MATT PRE­STON

In a world where ev­ery­one is a med­i­cal ex­pert (hello, Dr Google), today’s health food he­roes can be­come to­mor­row’s di­etary de­mons and some are in your pantry

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Stellar - - Contents -

Health trends gone bad.

In the con­stant see-saw­ing over what are good things to eat and what could be do­ing you un­told dam­age, let’s take a con­fus­ing look at where we are with some of the more con­tentious things to put into our bod­ies.

“EVIL” SEED OILS

For a new in­gre­di­ent to de­monise in the kitchen, go no fur­ther than seed oils like grape­seed and sun­flower. Ap­par­ently we use too much of them and that means we now con­sume way too many Omega-6 polyun­sat­u­rated fatty acids. Like Omega-3, Omega-6 is a good thing, but too much of it can build up in our cell mem­branes and lead to the lat­est mod­ern evil, in­flam­ma­tion.

That word has be­come health blog­ger short­hand for an un­der­ly­ing fac­tor in any­thing from car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease and cancer, to di­a­betes and arthritis.

But Omega-6 is es­sen­tial to hu­man health, and not all foods that con­tain it cause in­flam­ma­tion. Bal­ance is best.

“NEUROTOXIC” HEATED OILS

Weigh­ing in on the oil de­bate and, cyn­ics might say, pos­si­bly seek­ing to in­crease olive oil sales along the way, is a body of re­search that shows that other oils, in­clud­ing seed oils, de­te­ri­o­rate more prob­lem­at­i­cally than ex­tra vir­gin olive oil when heated to 180°C for cook­ing.

Sev­eral stud­ies have found that the best, fresh pep­pery ex­tra vir­gin olive oil re­sists ox­i­da­tion bet­ter than many other cook­ing oils and doesn’t suf­fer the same rise in prob­lem­atic po­lar com­pounds. Au­thor of Toxic Oil, David Gillespie, puts it rather more dra­mat­i­cally: “When [veg­etable oils] in­ter­act with heat and oxy­gen, they re­lease neurotoxic, Dna-mu­tat­ing chem­i­cals that are known to cause cancer.” Bet­ter pass on hav­ing those fries in my souva then.

ARSENIC AND WHITE RICE

If white rice didn’t al­ready have a bad enough rap as be­ing high- GI, now wor­ries over arsenic lev­els are set­ting alarm bells ring­ing all over the in­ter­net. It’s all ap­par­ently due to in­dus­trial tox­ins and pes­ti­cides that lie hid­den in some soil.

Con­sum­ing too much arsenic can lead to de­vel­op­men­tal prob­lems, heart dis­ease, di­a­betes and cancer. At least here, Food Stan­dards Aus­tralia New Zealand (FSANZ) set ac­cept­able trace arsenic lev­els for rice sold.

Any arsenic that is present can be dealt with fairly sim­ply, says Pro­fes­sor Andy Me­harg of Queens Univer­sity Belfast. He says lev­els can be halved if rice is cooked in lots of wa­ter rather than steamed or cooked us­ing the ab­sorp­tion method. Also, soak the rice overnight and rinse be­fore cook­ing to re­duce lev­els even fur­ther – by up to 80 per cent.

“KILLER” CO­CONUT OIL

Car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease (CVD) is the lead­ing global cause of death, killing 17.3 mil­lion peo­ple per year. Sat­u­rated fat is the main en­emy and in con­trolled tri­als co­conut oil was found to in­crease LDL (aka “bad”) choles­terol.

The Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion re­cently com­pared co­conut oil un­favourably as a source of sat­u­rated fat with other pre­vi­ously de­monised sources like butter, palm oil and beef fat. It pointed to co­conut oil be­ing 82 per cent sat­u­rated fat com­pared to butter (63 per cent) and beef fat (50 per cent). The AHA said: “Be­cause co­conut oil in­creases LDL choles­terol, a cause of CVD, and has no known off­set­ting favourable ef­fects, we ad­vise against the use of co­conut oil.”

Some co­conut oil boost­ers claim that an in­crease in “good” HDL choles­terol off­sets the LDL spike but re­search ap­pears in­con­clu­sive. While ev­i­dence has sug­gested con­sump­tion of co­conut flesh or squeezed co­conut in the con­text of tra­di­tional di­etary pat­terns doesn’t lead to ad­verse car­dio­vas­cu­lar out­comes, due to large dif­fer­ences in di­etary and life­style pat­terns, these find­ings can­not be ap­plied to a typ­i­cal Western diet.

AC­TI­VATED CHAR­COAL CLEANSE?

This black pow­der made from burn­ing wood (or those co­conut shells left over af­ter har­vest­ing co­conut oil) will cleanse your sys­tem, boost your heart health and make you live longer, or so say some cor­ners of the in­ter­net. Ap­par­ently, it traps tox­ins and chem­i­cals – but it will also grab onto nu­tri­ents.

The trend to add ac­ti­vated char­coal to juice and health foods was de­bunked in the Journal Of Food Qual­ity which found that it re­duced the lev­els of avail­able vi­ta­mins C, B6, B1 and niacin. This has led some health pro­fes­sion­als to sug­gest there is no proof that reg­u­lar di­etary in­take of ac­ti­vated char­coal is ben­e­fi­cial or h help­ful in any way if your skin, lungs, kid­neys, colon and liver are do­ing their u usual job of detox­i­fy­ing the body.

Di­ar­rhoea, v vom­it­ing and con­sti­pa­tion can all b be side ef­fects, which is a bonus of sorts. J Just not a good one. So over­all just re­mem­ber, it’s all just food. You won’t go far wrong if you fo­cus on a bal­anced diet with lots of veg, some good carbs and lean pro­teins.

Also it is not un­known for peo­ple to be se­lec­tive in how they mine re­search to sup­port their po­lit­i­cal, prof­itable or polemic po­si­tions, so al­ways be sus­pi­cious of claims – es­pe­cially if they are ask­ing for your money!

MATT PRE­STON

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