Lies, damned lies and sci­ence

Country Life Every Week - - Spectator - Les­lie Ged­des-brown

IHAVE a friend who was di­ag­nosed with heart dis­ease when he was in his thir­ties. His wife im­me­di­ately took ac­tion to cut his choles­terol and banned him from eat­ing but­ter ever again. No but­ter on his fresh as­para­gus, with jam on his scones, on new pota­toes and warm toast or in his freshly baked pota­toes. In­stead, he was of­fered mar­garine.

Then, two decades later, the sci­en­tists said that they’d been wrong. Eat­ing but­ter didn’t dam­age the heart. But­ter is good for you —it’s mar­garine that’s the prob­lem. He’s an an­gry man.

I agree with him. I think sci­en­tists should just shut up about their pos­si­ble find­ings. In the past few weeks, I’ve made a col­lec­tion of health warn­ings and a strange lot they are. We shouldn’t keep cats be­cause they may have a par­a­site that could cause prostate can­cer. We shouldn’t have pot bel­lies be­cause ‘re­search sug­gests that adding 11cm [about 4½in] to your waist­line’ in­creases the risk of obe­sity-re­lated can­cer by 13%. Self­ies, other sci­en­tists say, cause peo­ple to top-up their tans, which will lead to an epi­demic of skin can­cer. A ‘ma­jor re­port’ says that drink­ing even one glass of wine a day raises the risk of breast can­cer.

Look­ing on the bright side, re­search ap­pears to say that tak­ing up gar­den­ing ‘can cut the risk of breast can­cer’ by up to 13%. And, most damn­ing of all, salt (the de­mon in our diet) has been de­clared safe by Dr James Dini­colan­to­nio. In­deed, he says too lit­tle salt is bad for you. It seems that the pre­vi­ous ‘ev­i­dence’ of the dan­gers of salt was pro­pounded on re­search into rats that had been ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied to be salt-sen­si­tive. Or­di­nary rats, says Dr Dini­colan­to­nio, don’t get high blood pres­sure when fed salt.

I no­tice that all these re­ports have the sneaky words ‘could’ or ‘up to’ in their find­ings. Cats can cause prostate can­cer as can a glass of wine, but gar­den­ing could be a cure. Strange how things that are pleas­ing—cats, a glass of wine—cause dis­ease and things that are less so—heavy gar­den­ing, slim­ming—are help­ful.

Which brings me to the la­belling on food pack­ets. Have you no­ticed that, on vir­tu­ally ev­ery pack, a good square inch is given to nutri­tional ad­vice? Prob­a­bly, like me, your eye sim­ply skates over this be­cause it means ab­so­lutely noth­ing to you. On a packet of crisp­bread, I’m told that ‘typ­i­cal val­ues’ for, for in­stance, en­ergy are 1610kj (or 381kcals) per 100g. On the back of a pack for ap­ple tart, ‘En­ergy kj equals 714 per 100 grams and 619 per 1/6 of tarte’. Un­der­neath this ta­ble is ‘RI=% of your daily ref­er­ence in­take’. There is no other ref­er­ence to RI.

I won­der if any­one reads these fig­ures or if the whole thing is a waste of space. And, I as­sume, some­one has to work out how many kjs each kind of food has in 100g. You prob­a­bly don’t have the slight­est idea of what a kj is. With a bit of re­search, I’ve now dis­cov­ered that this is a kilo­joule, which is some mea­sure­ment of en­ergy that no one un­der­stands. It is by the or­der of the EU that this com­plete waste of time and money has, by law, to be printed on most food pack­ag­ing. It would be, wouldn’t it?

Would it be too much to ask that our food could be left out of pol­i­tics? I see that there are moves to in­crease the price of sweet­ies so that the NHS can cope with what is con­sid­ered an epi­demic of obe­sity. One would be more sym­pa­thetic if such in­stant so­lu­tions in­volved cut­ting the price of, say, ap­ples and pears rather than hik­ing the tax on sweets. But, when do-good­ing leg­is­la­tion mag­i­cally in­creases govern­ment rev­enue, it passes easily.

My sug­ges­tion is that we eat what we want within mod­er­a­tion, throw the kilo­joules into the bin and have a nice glass of wine to cel­e­brate free­dom from smug sci­en­tists.

‘Strange how things that are pleas­ing cause dis­ease’

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