To have world-beating students we need world-beating teachers

By | Education | One Comment

Australia’s exam results are in and they are not pretty. Our education system continues to slide backwards while the rest of the world races forward. Worse than that, the gap between the rich and the poor stubbornly persists and grows. And that is the real tragedy because it tells us that we are actively destroying the one thing that could save our economy when the coal runs out – intelligence.

In Australia it is an undeniable fact of education statistics that socioeconomic status predicts academic performance. On average, the children of low-income parents do not perform as well academically as the children of high-income parents.

Earlier this year the Grattan Institute analysed the 2015 NAPLAN results and put some hard numbers around that assertion. They found that high scoring Year 3 students from the lowest income quintile are almost 2 years behind their peers (with identical starting scores) from families in the highest income quintile by Year 9.  They all started out as potentially great Australian thinkers, but just six years later, that potential had been severely inhibited in the kids without money.

Too many academic writers are willing to put that down to better breeding (whatever that may be), but the reality is that it’s a symptom of an ineffectual (and dysfunctional) education system.

Another way of saying this is that in Australia, your home life has more impact on your learning than what goes on at school. In many cases, school has become an interruption to learning rather than a cause of it.

Genetically, IQ is not influenced by a person’s socioeconomic status but it’s a testament to the failure of our education system that here, academic performance is. Here, the size of the numbers in your parents’ bank account determines your academic success not the size of the numbers on your IQ test.

We could save everybody a lot of anguish if we simply handed out final results based on an income test rather than an academic test. The result is not likely to be materially different to those we get now. And that would be true no matter which school system you chose.

The job of a good education system is to, well, deliver good education – to everybody. A good education system should be blind to any disadvantage. It should ensure that students perform to their full potential regardless of their home environment, where they live or their parents’ jobs. In the countries that are putting us to shame, that is exactly what their education system achieves.

In the latest round of OECD tests (PISA), 9 of the 14 countries that beat us in science (for example) had systems in which economic disadvantage is barely a factor. A poor student in Macao or Hong Kong was three times as likely to perform well as that same student in Australia.

Australian taxpayers fund education because countries that educate their children do better than those that don’t. And yet we are happy to pay for a system that is so broken that it consigns most of our children to the learning rubbish heap. That is a tragedy for them but it is a disaster for Australia. We can’t afford to waste potential like that. It is the educational equivalent of shutting three out of every four of our businesses and farms. If for no other reason than naked self-interest, Australia needs desperately to fix its highly inequitable education system.

We won’t do that with charity. We already spend more on education than most of the countries who are flogging us.  We won’t do it by making it harder to become a teacher. And we certainly won’t do it by giving every school a new library or a better cricket pitch.

We will do it by copying the one thing that all the high performing countries do. We will ensure every teacher in every school is better today than they were yesterday. We will do that using proven systems of mentoring and peer review. We will no longer throw teaching graduates into classrooms and give them 4 days a year of lip-service ‘professional development.’ We will monitor their every move and help them ensure the next move is a better one.

The systems that outperform us by a country mile are systems designed to make sure the teachers keep learning too. For people with a passion for teaching, this would be heaven on a stick. A true professional would eat this up. Someone who just wanted a secure job with good holidays and shorter-than-average hours would be less inclined to apply. It’s a system designed to attract only professional educators and make them even better at their job as they go.

Do that and we will truly have the foundation for a school system, and kids, that can beat the world.

 

Also published in The Courier Mail and the Huffington Post

How a Soft Drink Tax (and not science) will change nutritionists’ views on sugar.

By | Conflicts of Interest, Sugar | 2 Comments

For a decade, the guardians of public health have fought tooth and nail against the science on sugar and the harm it causes.  But now that the government might pay more for their allegiance than the food industry, they are all ears.

This week, the Grattan Institute produced yet another proposal for a soft drink tax.  It’s an idea that just won’t go away, no matter how much the politicians want it to.

Convincing people not to smoke results in a measurable health outcome. Smoking is a primary cause of lung cancer and heart disease.  And rates of both diseases have plummeted since the introduction of tobacco taxes.  But this is in the context of tax being part of a package of measures aimed at making smoking slightly less socially desirable than persistent public flatulence.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for sugar.  Taxing one source of sugar will certainly reduce consumption from that source but detailed studies have been so far unable to detect a significant health benefit from reducing the consumption of those drinks alone.  This is likely to be because people simply find a cheaper, or just different, source.  The bloke avoiding the slightly more expensive Coke is probably still chowing down on sugar loaded cereal for breakfast, chugging an iced coffee for lunch and having sugar loaded BBQ sauce all over his sausage in bread.

