Food


red lentilsIf someone told you that their favourite food was lentils you might well draw three conclusions: that they are a vegetarian, that they are a hippie and that they are dull. Legumes are a byword for earnest middle-class liberalism.

Perhaps this is part of why citizens of developed nations eat so very few of them. Around 2% of our protein is obtained from legumes, much of which, it is fair to say, comes from baked beans in sweet tomato sauce. For me, this is a shame. Legumes are an excellent source of a broad range of nutrients, as well as being cheap to produce and purchase; great to cook with and lifeless enough that they entail no need to harm sentient beings. Indeed, they are among nature’s more wonderful feats.

A study of long-lived elderly people found that legume consumption was a predictor of survival – a mere correlation, of course, but one that could be of significance given their impressive offerings of nutrition. They are rich in nutrients like fibre – which not only keeps one’s bowels going but blunts blood sugar spikes and increases satiation – protein – half one’s daily requirement of which could be obtained from a bowl of lentils – and iron, magnesium, zinc and resistant starch. Their proven and potential benefits for the heart, blood and guts are formidable. Some researchers have raised concerns about their anti-nutrient content but these are greatly reduced by cooking, and even more so by soaking beforehand.

Legumes are good for the body and also for the wallet. A bag of lentils can cost four times less than even the cheaper cuts of meat. They are not only easy to produce in the financial sense but easy to produce in that they are not hard on planet. Not only is less gas emitted in producing legumes than other sources of protein but they actively help to lessen the effects of emissions. Legumes take atmospheric nitrogen and convert it into sustenance for the soil.

A common response to these personal and public benefits might be that legumes are dull – a strange way to describe a food group that has inspired Mexican tacos, Indian curries, Greek stews and Middle Eastern soups. It would also be downright hypocritical in a nation famed for its attraction warm stodge – where the most popular cut of meat is the chicken breast. Someone who thinks that beans are boring is six years old or a bad cook. The potential of bags of beans and chilies, tomato, paprika, turmeric and thyme, among a host of other things, should whet the appetites of all who fancy themselves in the kitchen.

The only significant objections that I can conceive of might come from people with rare food sensitivities and people who can’t bear the thought of being associated with hippies. I do not discount the former, if they exist, but basing one’s ego around one’s diet is a human trait that it is sage to minimise. At the least, the risk of sharing ground with sandal-wearing, guitar-strumming, petition-signing people should not dissuade one from accepting a gift from nature that offers so much to our tongues, innards, bank balances and home planet.

ButterI am not qualified to judge whether saturated fat is a cause of heart disease. On the other hand, I do not trust Aseem Malhotra, who, after writing an essay for The British Medical Journal that defends it from the charge, is proud to be cast as the man who tells us to eat butter.

I have been suspicious of Malhotra’s appearances in the press since he claimed, on multiple occasions, that “diet-related diseases” cause tens of millions of deaths a year. These would include all deaths from cancer, heart disease and diabetes, which implies that smoking, alcoholism and old age cause none of them. I suspect him of habitually repeating claims that he has read or heard without verifying them. For example, he has written that “the biggest culprit” in obesity and diabetes is “sugars, more specifically High Fructose Corn Syrup, which is added to almost all processed food”. High fructose corn syrup is used in vast amounts in the US but it accounts for a minute fraction of European sweeteners.

Now, in his new article, Malhotra claims that “dairy foods are exemplary providers of vitamins A and D”. There is little naturally occurring vitamin D in dairy foods. Milk is fortified with it in the US but not in Britain. Butter, meanwhile, which media reports claim has “high levels” of the vitamin, contains 60 IU of it per 100 grams. To put this into perspective, you would have to eat ten servings of butter to get ten percent of your recommended daily allowance. Happy spreading!

As it happens, I agree with Malhotra’s ultimate recommendation of a Mediterranean diet: one that includes carbohydrates, such as in fruits and legumes, and fats, such as in nuts and olive oil. But his other claims would be much easier to swallow if he would show more signs of being a diligent researcher.

