claim.

      My doctor, a student of metabolic syndrome, says anyone who’s studied obesity related disease in the past 20 years already knew the outcome would be better.

      Test assumptions. Look for facts. Ignore “experts” who don’t prove positive results. Low fat, high carb diets don’t serve people with diabetes and hyperlipidemia well, unless they slice their caloric intake to miserable starvation levels. Chances are, a paleo / slow carb diet is perfect.

      PS: check out grass fed butter. This seemed to help me.

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  26. The second slide show says, “the time has come to test [the alternative hypothesis] rigorously,” and “to set aside conventional wisdom.” The alternative hypothesis is defined here as distinct from conventional wisdom, which is defined in part on slide 6 as “eat[ing] too many calories relative to how many calories [are expended].”

    So, this project will not be testing whether eating less has an impact on obesity? Or the relationship between energy intake and energy expenditure?

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  27. I’d also like to say that I’d love to see data on whether drinking milk is harmful, hurtful, or neither. Without being tainted by special interest groups.

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  28. How is this going to be different than the American Society for Nutrition? Will you be publishing in serious peer-reviewed journals like American Journal of Clinical Nutrition?

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  29. AWESOME!!
    Huge fan of your work and thrilled to see our world impacted!
    Would love to speak with you about why, medically, the 4HB did not work for me and the possibility of using me as a human guinea pig to be able to help millions of people like me, eating a slow carb clean diet with exercise and unable to lose weight. Happy to e-mail my labs over which paint a clear picture of a long term healthy lifestyle but body not responding properly. Now that I know the why, details on next steps and how are very limited. Let’s write a book that speaks to the how to be healthy in this condition!!

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  30. This is so necessary. Unbelievable that something like this only now emerges. This has my full support!

    My suggestion, don’t stick to USA only. This is a worldwide problem that needs to be tackled on a worldwide scale. So bring in those scientists from all over the globe and make sure you get UN recognition and support for this.

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    • Should definitely be a global effort to be taken seriously on a global scale. America doesn’t exactly have a great reputation when it comes to, well anything. Our only superiority is our military in 2012. The International community is already laughing at this if its not an international effort. Must be a misunderstanding here…

      also I agree with Shane earlier:
      From the sounds of it this is looking pretty much exclusively into obesity and solving the health problems that it results in. Will the scope widen?

      I would add to that by asking, will this study explore the vast array of international breakthroughs in nutrition from cod liver oil, to mushrooms, to MSM and gold? How deep are they going to get for those of us who are more advanced already? or is this all about the average American diet and those who are obese and eating frozen vegetables from a microwave? (on a good day)

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      • wild salmon vs farmed. GMO vs non-gmo. grass fed vs corn fed. processed vs unprocessed. are these subjects off limits to an all-American project like this? How about one indigenous witch doctor for each degreed physician hired. One aborigine, one bushman, one cheyenne, one sioux, one cherokee. Or it that getting too wild…

        Sounds very grandiose and exciting.
        I might want to get involved if its an International undertaking with funding from neutral sources and if they will consider those of us without college degrees for employment.

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      • I would have thought those four issues would be self evident. The trouble with food these days is that for the masses, it’s about profit instead of nutrition.

        There is much wisdom we could learn/remember from so called primitive cultures.

        Hey, at least the bad stuff isn’t compulsory :)

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  31. Mr. Ferris,
    This is a great idea. I think the fact that you can find brave people who care more about finding truths than making people billions or going after tenure is what this country needs more of.
    I would like to see you take your research for research sake to NASA. Imagine the possibilities…

    I hope someday to work with you on something, or learn from you personally. Keep going man, you are truly an inspiration for the untainted and the ambitious.

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  32. Awesome. I just hope they don’t underestimate the importance of the communications strategy. As Tim Ferris, Michelle Obama, and Jamie Oliver have recently found out, you sadly just can’t try to help people these days.

    Whether it’ll be AstroTurf or just ideologues, NuSI can expect an onslaught of negative attacks and disinformation campaigns.

    Good luck! I’m looking forward to supporting NuSI in whatever way possible!

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  33. Sounds great! Make sure to update us with future posts when the institute makes discoveries. Any chance they can look into the health of vaccines as well?

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  34. Tim,

    Countless scientists, including Dr. Mark Haub have already found the solution.

    EAT LESS. Dr. Haub ate only food from vending machines for something like 8-10 weeks and lost approx. 40lbs. All of his health indicators ( blood pressure, cholesterol, etc) improved significantly. Because he ate under his calorie needs for the day and therefore lost weight.

    Sugar is not the enemy or Corn Syrup or whatever other food is being vilified by Men’s health and by other fitness marketers. North America is a culture of overeaters that are continuous sold superfoods, silly overexercise routines, told to never skip meals (even if theyre not hungry) and solutions that are simply made up to sell a product.

    Eat Less. Move More.

    It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that… unless you are a fitness marketer trying to sell a product, or a book.

    I just hope this initiative actually does some good.

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    • “Eat less”? How, exactly? If I don’t eat, I get hungry. Hunger is a psychological epiphenomenon of the physiological need for energy from foodstuff. This happens in spite of excess adipose tissue, and it is important to find out why the body in that case doesn’t regulate itself any longer and develops so many of “Western” diseases. The influence of nutrient composition itself needs to be examined, and there are so many candidates: refined carbohydrates, trans-fats, semi-dwarf wheat, mycotoxins, vitamin deficiencies – you name it.

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    • The body is an incredibly efficient machine and eventually will catch up to a calorie deficient and slow it’s metabolism down. It’s also important to what kind of weight we are losing. Most people want to lose fat and gain muscle which makes a diet off calories alone worthless. Lastly calories have a different function when broken down by the body. Simple example is vodka that when taken with carbs has a positive caloric value, however a couple shots of vodka without the presence carbs has an actual negative caloric value. Hopefully all bro science, including your theory, will be squashed and put into light by this new study.