Until you need to sneak into a dank corner of the car-park to snarf your cream-bun for fear of being hounded by the Heart Foundation, we are not comparing apples with apples.  But tax dollars might just achieve what science has failed to do for at least a decade.

This week’s Grattan report suggested $520 million a year could be raised from an Australian soft drink tax.  The authors didn’t put much thought into what that might be spent on, other than to vaguely waft in the direction of ‘health initiatives’ or some such.  But that was enough to get the attention of some of those who have been the most resistant to the idea that sugar is bad.

The food industry sponsored, Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) for example has steadfastly opposed the notion that sugar is a problem.  After Sweet Poison was released it published a press release entitled “Sweet truths: Eating sugar may not make you fat.”  And it has not wavered from that position over the 8 years since.  Similarly Nutrition Australia, to this day maintains “there is no consensus that [sugar] is the sole, or even major cause” of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The Heart Foundation has so comprehensively opposed the notion that sugar is harmful, that it sent out a cardiologist to consume significant radio time arguing against me on that point.  And it has been willing to raise the better part of $3 million a year from certifying that sugar loaded food is a heart healthy choice. It says this is because “there is no scientific consensus that sugar … causes heart disease.”

Diabetes organisations have also been happy to tell sufferers of Type II diabetes that sugar does not cause their disease.  Meanwhile the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has done its best to not have a position on sugar at all.  And it has certainly never openly condemned it.

But, my goodness what a difference a bit of green makes to one’s outlook.   The first to fall was the Heart Foundation, calling for a sugar tax like the one announced in the UK in May.  Then last week (after it became clear exactly how much money was in the pot), they all rushed in.  Within days of Grattan’s report being released the AMA, the DAA and Nutrition Australia all put out press releases demanding a sugar tax.  Some of them even while continuing to host pro-sugar content on their websites.  Their greed reflex outpaced even the fastest website editor.

Suddenly each of these peak health bodies are singing from a different song sheet. The prospect of loads of tax dosh trying to find a home for ‘health initiatives’ has converted them to sugar haters in a heartbeat.

A soft drink tax won’t directly reduce the amount of sugar we consume.  But the siren call of cold hard cash will apparently do what I and many like me have failed to do for a decade.  It will remove the single greatest obstacle to real progress, the nutrition rent-seekers.

No doubt much to the despair of the processed food industry, the loyalty which had been so painstakingly built over decades with speaking fees, sponsorships, endorsements and carefully crafted non-science will all likely be blown away by government tax money looking for a home.

These tax-payer funded organisations have been perfectly happy to ignore the science for a decade.  They have been happy to dictate health policy that lets ever increasing numbers of us suffer.  And they have been happy to do it because of ego or profit or consensus or stubbornness or all of the above.

I suspect nothing has changed about nutrition industry views on sugar but their collective campaigning (no matter how much it is motivated by greed), will undoubtedly have the effect of telling us all something we desperately need to hear – there is a very real problem with sugar.  And if that’s the way we get there, then so be it.

How to fix our plummeting Maths and Science results

By | Education | 2 Comments

The results of the latest international benchmark tests are now in.  Once again the picture is not a pretty one for Australia.  Once again there will be much hand-wringing.  And once again nothing will change.

Every four years since 1995, Australia has participated in an international benchmarking test in science and maths (TIMSS).  Last year, 6,057 Australian Year 4 students and 10,338 year 8 students took part in the latest round.   Australia’s performance on all tests was mediocre (at best) and showed no significant improvement since 1995.  Meanwhile many other countries have significantly improved.

The scores are divided into 5 bands.  Just 5% of our year 4 students managed to perform at the highest level (let’s call that an A) in maths.  But 50% of Singapore students (for example) perform at that level.  By year 8, 7% of Australian kids get an A, but 54% of Singapore do.

The story is no more palatable in science.  Just 8% of our year 4s would get an A in science while 37% would in Singapore.  Just 7% of our year 8s get an A, compared to 42% of Singapore’s year 8s.

Overall, Australia has dropped 5 places in Year 8 results since 2011 and 10 places in year 4 maths results (our year 4 science was already terrible in 2011).

Of course, these results have been politicised within seconds of release.  The Labor Party says they show we need to spend more on schools and the Government says we need to fix up teaching.  Both statements are right as far as they go.  Unfortunately, based on previous performance, putting out a press release is as far as either party will go.

We can fix Australian education.  But to do it, two important vested interests, the rent-seeking private education providers and the teaching unions, need to leave the field of battle.  And it would be good if they took their political patrons with them.