I’ve bought a camera. This is a first for me, and we are in that honeymoon phase where we go everywhere together; share beautiful moments and push one another’s buttons.

Naturally, a camera is vital to the modern blog. Political blogging may be somewhat unfashionable but two trends of informal online publication survive: blogging about one’s cats and blogging about one’s meals. I do not have a cat, or a dog, or anything except for the occasional wasp. But I do eat meals.

It seems natural, then, to evolve with the times and enter the world of food blogging: that eater’s oasis of inspiration and enlightenment. Thus, I offer my own contribution to the modern palate: details of how to construct my Cashew Nut Surprise!

Start with about 25 grams of almonds. I prefer whole almonds but blanched will do.

Add more almonds. You’ll want to keep your wrist loose as you shake the packet, to avoid a sprain.

Transfer the almonds to a larger bowl. I prefer black.

Add cashew nuts. These are the surprise.

Top with almonds and enjoy!

CropsI do not wish to seem like one of the people who take the middle ground only in order to demonstrate their superiority over people on both sides of a dialogue but when it comes to the debates surrounding population growth I am poised somewhere between the morose Malthusianism of David Attenborough and the pro-natalist posturing of Rob Newman. The latter is wrong to claim that “to wish to reduce the number of living, breathing humans on this planet is an obscenity”. It would be obscene to reduce such numbers by targeting people who live and breathe, of course, but to reduce the numbers of people who are conceived is a far more defensible ambition. Many poor women, indeed, have asked for help with this.

On the other hand, it is true that people who claim that population growth is the defining issue of our time can be vexing in their rhetoric. One problem is that in directing their laser-like attention on the growth of third world peoples, and the resources new generations will demand, they obscure the wastage of such resources today.

We waste too much food, as a people and as a species. Wholesome bread, nutritious salad and delectable fruit is squandered by the ton in England, often for such trivial reasons as that it looked a bit ugly. Thousands of chickens, slaughtered for human consumption, are being left to rot every day.

This is to our shame. Across the world, however, vast amounts of foods are wasted before they have even left their fields. According to a new report by the the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, inefficient means of harvesting and storage, as well as consumption, have ensured that 1.3 billion tons of food are squandered every year. This is not merely problematic because of the nourishment that people could have drawn from the wasted wheat and rotten apples. 1.4 billion hectares of land, which makes up 28% of the Earth’s agricultural areas and almost 50 Great Britains, is occupied by food that grows but that is left uneaten. 250,000 cubic metres of water are wasted in its production. Gigatonnes of carbon dioxide are emitted for nothing. Trees are felled. Plants die. Animals are made homeless. And for what? To deepen landfills.

This angers me. Patterns of consumption are often denounced, and sometimes with good cause, but it seems more offensive if things are produced but not consumed. It is one thing to exploit the planet in attempting to give sustenance and pleasure to ourselves; it is another to exploit it and waste that which it provides.

This is, as a helpful supplement to the report proves, no inevitability. Not only could we learn to buy as much as we shall eat, and to consume fruit and vegetables even if they have knobbly bits, but technologies and techniques could aid producers and supplies. These run from the farmer who cuts the stems from his potatoes, or the merchant who erects a roof above his stall, to the company that adjusts its supply routes or that institutes quantity planning systems.

I hope these ideas will explored. For one thing, it is hypocritical at best to maintain that one cannot possibly make room for someone in a house if one’s spare bedroom is full of garbage and one’s shopping is growing mould.

BeansOne of the few health and nutrition blogs that I still visit is Mark’s Daily Apple. Its author is an evangelist for carnivorism, so I am not a fan, but it is popular and influential enough that it allows one to explore ideas that are liable to come into fashion. Today, it featured a guest post from one Konstantin Monastyrsky: a “credible researcher” who argues that dietary fibre is “a menace to your health”. I wrote a critical and somewhat sarcastic but by no means abusive comment that first hung around in moderation before disappearing. This annoyed me almost as much as the article, so I am going to take a look at it here instead.

