One of the things that I have become much better at since I’ve discovered the world of Skepticism is thinking critically. I was never someone who believed everything I read, but I wasn’t as analytical as I should have been. I put too much stock in headlines and meaningless terms like “ancient wisdom,” “all natural,” and of course “new and improved.”
Critical thinking is evaluating evidence before you make a decision. I’ve seen it described as “thinking about thinking” which is admirably succinct. A more in-depth definition by Peter A. Facione is “the process of purposeful, self-regulatory judgment, which uses reasoned consideration to evidence, context, conceptualizations, methods, and criteria.” The hardest part of critical thinking, at least for me, is putting aside preconceived notions.
I started thinking about this subject today because of a short article I read about beets. Yes, beets. Scientists from Wake Forest University had 14 people at least 70 years old drink 16 oz. of beet juice or eat a control diet for two days, then gave them a MRI. The MRI showed 21% increased blood flow in the frontal lobes of the beet juice drinkers. Sounds promising for preventing dementia, right?
Before we start writing “Beet Juice Prevents Dementia” headlines, there are a lot of things to consider. The source of the study is reputable and not, for instance, the Beet Growers Association. However the study only had 14 participants, a very small number. I don’t know if the study has been replicated by other researchers. I would like to know if the study has been peer-reviewed and published. I’d like to know if other juices would give the same results and if eating beets rather than drinking the juice would affect blood flow. I’d want to have them test different amounts of the juice and do the study for a longer period.
Beet juice may well help to prevent dementia, but right now I don’t think we have enough reliable evidence to determine that. We do have an interesting avenue of study, though. In the meantime, beets are part of a healthy diet (and are delicious) so go ahead and enjoy them. Maybe they will help us think more critically.