Australian taxpayers give $12 billion a year to private education providers.  That amount is growing very rapidly and is a big contributor to the rapid rises in costs of Australian education.  It does not go towards better classrooms or teachers for the children who need it most, rather large chunks of it are spent on marketing to secure the next round of bums-on-seats based funding from the taxpayer.

The other incessant driver of cost increases is smaller class sizes driven by teaching unions.  Once again billions are spent and not a cent of it goes towards improving teaching or facilities. Meanwhile, the countries flogging us in TIMSS have been leaving class sizes at levels last seen in Australia in the 1960s and using the money that saves to focus on what goes on in those classes.

In those countries there’s a constant and pervasive culture of teacher-performance mentoring – not monitoring, mentoring. Teachers are treated like the professionals they are. They’re not abandoned in their classrooms to sink or swim, they’re constantly watched, receive constant feedback from acknowledged experts in teaching and must repeatedly demonstrate their capabilities. The career path keeps the people with the expertise at the coalface helping to bring others along. Good teachers are not promoted out of the classroom, they’re given progressively greater influence over the effectiveness of other teachers. Good teachers are used to breed more good teachers.

Systems like this have been in place in Finland since the mid-1990s, and are being progressively implemented in China, Hong Kong, Korea and Singapore. They’re now starting to bear fruit as all of these countries race ahead of Australia.

Australia’s version of all this is very ordinary by comparison. In 2013, the OECD conducted a detailed survey of all OECD teachers. The Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) revealed that while Australia certainly has teaching and mentoring programs, most new Australian teachers reported that they received little or no constructive feedback from the programs, it was rarely based on classroom observation and, as a result, it was disconnected from student learning. Most teacher professional development consisted of attendance at one-off courses and wasn’t part of any longer term collaborative research program.

Any incentive to improve is severely lacking. Ninety per cent of Australian teachers said they’d receive no recognition (and they’re not talking about pay) if they improved the quality of their teaching or were more innovative in the classroom. Nearly half of all teachers felt that appraisal of their work was merely a box-ticking administrative exercise and had little, if any, impact on what they actually do every day.

This mentoring and professionalism stuff is all well and good, but all this time away from class, researching and watching others, would cost a packet. The students don’t disappear. There still has to be someone in the classroom, but with their teacher off ‘gallivanting’, more teachers need to be employed to cover the classes. The interesting thing is that each of the high-performing school systems actually costs less than the Australian education system and considerably less than the OECD average. And it’s not because the teachers are poorly paid. When all the economic adjustments and fiddles are made to ensure we’re comparing apples with apples, teachers in some of these systems earn more than Australian teachers and have careers that allow them to earn even more if they’re effective.

The high-performing countries aren’t extracting the cost of teacher mentoring from teachers’ salaries, they’re getting the money by keeping class sizes high. The average Shanghai teacher is working with a class of 40 children, whereas the average Australian teacher has only a little over half that many rascals (23) to deal with.

The combined effect of privatising our schools and caving in to union demands on class sizes is to make the entire system much more expensive while not meaningfully improving anything about the delivery of education.  Both things can be fixed.  But both things require more political will than either side has shown until now.

If we want to keep reading headlines about how far behind Australia’s education system is falling behind, then the path is clear.  Keep doing what we’ve done up until now.  But if we’d rather not pick of the paper in 2020 and read we are now dead last on TIMSS 2019, then now would be a good time to do something about it.

Vita Gummies – the ‘healthy’ sweet con

By | Sugar | No Comments

Nature’s Way Vita Gummies embed vitamins in delicious sugar filled gummies. Shouting about the vitamin benefits of a food while blithely ignoring the other 99.99% of the product is not a new tactic in the processed food industry. Take Heart Foundation approved, 4 Health Star, Milo (27% sugar) for example. But sweets laced with vitamins are not an improvement on either sweets or vitamins.

I guess you could (almost – at a very big stretch) justify that kind of marketing if there was any evidence (whatsoever) that the average Australian needed any more of those Vitamins or minerals. Vitamin supplements have only been part of our food supply since just before the second world war. Prior to that our Grandparents and their grandparents managed to struggle through life without any supplementation at all.

The need for vitamins only arose because two hideous diseases reached epidemic proportions in the early part of the 20th century. In south-east Asia beriberi was rampant because (it turned out) Europeans had started using steam driven mills to turn brown rice into white rice (and in the process stripping out Vitamin B1). And at almost the same time in the southern United States pellagra was inflicting mass agony because Europeans had decided that treating raw corn with lime (a process the Indians had used for millennia to activate the Vitamin B3) was a waste of time and money.

