Friday, August 10, 2007

Thought for food

How are we to separate the facts from the myths about food? Almost every day there is a new warning or a contradiction of an old warning about particular foods. Take eggs or, perhaps, don't take eggs. When I was a girl, my mother wouldn't let us leave for school without an egg for breakfast - E for B was a slogan on all the hoardings; 'Go to Work on an Egg' was another. So I thought I was being a good mother in feeding my own children eggs until we had Edwina Currie and the 'all eggs are dangerous' campaign. Just as that myth was exploded we began to get warnings about bad cholesterol and were told to eat no more than two eggs a week. And now? Eggs are good for us .

Milk used to be good for us. How I hated those 1/3pint bottles we were forced to drink in primary school; delivered very early in the morning and left in the school yard, they would be sour by break time in the summer and frozen solid in the winter. (I stopped drinking milk as soon as I moved to the high school and haven't touched the stuff since, despite the 'Drinka pinta milka day' ads.) Then, of course, milk became bad for us, it was linked to breast cancer and high cholesterol and pasteurized milk has been linked with autism. Wait! I read milk is good for us again: a pint a day reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes, but what's that you say? It increases the risk of Type 1 diabetes. Milk, cheese, yogurt and fromage frais are definitely good/bad for your heart - you choose.

Coffee isn't in the naughty corner any more. It helps stave off memory loss and dementia in women over 65, but not in men, apparently. I gave up coffee 30 years ago, so I'll try to develop a taste for it again in the next few years but I daresay it will be out of favour again by the time I reach 65. Good news for male coffee drinkers: it can prevent gall stones, cirrhosis of the liver, hardening of the arteries, heart disease and asthma.

A mixture of cider vinegar and honey is being hailed as a cure for arthritis. Brazil nuts can prevent memory loss. Blueberries make you brainier; raspberries keep you slim; strawberries reduce heart disease and all berries are anti-ageing. Whatever you do, though, don't top your berries with low-fat yogurt as low-fat food causes infertility. Go for the thick cream and enjoy yourself.

My sister rang me the other day, so helpless with laughter it took me ten minutes to find out the reason for her call. For several years she has been on a high-calcium diet because her bones are losing density; she has been eating lots of cheese, yogurt, white bread and whole milk. A routine blood test has now shown she has high cholesterol levels so her doctor has given her a new diet sheet with no cheese, yogurt, milk etc. Should she follow the diets on alternate days?


  1. I think humans have a surprisingly wide diversity in optimal dietary intake. That's why the research seems so conflicting. Each person has to find the diet right for them.

  2. I'm sure you are right, Bret. In fact, if the newspapers would only publish the complete reports and not the edited highlights, I'm sure we would see that there are all kinds of qualifications built in to the advice.

  3. I gave up paying much attention about twenty years ago when I read of the "proven" statistical link between yogurt and cancer. Of course, they said further study was needed and I assume they are still doing it.

    In fairness, though, all that advice in the good old days about milk, eggs, etc. was given from the perpective of a scrawny, undernourished population trying to make their allotted three score years and ten. Today's is for tubby types with a strict moral duty to make ninety and then die in perfect health.


  4. Yes, it's a long time since we saw rickets in England!

  5. I covered the nonsense of the low fat crusade in my post Fast Facts Nation. The egg scare is part and parcel of that. Cholesterol in food isn't the problem, its the effect that food has on the body's balance of both good and bad cholesterol. Eggs do not adversely affect the balance. And they are an excellent source of protein, which everyone needs in their diet every day.

  6. Duck, it was your post that got me reading up on some of the food myths. Thanks for emptying my fridge of tasteless low-fat foods!


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