Food is killing you. All of it. But we have to eat, so what should you really worry about on your plate? Saturated fat? Trans fatty acids? Gluten? Sugar? Fructose? Or carbohydrates in general? The ever-talented Glenn Cardwell blogs today on how little you should heed the latest dire health warnings of how ‘Component X’ in your diet may be killing you.
Food is killing you slowly
Now, possibly more than any other time, self-proclaimed experts are in your ear telling you how bad a certain component of your diet is for your health. In fact, if you completely eliminate Component X you will avoid heart disease, cancer and in-growing toenails.
Then comes the big sell: Component X is killing you. Buy my book, come to my presentation and I will convince you of my argument. Please buy the T-shirts emblazoned with “Ban Component X” or “Fighting for a Component X-free planet” in three popular colours. We have kids’ sizes too.
If you want to be noticed in the nutrition “space” then you must tell a scary story, followed closely by the book, while engaging a rabid PR company. Right now, sugar is Component X, as it has been every decade since the 1950s. We will lose interest by the end of 2015, replacing it with another Component X, say caprylic fatty acid or amylopectin, because they are “chemicals” you haven’t heard of, therefore inherently scary (although you have been eating them since your introduction to solid food).
Don’t worry, sugar will return as Component X in October 2022. Promise.
One problem, one solution
Pop nutritionists, diet evangelists, simple solutionists just love to identify “the problem” (e.g. sugar) then preach “the solution” (ban, tax, eradicate “the problem”). It’s been that way for decades because it is an easy story to swallow, attracts the media who have no common sense filter system, befuddles politicians, and generates unease among those without an understanding of logic or biology.
If you want to become the radical nutrition preacher that attracts attention and media then stick with the single “problem” and the single “solution” so that the unthinking will become outraged and take to the streets.
The media particularly, and the populace in general, don’t have the capability to understand that the problem we really face is “crap eating” and the solution is ….. hold onto your hats, this is seriously outrageous …. “eat mainly plant foods, eat mainly least processed foods, have the occasional treat if you wish”.
Powerful message don’t you think? Yeah, you are right, it will garner no interest at all because it doesn’t identify a single evil, nasty Component X that will cause cancer, tooth decay and make you default on your mortgage.
Two words never used by the media, ever
There are two really key words, and I am being dead serious here, that the media never use when reporting on nutrition issues. They are two simple words that make ALL the difference. See if you can identify them in the following imaginary quote:
“A new scientific paper reports that eating too much of Component X is not good for your health”.
Yep, the two key words are “too much”. So, my advice is to avoid eating “too much” of anything. Is sugar a problem? Yes, for the person eating half a dozen donuts washed down with 2 litres of soft drink. No, for the person having some marmalade on their wholegrain toast. Why can’t we appreciate the words “too much” when assessing our eating habits? Just eat well. If you really want a “diet” to follow try the Mediterranean or the traditional Asian diet.
What does it all mean?
Simply put, it means I won’t ever be rich. That’s the sad part. But I will be comfortable in soul. It also means you won’t hear any really scary nutrition stories through this newsletter. And I apologise for not scaring you, generating fear and flogging a Component X-free cookbook. I just offer advice, ideas, tips and the occasional weird aspect in the world of nutrients.
And today, here is my advice: ignore all nutrition advice. Just eat well. And give to charity, hug the kids, help the frail, laugh at yourself, read widely, be generous and drink good wine. Sheesh! Don’t complicate life.
Glenn Cardwell is an Accredited Practising Dietitian with 30 years in clinical and public health nutrition, including 10 years as consultant dietitian to the National Heart Foundation, five years at the Children’s Hospital in Sydney and was a major player in establishing the WA School Canteen Association in 1994. He began his nutrition consultancy company, Nutrition Impact P/L, in 1996.