South East Asians derived almost all their nutrition from rice at the time and poor farmers in the southern United States derived almost all of their food from corn. Messing with those two fundamental food sources resulted in mass deficiencies which led to disease. The only other two significant deficiencies which have (in modern times) resulted in widespread disease are scurvy (if you happen to be locked in a boat without access to anything but dry biscuits and rum for six months) and rickets (if you use too much sunblock).

The reality is that the overwhelming majority of people living in Australia today have no more risk of being functionally deficient in any vitamin than I do of becoming the Queen (of England that is). Our bodies are extraordinarily efficient at extracting exactly what we need (and no more) from our food (mostly from meat) and excreting the excess. If you are inclined to the I’ll-top-em-up-just-in-case persuasion, the research suggests you are just flushing your money away.

One of the most thorough (but by no means, not the only) recent studies was the Physicians Health Trial. In that study, 14,641 US doctors were followed for 10 years while they took either Vitamin E or Vitamin C supplements, the two vitamins which are heavily promoted as having anti-oxidant (and therefore heart disease related) benefits.

Half of the doctors were actually taking placebos instead, but neither they nor the folks assessing the results knew which was which. The double blind (no-one knew who was taking what), randomized nature of the trial (together with its large size and long duration) means that it is very high quality evidence.

The point of the trial was to figure out whether the supplements had any effect at all on heart disease and stroke outcomes among the participants. And what they found would have been very disappointing for the supplement industry indeed. There was exactly no difference between the heart disease outcomes for any of the groups.

The Vitamin E folks had just as many heart attacks as the Vitamin C folks. And they had just as many as the folks taking nothing. The resounding conclusion from the study is that if any of the participants had been paying for their vitamins, they would have been well and truly wasting their money (for ten long years). While we certainly need Vitamin E and Vitamin C, it seems shoving more of it in our mouths changes absolutely nothing (except the bank balance of the folks selling the supplement).

Similar high quality trials on Vitamin D, Calcium and Vitamin B supplements have arrived at exactly the same conclusion – don’t waste your money. And this is why (in the US at least) supplements must carry this warning:

“these statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”

Vita-Gummies (at 23c a throw) are about 8 times the price of garden variety gummi bears (which are aren’t laced with precursors to expensive urine) but they do contain just as much life sapping sugar (something which unfortunately ends up around our waist and not down the drain).

Selling sweets as health food (to children and their parents) when they are in reality a package of pure sugar is unbelievably perverse.

Unfortunately nobody is breaking any laws telling us that a sugar loaded sweet (with a vitamin chaser) is good for us. And so the marketers go to town. But where do we draw the line? Chocolate coated carrot shavings, sold as Vegies the Kids Will Love (no, Nestle that is not a suggestion)? This pathetic game must stop. It’s time for truth in labelling. Surely our children are worth that much.

Stop public cash for private schools

By | Education | 4 Comments

The education Minister thinks some private schools are over-funded.  He’s wrong.  They all are.

According to the latest figures we have available, Australian taxpayers spend $12 billion a year propping up the businesses we call private schools.  That is more than we spend on unemployment benefits and sickness allowance combined and it is about 12 times as much as we spend on the ABC and SBS.  And that’s just for recurrent expenses. We also generously hurl another billion in their direction so they can build capital facilities that taxpayers don’t own and are not permitted to use.  Since most of these businesses are also tax exempt those numbers are just the tip of our generosity.

The spin masters employed by these private businesses often run the line that they are doing taxpayers a favour by taking their money.  They point out that while it does cost taxpayers $9,327 per student per year to educate one of their clients, it would cost the government $13,783 to do it in a government-run school.  My goodness golly gosh they’re generous, they’re saving us $4,456 per student. Except they aren’t.  More than half ($2,386) of that ‘saving’ is notional because it is for depreciation of the school assets owned by the public schools.  The school doesn’t see a cent of it in its operating budget.  Not one teacher is paid with it.  Not one book is purchased with it.  But that notional expense is included in the calculation for the government-run school and not for the privately-run school.

Once you drop that accounting trickery out, the gap narrows considerably.  In 2014 it cost the taxpayer just 18% less to have the child educated ‘privately’ .  And that gap has been closing very quickly.  In 2009 it was 28%.  At that rate of progress it should cease to exist at all in the next 5 or 6 years.

Even though are getting relatively less and less government money, it is the government-run schools taking on the more challenging task educationally.  They teach 7 times as many students classified by the ABS as living ‘very remotely’ and 4 times as many students classed as being ‘remote.’ When it comes to children with special needs, once again it is those same schools doing the heavy lifting, educating 3.3 times as many children with a disability as their ‘private’ brethren.