I come neither to laud nor damn dietary fibre; being no expert on its benefits or its risks. What I write in opposition to is fearmongering, and Monastyrsky offers this in unwholesome quantities. He writes that advocates of the consumption of fibre have subjected us =to “relentless brainwashing“. Those who profit from high-fibre foods, he claims elsewhere, are “squeezing every penny of profit out of [them] for as long as they can weasel their way around the truth”. (He doesn’t name these people, of course. That could be awkward.) Monastyrsky, you see, believes that the harms of fibre are comparable to the harms of cigarette smoking. He believes that it “causes more harm and death than tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs combined”.

Scary stuff. Well, do not throw that tub of raspberries into the bin quite yet – still less replace it with a cigarette, a whisky or a spliff. Let us consider his essay, which takes the form of an attempt to refute various “myths” attached to dietary fibre.

Myth #1: For maximum health, obtain 30 to 40 g of fiber daily from fresh fruits and vegetables.

No one but fruitarians argues that one should consume that much fibre from fruits and vegetables. There are very few of them. When most people recommend this amount of fibre they would expect you to consume legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains and potatoes as well. Ironically, though, Monastyrsky attempts to knock his own straw man down with a red herring. He lists ten pieces of sugary fruits, the fibre of which comes to a total of about 36 grams. They also contain, in his words, a “whopping 143.6 g of digestible sugars”. Let us assume, as he does, that eating this much is a bad idea. (It might not be, for some people, but assume it anyway.) What about avocados, berries, aubergine, broccoli, asparagus, spinach, kale, squash, carrots, sweetcorn, peas and turnip greens?

Perhaps to make his misinformation more digestible, Monastyrsky resorts to fearmongering again. “It‘s not surprising that so many Americans are suffering from the ravages of diabetes and obesity,” he writes, implying that people are suffering from illness and weight gain because they are eating apples and bananas. Well, before the guys at Coca Cola, Krispy Kreme and Nestlé breathe easily, let us observe that over two thirds of Americans own up to eating less than two servings of fruit a day. Apples are is not giving them diabetes, and when a doctor says it might be a good idea to have a pear as well they are not trying to make them ill, regardless of what Monastyrsky’s surreal cartoon implies.

FibreI did not create this to parody his conspiracism. It is on his website. If someone posts scary drawings along with their arguments it is wise to be careful, lest one’s emotions are being appealed to rather than one’s intellect.

Myth #6: Fiber offers protection from breast cancer.

I do not know if this “myth” is true, but Monastyrsky’s attempt to refute it is strange. He claims the “opposite” is true, citing a study of Mexican cancer patients that he argues demonstrates that “women with the highest consumption of carbohydrates, and, correspondingly, of fiber, had the highest rates of breast cancer”.

Turning to the paper, we find that cancer patients ate more carbohydrates than members of the control group but less insoluble fibre (the data for soluble fibre was not given), so Monastyrsky’s assumption is bogus. What they consumed more of was sucrose – table sugar, rarely found in high fibre foods – and fructose – which, given the popularity of juices, honey and agave nectar need not correspond with fibre. The authors, in fact, state that “the strength of the association between sucrose intake and risk for breast cancer was lower among women in the highest tertile of insoluble fiber intake when compared with women in the lowest tertile of insoluble fiber intake”. Monastyrsky has not addressed this supposed “myth”, then, but has simply perpetuated a myth of his own.

Myth #11: Fiber is safe and effective for the treatment and prevention of diarrhea.

Monastyrsky argues that “it’s the complete opposite—fiber, particularly soluble, is the most common cause of diarrhea in children and adults”. Really? Well, stone me. I thought that it was viral gastroenteritis. There I was: washing my hands and cleaning my surfaces to avoid bacteria and viruses and it turns out that I would have been better off saving the water and disinfectants and avoiding berries and lentils. Or not. Monastyrsky does not even try to dress this claim up with a reference.

This may well be for the better, because he twists references to suit his own ideas. In another essay, he tries to dismiss the “willful lie” that dietary fibre is protective against diabetes by offering this quote from the Harvard School of Public Health: “fiber intake has…been linked with the metabolic syndrome, a constellation of factors that increases the chances of developing heart disease and diabetes”. What type of fiber intake has been linked to it, though, and how? If you read the source, it is clear that it is arguing that fibre can be protective against the condition. Indeed, the same website states that “higher fiber intake has also been linked to a lower risk of metabolic syndrome”.

