#448: Prof. Norman Temple – Can Science Answer Diet-Health Questions?

In Podcasts by Danny Lennon4 Comments

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Guest Information
  3. Overview
  4. Related Resources
  5. Detailed Study Notes (Premium Subscribers Only)
  6. Transcript (Premium Subscribers Only)


While we’ve never known more about diet and health, there remain many unanswered questions in nutrition science. However, there are often disagreements on how best to answer these questions, particularly in relation to informing practical diet advice that meaningfully improves health.

Prof. Norman Temple is one academic who has written on a number of these issues. One issue he highlights is the large discrepency in the practical value we have attained from cohort studies and RCTs, relative to mechanistic research. Another is the limitations of RCTs for nutrition-specific research questions.

In this episode, Prof. Temple discusses these issues, as well as what strategies can actually improve population diet, and thus health.

Guest Information

Prof. Norman Temple

Norman J. Temple is a professor of nutrition at Athabasca University and has published in the area of nutrition as it relates to health. A number of his reviews and opinion papers discuss aspects of nutrition research, such as the pitfalls of focusing on mechanistic research.

Prof. Temple studied in the UK, receiving a PhD in biochemistry. After his time in reseach in the UK, he went on to work in Puerto Rico and then Canada, where he is currently based. In addition to teaching nutrition courses at the university, he carries out research (both in Canada and South Africa) in the general area of diet and health. Prof. Temple has also published more than a dozen books.


  • Nutrition Research and Human Disease
  • Why mechanistic studies won’t be able to answer the questions we care about
  • How reliable are randomized controlled trials for studying the relationship between diet and disease?
  • Possible limitations of randomized controlled trials in nutrition
  • Why are findings from RCT often contradicted by the results of cohort studies?

Discussed articles:

  1. Nutrition Research and Human Disease: A Critical Appraisal of Mechanistic Research, Cohort Studies, and Randomized Trials
  2. How reliable are randomised controlled trials for studying the relationship between diet and disease? A narrative review
  3. A Comparison of Strategies to Improve Population Diets: Government Policy versus Education and Advice
  4. Research on cancer: Why we need to switch the focus from mechanistic research to epidemiology and randomized trials

Related episodes:

Detailed Study Notes

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  1. Really appreciated this conversation. At the centre of this is the ability to think critically about information. I think one thing the COVID pandemic taught us is being a health professional is no guarantee of competence in critical thinking.
    As a senior clinical dietitian I often challenge colleagues to think around this stuff then remind them that we must consider the maxim “first do no harm” to include moving forward with common sense about some interventions with limited evidence.
    Recently I looked into the sports nutrition evidence around fatigue recovery then looked at the vegan & gluten-free protein sources to see if I could ensure that a client could get a good intake of the precursors and cofactors with potential to assist in recovery from fatigue. It was clear as I worked on it, this would improve her dietary quality regardless of the actual impact on fatigue so there was no harm from that perspective.
    Keep up the good work and I laugh frequently at the Quack Asylum.

    1. Author

      Thank you for the kind words Helen.

      I think you’ve made a very insightful point there. Unfortunately, there are health professionals and academics who don’t exercise crticial thinking, or work to try to develop that competency.

      Great to hear how you’re translating your assessment of evidence into actual real-world practice to help people.

      Thanks for listening and taking the time to comment!

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