And unlike government-run schools, privately-run schools are largely exempt from the provisions of Australia’s discrimination laws. They are permitted by law to pick and choose who they will and will not be bothered trying to educate.   In New South Wales for example they can refuse to teach (or employ) people on the basis of marital status, sex, disability, transgender or homosexuality.  Queensland is less discriminatory.  Here schools can only pick and choose on the basis of not liking someone’s religion.

But let’s not fall into the trap of arguing about the pennies and ignore the pounds.  The real question is why is the taxpayer contributing anything all?  The taxpayer provides a fully funded secular system open to all comers.  People can choose not to use the system, but if they choose to opt-out why does the taxpayer owe them anything?  If I choose not to take the bus to work, I don’t get to ask the government to buy me a car.  If I choose not to use a public swimming pool, I don’t get to ask the taxpayer to build me one.  If I choose to employ a security guard I don’t get to send the taxpayer a bill for the police time I am saving them.

Meanwhile our results in benchmark tests continue to slide.  Our rankings on international comparative tests have been dropping like a stone.  We now rank 14th (out of 32 OECD) countries behind Poland, Germany and Vietnam.  Worse, analysis of the numbers shows it is the private schools which are letting us down the most.

Usually when taxpayers subsidise something it is to gain a collective benefit.  We subsidise child care because the government wants parents to work.  We subsidise medical treatment because we want our population to be healthy and we subsidise local manufacturing because we want to keep those skills in Australia.  There is however no reasonable justification for the extraordinary public funding of private choices in Australian education.  It doesn’t save money, it doesn’t improve results, it divides our education system along class lines and it entrenches legally justified discrimination.

So, Minister, let’s not fret too much about who is on the ‘hit-list’ and who isn’t.  Let’s put them all on that list and get on with using that $12 billion a year to fix our education system.

Also published in The Courier Mail

Why you need to keep seed oils out of your dog’s food.

By | Vegetable Oils | 6 Comments

Human sperm quality has been in a nosedive over the last half century. Now a new study proves exactly the same thing has been happening to dogs. And the likely cause is seed oils in their feed (for humans and dogs).

Last week a very strong study was released that showed consistently plummeting sperm quality in a large controlled dog breeding program. Quality dropped by 2.5% a year from 1988 to 1998 and then 1.2% a year from 2002 through to 2014. The reason for the improvement was that between 1999 and 2001, dogs that were not producing viable sperm were removed from the breeding program. Something you can do with dogs but potential fathers are a bit persnickety about.

These results are very close to those we already have in humans, the other omnivore that shares the diet and the living space of dogs. Similar rates of human sperm quality decline are now being reported in all Western countries (although alarmingly at a decline of 3% a year, Australia is at the high end).

Humans don’t normally eat dog food (well, I don’t), but there is one ingredient both dogs and humans eat now that neither ate before the early 20th century.  And that’s seed oils.

Pick up your favourite packet of dog food and peer closely at the ingredients. Here’s a typical example (from Pedigree, one of the most popular dog foods on sale in Australia):

Cereals &/or cereal by-products, meat & meat by-products (poultry, beef &/or lamb), poultry palatant, beet pulp, salt, minerals, sunflower oil, vitamins, amino acid, antioxidants

The Cereal (husks and small cereal particles left over from milling as well as whole grains as filler) and Meat by-products (lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, fatty tissue, stomachs and intestines) are in dog food precisely because they are hard to sell to humans.

The ‘Palatant’ is flavouring to make it taste like food (and so the owner thinks it smells like food). If it weren’t there a dog wouldn’t eat it.

And Beet pulp is the fibre left over after they extract sugar from sugar beet plants. It makes dog poop firmer and this apparently pleases those who do the scooping.

Aside from the vitamins and minerals, there is only one ingredient in this ‘food’ that also appears in human food. In this brand it is sunflower oil but it often just described as vegetable oil.

These oils are not made from vegetables at all. Rather they come from seeds (like Canola or Rapeseed, Soybean, Sunflower, Safflower, Rice Bran and Grape). The dead give-away is often that they will make claims about the food containing ‘essential fatty acids’.

Omega-6 fat is the dominant fat in the ‘vegetable oils’ used in every processed food and in most dog foods. And there is ample evidence in both human and animal trials that omega-6 fats degrade sperm quality.

These Omega-6 based seed oils are the fat of choice for the processed food and the pet food industries because they are a lot cheaper than fats from animals and exotic fruits like olives, avocados and coconuts. As a result, human consumption of Omega-6 fats has at least tripled in the last century.  We have no long term data on vegetable oil consumption by dogs. But it is not unreasonable to assume it is similar since, packaged dog food has only really been available since the end of the first World War and only the cheapest possible ingredients are used in most pet food.