Perhaps few of my readers are sufficiently interested in roughage to have ventured this far through this essay, and I do not blame them. What I hoped to illustrate, however, is a few things to beware of when reading “credible research” that celebrates or demonises this or that food or product: the implication that it contains truths that dark and mysterious forces have struggled to conceal; the quotes and references that can mean very different things when viewed in their rightful contexts; the lavish promises or terrifying threats that transcend the facts of the matter and appeal to one’s emotions. When dealing with fact claims, one must apply objective standards. When dealing with health, meanwhile, one should try to avoid stress, and not just as it impairs one’s ability to judge. I do not know a great deal about nutrition but I know about obsession and even in small doses it can be harmful.

Olive OilI am increasingly sympathetic to the opinion that veganism, when practiced reasonably, is a safe, valuable position to adopt. Some people I keep running into, though, are health vegans, who promote absolutist abstention from animal foods on the grounds of its effects on our bodies rather than the animals. These people promote a low-fat, whole foods diet. Fair enough. I’m sure lots of people could benefit from this. What irritates me, though, are those of them who argue as if everybody should follow their lead.

I have defended nuts but what of olive oil? These men note that it offers little nutrition beyond its many calories. It has some Vitamin E, and its polyphenols are argued to be health-promoting, but its nutritive qualities are overstated. Even if it provides “empty calories”, though, as they claim, I do not see the problem. The context of empty calories matters. They are less than healthy when consumed in isolation or in making nutritionally worthless products richer yet olive oil tends to be used to dress or fry vegetables. One thus creates products that contain vitamins and minerals but that need not be rich. If you love eating vegetables in their natural state you may not want the oil but some of us find that it improves their palatability to such an extent that we’ll eat more plants.

These men tend to argue that olive oil is detrimental to one’s health, and with some dodgy claims. Michael Klaper MD notes that the official target for saturated fats in our diets is 7% but that 14% of olive oil is made up of them. “How does 14% help get you to 7%?” He asks. Who’s going to eat all or even half of their calories in olive oil? Jeff Novick references a study by one Robert Vogel, who found that olive oil reduces blood flow. Dr. Vogel used ten subjects and fed them fifty grams of olive oil. Never mind the sample size: who’s going to glug that much?

Some people fill the gaps of data in the case for very low-fat diets with what is either paranoia or fearmongering. John McDougall saysthe fat you eat is the fat you wear”, which is both untrue and gruesomely similar to phrases like “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips”. Klaper gripes that restaurants offer nothing more than “ethnic-flavoured salt, sugar and fat” and tells his audience to “order the vegetable soup and steamed greens, eat it and get the heck out of there”. Never invite this gentleman to a birthday dinner.

Given that people who are enduring or have endured eating disorders are liable to be attracted to vegetarian diets, I am keen to ensure that my own and other people’s ethical decisions regarding consumption are not engineered by their neuroses, so I have no wish for them to be mixed with health puritanism. Moreover, such puritanism gives vegans an image of ascetic joylessness. Food critic Jay Rayner gave veganism a shot and came away disheartened by its supposed paucity of fat. Perhaps he was unaware that he could eat olive oil, avocado, almonds, almond butter, walnuts, pecans, peanuts, cashews, coconut, coconut butter, coconut milk, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and acai. It ain’t just lentils n’ leeks.

Demonising foods on health grounds is always strange as there is no food the average person could not eat regularly with minimal effects. A plant food diet with the odd portion of fish or liver would be as or more healthy than veganism. This is not to say that veganism cannot improve one’s health, still less that it should be avoided, but that if one embraces it it makes sense to use considerations of the heart rather than of the gut.