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    • Definitely need much more data on calorie restriction. One thing about calorie restriction though is it requires will power. Even more will power if your insulin is up and down. So this is a question of adherence. Calorie restriction may work but what percentage of people are able to implement it, whilst living in their current socio economic environments. Check out Robert Lustig’s youtube videos. It’s also interesting to note that some low carber’s report appetite reduction which is inline with the eat less hypo.

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  35. Dear Tim, really appriciate your new project.
    I just completely changed my diet, although I have not been fat. I am constantly doing triathlons and different other sports and now I am eating only fruits, vegetables, nuts etc. so no bread, no pasta, no rice.
    Surprisingly, i have not been loosing any of my power. If you are interested in the results of that self-experiment, let me know.

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  36. As someone who went to the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and a consumer and someone who cares about the quality of her food and government’s role in the quality of her food – I deeply appreciate that this project is underway. Good luck Tim – looking forward to some concrete scientific results we can throw in people’s faces!

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  37. The problem with “Hard science” in nutrition is that all life (human bodies and food) are inherently variable. There is a vast difference between 2 of the same foods. Joel Salatin of Polyface farms claims that the USDA listed nutrition specs for beef fall way below the nutrition profiles of his beef (USDA has about 1/3 or so) . To truly have a cause and effect testing your scientists will have to control 100s, maybe even 1000s of variables … Good luck.

    btw: Good sleep, tonnes of cardio (tri training for ironman) and high vegetable diet (leafy greens, not potatoes) is the only time I’ve lost significant weight (200lbs to 175lbs, 25lbs from peak) … I would suggest that anyone who gives a crap about their health can do this.

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      • It is the role of “hard science” to address this variability. Your point is valid. However, The answers to specific well defined questions maybe very simple.
        This is what interest me about this project there is some precision in the approach as in Tim’s book. Hard science is about being as rigorous as you can be and then being even more rigorous. Then the general public will see that as beyond reasonable doubt. Real Science is hard. Very hard.

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  38. I hope the initiative can look into different genetic factors as well. While there may be general diet guidelines, I have a gut feeling one man’s diet is another’s highway to illness. For example, Asians might digest rice better, and Europeans digest dairy products better. (Just an example, since some say skip rice & dairy entirely). And not only which foods we should eat,, but also which foods are more EFFICIENT to produce, in this world of declining land space & environmental overload.

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  39. Sounds like a good idea. Good luck with that.

    Are you also going to look at when people eat? Meals per day may be an interesting factor. Another may be the effect of changing eating habits or environment.

    Eating habits and environment often feature in food cravings research.

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  40. I hope you’ll at least consider including something along the lines of Eat Right for your Blood Type (or other diets that acknowledge that we’re not all the same person) in your research — because I think any system that tries to come up with one answer for everyone is already doomed, at least for that part of the population that doesn’t fit the mold. Differences DO matter — we do not all run on the same fuel or at the same speed.

    My life was transformed by the blood-type diet, and I could introduce you to dozens of people I know who have had similar dramatic results.

    I hope your project does splendidly, because nutrition is definitely a key to better health, greater productivity, longer life — but it’s not going to be exactly the same for everyone, and I hope you also take that into consideration.

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  41. This is a dream of mine, too, Tim.

    I wish you guys all the best and will be following your research closely.

    It’s about time that truly objective science started coming out…

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  42. Awesome! That’s one great initiative. My strong belief, though, is that we should work towards better contact between mind and body. If we felt what’s good for our bodies and what’s bad, the problems with obesity would have never arisen. Indigenous people, those that still live in the wild, and are in better contact with themselves are rarely obese or in bad shape.Anyway, looking forward to reading something in Nature or Science coming from this project.

    On an unrelated note. Tim, for quite a while already I’m trying to claim the round-trip, won in X-mas countdown competition. would be great to hear from Amy. Now I really need this ticket =)

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  43. This is big news—glad you’re involved, Tim.

    It takes 15 years for a new drug to hit the market. I’m sure the NuSI team can bring some definitive answers in a shorter time period. =)

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  44. I hope you guys can produce some good quality information. However, the obesity epidemic is less nutrition based and more psychosocial, in my opinion. The information needed to maintain a healthy bodyweight is pretty low:
    avoid overly processed foods and trans fats
    limit fructose, omega-6 FA, and soy intake
    if you’re gaining weight, eat less
    Pretty simple stuff, but making these decisions everyday seems tough for certain groups of people. Hence the psychosocial side to the problem -> more about changing our perspective on food

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  45. Thanks for sharing Tim. This is huge and as a personal trainer with my wife we are both really interested to see what they produce.

    The only thing that strikes me is the fact that in a “controlled” experiment, you still have to isolate variables and then draw a conclusion.

    In the “real world” you never have isolated variables. That is one reason why Four Hour Body was awesome. You ran tests on yourself and others and based very educated hypotheses on what you saw.

    I still think real world experience is always better.

    I just hope they publish their data better than PubMed… that site is horrible to get through.

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  46. Hi Tim,
    This project sounds fantastic, and I’m thrilled about it!
    I don’t know if you have any say in adding anyone else to this group, but what about Dr. Mercola with the #1 online natural health newsletter in the world? Or David Wolfe, author of several books on nutrition and a nutritionist who is on the absolute cutting edge of this science? I think both of them would be outstanding additions. Also, be SO careful about backdoor corruption… universities are NOTORIOUS for being influenced/bribed by corporate interests!! I know it’s hard not to include them when you are relying completely on science, academia, etc. for your information, but I’d just as soon leave those guys out. Thanks, as always, for sharing!

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