While sperm quality is important to dog breeders (and humans who might want kids), I suspect it’s not of much concern to pet owners in general. Sperm quality is however an early warning for a much nastier set of diseases increasingly linked to consumption of these oils. Chief among these is cancer.

In humans we have high quality evidence that people fed these oils are twice as likely to suffer from cancer as people who are not. And there is strong evidence that as the amount of it in our food has accelerated, so too have the numbers of us affected by cancer.

Similarly, in dogs the rates of the most common cancers have tripled since the late sixties. Cancer is at terrifyingly high levels in most pets now, affecting 1 in 4 dogs. And those are just the ones we know about (because they are insured).

Dogs don’t get to choose not to eat seed oils. But their owners can. And surprisingly it is the extremely cheap brands that are often seed oil free. Woolworths Homebrand dry dog food, for example, uses ‘Animal Fat’ rather than seed oils. If you avoid dog foods which include seed oils you’ll give your best friend his best chance at avoiding cancer.

What seed oils are really doing to your body

By | Books, Cookbook, Recipes, Vegetable Oils | 2 Comments

VEGETABLE oils are highly unstable.

When they interact with oxygen, they release neurotoxic, DNA mutating chemicals which are known to cause cancer (at least).

Recent improvements in measurement technology have now thrown a spotlight on the quantity of these chemicals released by normal use. And the results are truly terrifying.

Cheap vegetable oil made from seeds (canola, sunflower, corn, safflower, grapeseed, rice bran and soybean oils) is a new addition to the human diet. Unlike animal fats and oils made from fruit (olive, avocado and coconut oils), they’re very high in polyunsaturated fats and in particular something called an omega-6 fat.

A recent study found that when seed oils containing these fats are heated at a normal cooking temperature (of 180 degrees celsius), they create highly toxic chemicals known to be involved in cancer causation.,

And each time the oil was re-used the concentration increased massively. The study showed that by the fifth day of oil re-use, it had five times the concentration of these chemicals that it had on the first (which was already alarmingly high).

But worse than that, the researchers also made the point that all they could measure was the amount of these chemicals left in the oil. Since they are highly volatile, they are constantly escaping into the air around us when the food is being cooked.

According to another recent study, it is likely that this volatility explains the stubbornly high rates of lung cancer among women in Asian countries (where smoking is rare among women, but wok frying with Canola oil is a daily task).

Those toxic molecules are dangerous because they are interact destructively with our DNA. This significantly increases the chances that cancer will develop.

These seed oils are now a core component of our food supply and Australians are sicker now than at any time in our history.

We are almost four times as likely to have thyroid cancer than just three short decades ago. We are more than three times as likely to have liver cancer. We are twice as likely to have melanoma, Motor Neuron Disease, kidney or anal cancer.

Men are more than twice as likely to have prostate cancer and 60 per cent more likely to have testicular cancer. Women are 43 per cent more likely to have breast cancer. And children are paying even more dearly.

A child is 6 times as likely to suffer from leukaemia than at the start of the 20th century. And they are more than four times as likely to suffer from a life threatening allergic reaction than they were just 20 years ago.

The chronic disease tsunami is upon us.

Every day there are thousands of teenagers standing over vats of frying canola oil for eight hour shifts at every fast food restaurant in this country. Every day, there are people cooking with high temperature seed oils in woks and frying pans. And every day there are industrial quantities of heated seed oil being poured into commercial baked and frozen foods.

A century ago, exactly none of these fats were added to our food supply.

Every day 312 new cancer sufferers are diagnosed in Australia. That this is allowed to continue when the science is so clear on the likely cause, is not merely a shame or an embarrassment. It is an outrage and a tragedy.

It is reasonably safe to assume all the fat in processed food comes from seed oils. The good news is that this only applies to food made by others (and usually shoved into a packet with a picture of real food on the front).

Nobody can stop you making and eating real food. All you need is a little know-how.

Also published on news.com.au


Eat Real Food Cookbook Launch Offer

Cookbook bundle540Get the new Eat Real Food Cookbook OR the Sweet Poison Quit Plan Cookbook OR BOTH for 25% OFF.

Just Enter the discount code ERFCB25 at checkout

Both books are of course signed by David

Buy Now

Offer ends 31 December 2016

Why we need to eat real food

By | Books, Cookbook, Sugar, Vegetable Oils | 8 Comments

It turns out that avoiding Type II Diabetes, Obesity and Fatty Liver is the easy bit.