NutsNo, this is not a post about ESP or conspiracies. Actual nuts. I have “gone” pescatarian, and might adopt veganism sometime in the future. I may write on the ethical thoughts behind this at some point but I have been observing some of the advocates of plant-based diets and wanted to comment on of their nutritional themes. A lot of these guys are really cautious about fats, whatever their types or sources, and I think this can be at least somewhat prejudicial.

John McDougall M.D. promotes a high-starch, low-fat vegan diet. He is, in other words, the opposite of Robert Atkins. He seems to be a smart and passionate guy but I stumbled across a video that he devoted to the subject of nuts and seeds, and it annoyed me. I love them: the crunch of almonds; the sweetness of cashews and the warmth of walnuts all brighten my days. They also tend to be healthful: containing fibre, protein and other splendid nutrients. Walnuts and flax seed have omega 3s, almonds are rich in riboflavin and pumpkin seeds are a great source of iron.

McDougall likes nuts, but he thinks they are for special occasions. “The fat you eat,” he states, “Is the fat you wear.” No, that is the excess energy. Nuts and seeds are energy dense, but one eats them alongside vegetables, tubers, legumes and so on that fill one up without providing lots of calories. Their density, at least for people who are not obese, can be good. If I tried subsisting on carrots and potatoes I would get a stomach ache. McDougall observes that nuts and seeds have become a convenience food: shelled, potted and easy to consume by the handful. My advice, though, would not be to give them up but to eat them slower. Why scarf things that are so nice to savour one by one?

McDougall observes that it would be hard for everyone in the world to eat a lot of nuts, and implies that this means it is inadvisable. Well, it would also be hard for everybody in the world to live in a nice house; use a gym; go to the cinema and play the saxophone. If one’s choices do not harm people who could not make them, though, why deprive oneself purely so as to be on equal terms? A Somalian dude without access to walnuts would not thank you for abstaining from them.

What really bemused me, though, was when McDougall said “they put nuts in hard shells for a reason”. “They”? I thought he might be joking, but found an accompanying article with that as its title. Perhaps it is a joke, but I often see comments that further the confusion it might reflect and promote: that nature was engineered with our health interests in mind. In fact, our foods don’t care about us and attempt to stay alive. Grains have to be harvested and cooked; beans have to be gathered and soaked; meat has to have been attached to something that was killed. Only some fruits could be said to desire their own consumption, but this is not for our sakes but their own ungenerous reasons of seed dispersal. Nature can be used to serve our purposes, but this is not of its volition. It is not our mother.

Nuts, then, are great; though one could be sane yet disagree.

Canadian baconI have what I suspect is the almost universal prejudice about Canada: that it is nice. Oh, sure, it might have lumbered us with the odd Paul Bernardo or Nickelback but its proximity to its continental cousin only make its low crime rates and aversion to large-scale wars seem more impressive.

It may not surprise us, then, if Americans are so indifferent to animal welfare that upon hearing about the abuse of creatures on its farms, its politicians rush to ban the exposure of such crimes. It might, though, be a tad surprising to learn that Canadians are no better. Its people have an appetite for flesh that makes them the world’s 9th largest consumers of it, with almost a hundred kilograms per person per year. That is equivalent to two big macs and a rasher of bacon. It also produces meat for others, and its pork exports, for one, have almost tripled in the last fifteen years. It is a pioneer in another form of meat production but I shall discuss that a bit later on.

Canadian meat, dairy and egg production is centred around factory farms, and little or no thought has been devoted to animal welfare. Ninety-six percent of its egg-laying hens, for example, are housed on battery farms, which cram the chickens wing-by-wing in unforgiving metal cages have been prohibited in the European Union. Its sows tend to be confined to gestation crates while pregnant, which Temple Grandin, the doctor of animal science, has observed is like “asking a sow to live in an airline seat”. These damage bones and joints and drive the pigs to sad, strange habits like gnawing the bars of their cells. They have been banned in the U.K., Sweden and large parts of the United States.

