Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Foodmongers

Good-for-you, bad-for-you. Why the swirl of news about the effects of food on health amounts to a load of rotten nonsense.

I wonder if it's because rule no.1 of marketing is that alarm generates sales, or if it's down to people's perverse attraction to fear and risk (after all, why do we watch gory horror films in the first place?). Perhaps we're all turning into hypocondriacs or, simply, we just love reading about bollocks. Who knows. Fact is, if you're trying to get a hang on what to eat/not eat in the hope of avoiding ill health, the panic merchants will turn you into a paranoid schizophrenic within a week.

The sheer amount of alarming, incoherent, contradictory information that comes out daily is absolutely shocking. It first dawned on me a few years ago while watching Should I Worry About, an insightful BBC programme presented by Richard Hammond that illustrated the schizophrenia of "oily fish is good for you" and "salmon gives you cancer" within the same headline.

Then the other day came a report from four UK universities: tall men are more likely to get prostate cancer. What are our poor gangly friends supposed to do, chop their ankles off and hope for a reprieve?

It gets worse. Last February it was confirmed that lack of vitamins and minerals "may increase the risk of cancer". Bleeding obvious? Eat your words, because two weeks later we read that "if you take vitamin supplements in hopes of warding off cancer you may not be doing yourself any favours" as they can also increase the risk.

And didn't your mum and nan always lecture you about the benefits of salad? Hold your horses. Only the other day it was big news that if it comes pre-packed, "salad will lead to increased food poisoning, scientists warn".

So on the one hand they tell you chicken's good for you ("Chicken Cuts Colon Cancer Risk"), then you hear the big news from the Physician Committee for Responsible Medicine, declaring that grilled chicken was "found to contain PhIPm, a compound from a group of carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are often found in grilled meat".
What about potatoes? Never mind fried, even baked potatoes allegedly contain carcinogenic stuff! No matter we also heard recent news that "intake of potatoes boosts the immune system". This can really drive you insane.

Folic acid is a B-complex vitamin found in many vegetables, beans, fruits, whole grains, and breakfast cereals. Again, til recently we were told it helps against developing cancer. "Eat loads", was the general idea. You're buggered if you did, because folic acid supplements of vitamin B are now thought to increase the risk of bowel cancer", according to the Institute of Food Research.

Two weeks ago came the affirmative news that "spaghetti bolognese can help fight cancer". Well, just make sure you don't gulp them all in one go, as it's not unlikely a new scientific research may soon reveal that spag bol give you gallstones or something...

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