Sugar is very bad news. It destroys (in this order), our teeth, our gut, our liver, our ligaments, our pancreas, our kidneys our blood vessels, our heart and eventually our brain. The science on all of this is now so uncontroversial, that many countries (including the UK) are implementing sugar taxes to help pay for the accelerating damage. But sugar is the lesser of the two dietary evils that have infiltrated our food supply. The other is vegetable oil. And it makes the consequences of sugar consumption look like a mild case of the sniffles. This stuff doesn’t just destroy our lives, it takes out the next generation as well.

Twelve years ago I removed sugar from my diet. I didn’t change anything else. Yep, I still ate meat pies (just without sauce). I still drank beer. And I still didn’t exercise anywhere near enough. I did it because I was obese and the evidence told me that the reason was my sugar consumption. So I stopped eating sugar. It changed my life permanently. I lost 40 kilograms and regained a passion for participating in the lives of my six kids, something that up until then was fading as fast as my weight grew.

Then, a few years into my sugar free life, I discovered something that made it immeasurably harder. Sugar isn’t the only thing that’s been added to our diet in large quantities by the food industry. The other is oils extracted from seeds (usually described as ‘healthy’ vegetable oil).  It isn’t the occasional splash of oil you add to your salad or fry your steak in.  It’s the industrial quantities of the stuff added to your bread, your biscuits, your frozen meals, your sauces and dressings and everything you buy in a restaurant or your favourite take-away.

Cheap vegetable oil made from seeds (canola, sunflower, corn, safflower, grapeseed, rice bran and soybean oils) is a new addition to the human diet. Unlike animal fats and oils made from fruit (olive, avocado and coconut oils), they’re very high in polyunsaturated fats and in particular something called an omega-6 fat.

When omega-6 fats are heated (in a deep fryer or in the human body) they produce highly toxic molecules. Those end-products are dangerous because they are incorporated into every cell in our body and interact destructively with our DNA. This significantly increases the chances that cancer will develop.  But that’s by no means the least of it. Because of their neurotoxic capabilities, these molecules are likely to be heavily involved in motor neuron disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. They’re also implicated in chronic inflammation, the massive recent increase in allergies, stroke and heart disease. And, less predictably, they probably lie behind the sudden mass decline in male fertility and the massive increases in childhood cancers, Down syndrome and Autism.

Australians are sicker now than at any time in our history and it is getting worse unbelievably quickly.  We are almost four times as likely to have thyroid cancer than just three short decades ago.  We are more than three times as likely to have Liver Cancer.  We are twice as likely to have Melanoma, Motor Neuron Disease, Kidney or Anal cancer.

Men are more than twice as likely to have prostate cancer and 60% more likely to have testicular cancer.  Women are 43% more likely to have breast cancer.  And children are paying even more dearly.  A child is 6 times as likely to suffer from leukemia than at the start of the 20th century. And they more than four times as likely to suffer from a life threatening allergic reaction than they were just 20 years ago.  Sperm counts halved in the 50 years (to 1990). Pregnancies are three times as likely to be affected by Down syndrome over the same period and a child is twice as likely to be autistic.  The chronic disease tsunami is upon us.

These unbelievably cheap sources of fat are even more deadly than sugar and have now infiltrated everything on the supermarket shelves. If I avoided the 99% fat free but high sugar mayo, I was jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. The full fat version had no sugar but was made using sunflower oil.

A century ago, exactly none of these fats were added to our food supply. Now unless you made it yourself, it is reasonably safe to assume all the fat in your food comes from a seed. Avoiding these fats is several orders of magnitude harder than avoiding sugar. Our food supply is stuffed with two ingredients that are more likely than not to cause a slow, lingering and painful death. The good news is that this only applies to food made by others (and usually shoved into a packet with a picture of real food on the front). Nobody can stop you making and eating real food. All you need is a little know-how. And that’s what the Eat Real Food Cookbook is all about.

It’s an odd sort of a cookbook. It explains the science and gives you an easy guide to navigating the supermarket and your local eatery. It’s not the kind of cookbook you’d give to your best friend for her to put on her coffee table (and that neither of you having any intention of reading). It doesn’t show you how to cook flash cakes that look like Darth Vader. And it most certainly doesn’t show you how to make a salad in a jar.

My wife, Lizzie, and our six kids have been living off the recipes and tips in the book for the better part of the last decade. Don’t let the beautiful photography fool you. This is an intensely practical book designed to solve an intensely practical problem. How to create high quality food – simply, inexpensively quickly and every day – that’s completely free of the twin evils of fructose (the dangerous part of sugar) and seed oils (the man-made fats recently added to our food supply).


Eat Real Food Cookbook Launch Offer

Cookbook bundle540Get the new Eat Real Food Cookbook OR the Sweet Poison Quit Plan Cookbook OR BOTH for 25% OFF.