Official indifference to the feelings of animals has enabled the carelessness and sadism of employees of the meat industry. An undercover investigation last December revealed shocking conditions in one of its largest pork farms. Undesirable piglets were swung into walls or poles, which cracked their skulls yet often failed to kill the miserable things. Others were sliced open and had their testicles squeezed out in operations that were enacted without anesthetic. Creatures suffered from wounds and infections that were ignored. One lame sow was beaten as she was dragged off to be sliced up. The President of the farm claimed to be “disturbed” by these images. This is like chaining a man to a table in one’s business and being surprised when one’s staff treat him with little respect.

Canadians, in general, do not seem to share our sentimental perspectives of one particular species. They own one of few countries to produce horse meat. It is, the Toronto Star reported in 2011, a “flourishing” industry. Its journalist attended an auction where owners brought unwanted horses, several of them weak and emaciated, to be packed into cramped pens to sweat and fight without water or hay for hours before being trucked to slaughterhouses and shot. It is a win-win, as the industry sells the exotic meat at high prices and the owners can mistreat animals without having to worry about paying for medicine or euthanasia. This makes it double the loss for the pitiable horses.

Canadian farmers have followed the trend for cramming antibiotics into animals, and this is liable to have been a factor in the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Reporters of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation analysed one hundred samples of chicken and found not only that two-thirds of them were contaminated but that all of these bacteria strains were resistant to at least one form of antibiotic. Some of them resisted as much as eight. The nation’s media, recognising the potential for a drastic health crisis, has been calling for the development of new antibiotics. Nothing wrong with that, but it would help if they addressed the process that has been demanding them.

Rosy views of Canada, of course, tend to have more to do with anti-Americanism and sentimentality than knowledge of the place. Most of us can picture the mounties but nowehere in Montreal. It is still revealing, though, that a nation that has expended such energy in discussing and upholding human rights can also feature such dramatic indifference to animal welfare. It is all too easy to confine other species to our civilisational cellar while we tut or preen over the furnishings of its lounge.

BeefBritons have been either outraged or amused by the exposure of the fact that meat products in its supermarkets contain the flesh of horses rather than cows. Frankly, I am as disturbed by the existence of the latter. While I have little idea of the origins of the equine substances in these meals, I know that cows were ailing and afflicted, and the product of destructive and exploitative arrangements.

Industrial farms in the EU are not, in fact, as bad as those in China and North America. The Chinese callousness towards animals will be known to anyone who has watched appeals on behalf of dogs or bears while the Americans have limited their brutality to those creatures we tend to be unsentimental about: chickens, pigs and cows. (The American assault on the genus Bos, which began with the elimination of the buffalo and continues with its cruelties again cows, is one of its stranger features.) The Canadians, in defiance of stereotypes, are just as bad. Europeans, though, have strictures against the use of hormones and antibiotics, and standards to govern the confinement of animals that are imposed or at least encouraged.

This, though, is like bragging that one’s imperial conquests are among the less bloody of superpowers. A Compassion in World Farming investigation into dairy cows, who tend to be turned into dead cows and beefburgers once they have been exhausted, found them living in cramped, filthy conditions – often lame and marked by sores. One cannot be sure how widespread such mistreatment is. As recent weeks have shown us, Britons are not always sure of which animal is inside their food, never mind where it came from. The unnatural and aggressive diet of grain that is fed to cows in intensive farms, meanwhile, often causes painful, pus-filled liver abscesses.

Even disregarding physical agonies, though, I cannot let the inscrutability of their bovine features lead me to believe that tight confinement is not distressing for them. Pet owners would not deny that being restricted to its basket is a grim experience for their beloved pooches and the cow is not below the dog in its intelligence. Whenever I have wandered through the English countryside and come across these great impassive beasts I have observed that they spread their bulk over an individual patch of grass. These are creatures that enjoy their space, and packing them away seems dreadfully cruel.

Intensive farming in Europe does not merely harm the animals that are its subject but the far-flung people on whose backs it is sustained. As I mentioned, animals of such institutions do not spend their lives munching in fields but consuming a peculiar mix of cereals and soymeal. To feed cows on industrial farms, Europe has been dependent on soybeans imported from Latin America. A coalition of pressure groups, including Friends of the Earth and Food and Water Watch, revealed that to accommodate the enormous plantations these are grown on swathes of forest were destroyed; waters were polluted by pesticides and peasant communities were forced out of their villages, which were then burned or demolished.

