Lies, damned lies and science
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’