Food and Health Experts

Advance warning: this is a bit of a rant.

The internet is such a wonderful source of information.  It’s possible to learn so much these days.  A question pops into one’s head and within seconds it can be answered.  I think we’re all aware that it’s important not simply to take all the information available at face value.  An important skill in modern life is being able to take all this information, reference several sources, and draw a conclusion about which information is relevant, which is outdated, which is just plain wrong.

With all this information to hand we are learning to take more control over issues affecting our health.  It’s not that we don’t trust our doctors (though we might not) but more that the internet is often on hand when the doc isn’t.   There are also issues on which our medical doctors are not particularly well informed.  One such is in the area of nutrition.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the industrialisation of our food is turning out not to have been a good thing.  In particular, that large corporate interests are motivated by the desire to develop and sell product and thus generate profit.  If they can do that more cheaply the more profit they can make.  If they can persuade us that their product is in some way better for us than the food we have previously consumed then their profit will also increase.

The Western diet is being targeted increasingly as the cause of many Western diseases.  Obesity is a major factor in type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.  Diet is prime suspect with regard to causing some cancer and our ability to heal from all cancers.  Stroke, dementia, arthritis and many age-related conditions are at least partly dependent on how we fed our bodies over the long term.

Doctors and governments have turned out to be surprisingly unreliable sources of good advice on what we should or should not be eating.  For years they have been dishing out advice on reducing salt and then suddenly reports start showing that salt intake isn’t so important after all.  Margarine type products made from supposedly healthy oils were touted over dangerous butter.  Suddenly the spectre of trans-fats emerges and now we are told that was all wrong and butter was better all along.

On one hand we have a set of experts telling us to avoid fats, particularly saturated fats, and on the other hand another set of experts telling us to avoid carbohydrates and eat protien – even if that means having lots of fat.  (The low fat diet vs the so called ‘paleo’ diet.)

So we turn to the internet to do a little research.  Surely it should be possible to get some answers.  I’m guessing you’ve already worked out that that is going to be easier said than done.

Eat Carbs; no no, don’t eat carbs.  Get lots of protein; no no, we are eating too much protein.  Eat super-foods. Don’t eat super-foods.  And all of this advice is from people who can and do reel off their list of qualifications.  They are mostly qualified medical doctors or research nutritionists.

For those who have the time to watch, here are two references which address the carbohydrate issue.

Dr John E Whitcomb, “Board Certified in Holistic and Integrative Medicine” discusses Cardiovascular Health in America today.  (Well, 2013 when this was uploaded.)  He argues that Cholesterol is not an issue, but is produced by your body as part of its fat storage mechanism.  That mechanism is triggered by high, blood sugar, which produces insulin, which in turn signals to the liver and fat cells to convert it to fat and store it.  High blood sugar is a result of eating sugars and carbohydrates.  Only in modern times have humans had ready access to high carbohydrate foods year-round.  So to reduce cholesterol, improve insulin insensitivity and lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes we should not be eating high carbohydrate foods for much of the year.

Dr John McDougall is “certified as an internist by the Board of Internal Medicine and the National Board of Medical Examiners.”  Below is his TED talk from 2012, which is somewhat shorter, but there are hour-long lectures on his website if you have the time

He argues that ketosis – the very thing which Dr Whitcomb states is a natural state for humans for much of the year – is a disease-like state.  Dr McDougall would have us eat a low-fat, plant-based diet.  Part of his agenda is around vegetarianism or veganism on the grounds of avoidance of cruelty to animals and damage to the planet.  However, that aside, his argument is that (unrefined) sugars and starch are our natural foods.  They should form the bulk of our diet most of the time.

The level of disagreement is mind-blowing.  How is anyone supposed to know which advice to follow?  What foods we should be eating to maintain good health seems as much a matter of opinion as whether one ought to be wearing a double or single breasted jacket.

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