Then, of course, there are the broader environmental issues: the carbon expended in creating the animals’ foods; the methane that is promptly expelled during their burps and farts; the colossal amounts of water that go into producing feed and sate their thirsts. I would not claim to be able to soundly predict the consequences of these wasteful practices but feel assured in saying “not good”. I agree with Kwame Anthony Appiah that if moral progress is a feature of coming generations they will scorn intensive meat production. It will not take place as swiftly as the reassessment of slavery and empire, though, as, among other things, the cows and pigs cannot ape the slaves and subjects in giving their captives and occupiers grief. There is a certain irony in the fact that it is so impractical, then, as humans could be forced to end the brutality of their exploitation before most of them have thought that there might be something wrong with it.

All of which is to say that if one has a problem with tucking into horseburgers it is about time to abstain from beef and other meats as well, at least if has come from animals whose lives remain dark mysteries to you. Pigs and cows may not be glamorous enough to merit films from Steven Spielberg but if we judged the suffering one is allowed to inflict on humans by how beautiful they are we might find it easier to accept the baseness of this standard. And, besides, however our descendants feel about the ethics of such practices they will be annoyed if our luxuries lead to a harsher planet.

Journalists are famously unreliable when it comes to writing about health. (And, indeed, pretty much everything they cannot understand.) Aseem Malhotra, who writes for the Guardian, is a cardiologist so you would think that he would be more careful with his data. He is not. In an article last year he wrote

It is estimated that diet-related diseases are responsible for 35 million deaths worldwide, dwarfing smoking-related ones of 5 to 8 million.

It is not. It is estimated that 35 million people die from heart disease, cancer and diabetes but these also include people who have fallen victim to genetics, alcohol, tobacco, nutritional deficiencies and stress. This was pointed out to Malhotra, who ignored the correction and repeated the statistic in a subsequent column.

In this latter piece Malhotra wrote, on the rise of obesity…

…what is the biggest culprit?

More and more evidence is emerging that it is sugars, more specifically High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), which is added to almost all processed food.

High Fructose Corn Syrup is used a great deal in America but its production is limited in the EU. It accounts for 1.6% of the sweeteners that are produced in Europe. So much for “almost all”.

I had a healthy scepticism for Malhotra’s claims, then, when I saw him post this on Twitter…

School lunch

Americans eat too much sugar. This is not in doubt. Chocolate milk and ketchup and peaches in syrup and apple sauce, though? I really doubt this is representative. Besides, are there really twelve grams of sugar in a few nuggets? A portion from McDonalds contains one and careless though Americans can be about nutrition I doubt theirs are twelve times less healthy.

So, I asked him for a source and, well, he ignored me. He found time, however, to respond to a praiseful comment…

 Malhotra 2

Open, honest and science-driven debate? I agreed!

Malhotra 3

He ignored me once again.

Malhotra found time, however, to compose another column for the Guardian in which he argued, citing no research, that sugar is to blame for obesity and heart disease. It finished by referencing the “growing army” of anti-sugar researchers “who[se] only incentive is to expose what’s right for public health”. Wrong Dr. Malhotra. We all have less than altruistic intentions. Some researchers, for example, want to speak at conferences and get book deals. Others want to gain respect by being seen to advocate the cause of righteousness. We all have reasons to be propagandistic and Malhotra, in promoting misinformation and ignoring his critics, is proving that.

I agree that sugar is, outside of whole fruits and milk, nutritionally worthless and to be limited. I agree that “low-fat” products tend to be a con and worth avoiding. I agree that teaching kids nutrition is important. I do not agree, however, with dishonest scaremongering, whether it’s in a cause I’m sympathetic to or not. You have to ask why Malhotra is given a platform on this issue. He must be a smart guy to be able to tinker with hearts but what qualifications does he have related to nutrition? What research has he performed that makes him an authority? Ah well. What does it matter what he knows or how he argues? It’s just our health. It is just the truth.

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