Just Enter the discount code ERFCB25 at checkout

Both books are of course signed by David

Buy Now

Free Recipes

By | Recipes, Sugar | 2 Comments

FREE Recipes from the Sweet Poison Cookbook

When you first quit sugar, its handy to have some stand-by recipes.  Grab this starter set of recipes from the book absolutely free.

These recipes were developed by Peta Dent. Peta is a proper chef, so the recipes are full-on, professionally developed desserts and sweet treats fit for inclusion in any TV chef’s collection. This doesn’t mean they’re hard to make or use bizarre ingredients (Guatamalan chia seeds anyone?).

Peta has cooked each of the recipes dozens of times, trying different combinations and adjusting the quantities until we (and a random selection of sugar-addicted and sugar-free guinea pigs) were happy with the end product. I’ve tasted all of them. The quality control was hard work, but someone had to battle through all that ice cream and cake (okay, I had a little help from the kids!). Lizzie has also made a lot the recipes to make sure an average person in an average kitchen with an average supermarket down the road can pull them off . They’re spectacularly good and we are very excit-ed by the sheer abundance of high-quality fructose-free options this book represents.

The Rise and Rise of Assisted Reproduction – Stealing our Future – Part 5

By | Vegetable Oils | One Comment

Assisted Reproduction

40 is the new 21.  Half a century ago, the average kid was done with school by 15, married and settled into their first house by their early twenties and producing their own kids shortly thereafter.  Now if you have had your first child by 30 you are doing well.  But when it comes to fertility we are constrained by biology.  21 is still the new 21.  And it’s a pretty good age to have kids (from a purely biochemical perspective).

Human reproductive systems work best when they are young.

fert

A woman is born with the last egg she will release before menopause.  This makes that egg one of the oldest lived cells in the human body (at the time it is released) and as such, one of the cells most likely to accumulate damage to its DNA.  Two of the body’s defense mechanisms against this sort of damage are infertility and miscarriage.  As a woman’s age increases, her chances of becoming pregnant decline rapidly and her chances of having a miscarriage increase dramatically.

A similar defence mechanism is at work in men.  As a man ages the quality of the sperm he produces drops significantly.  Men over 40 have three times the DNA damage and consequently are less than half as likely to conceive (when compared to younger men).

We can accelerate the rates of DNA damage with oxidative stress.  And vegetable oil consumption is a powerful driver of that.  Vegetable oils made from seeds and legumes (Sunflower, Canola, Rice Bran, Grapeseed, Soybean, Peanut and Cottonseed) are very high in a type of fat (omega-6 polyunsaturated fat) which drives oxidation in the human body.

That oxidation destroys sperm quality and causes massive damage to sperm DNA. But our defences will normally kick in and the defective sperm are killed off.  If those defenses fail (or are circumvented), sperm with damaged DNA can get through.

As parental age and vegetable oil consumption increases and fertility decreases, couples are increasingly seeking help with conception.  This involves the use of assisted reproductive technologies (ART).  In particular, the use of ICSI, the method used to address male infertility, has exploded.

icsi640

ICSI injects one sperm directly into an egg and so overcomes low sperm count and poor motility (movement and speed) problems.  In other words, it works around the very things which the body is using to eliminate sperm which are less likely to produce healthy babies.

Of course ICSI doctors only select sperm which look healthy but at the moment there are no reliable tests for the type of damage to sperm DNA caused by oxidative stress. So when we deliberately circumvent our failsafe systems, the chances of childhood diseases (attributable to DNA damage) increase considerably.

One recent large study in Sweden demonstrated that the risk of Autism in ICSI births was up to 4.6 times as high (and mental retardation 2.3 times as high) as with an unassisted pregnancy.  Similarly, a large Norwegian study published in February 2016 revealed there is a 67% increased risk for childhood leukemia in ART children. And a 2014 study showed there was 33% increase in schizophrenia in ART conceived children.

These studies are all from Scandinavia, because, unlike Australia, Northern Europeans keep high quality long term statistics on birth outcomes from ART.  The exception here is Western Australia, the only state with a statutory register of ART treatments and outcomes.  And even accounting for the relatively small size of their datasets, the same patterns are emerging.  The risk of serious birth defects in ART children is approximately double that in unassisted conceptions.

Horrifically, in treating the obvious symptom of oxidation – declining fertility – with technology, we are end-running our body’s attempts to stop the suffering that sperm oxidation can cause.

Unfortunately, there are strong financial incentives to keep doing so.  The Australian ART market is worth $400 million dollars a year and is generating strong and growing profits.  Which is surprising given ART doesn’t work that well for most of its customers.  More than 72% of fresh cycles for women under 30 (and 98.8% for women over 44) will not result in a live birth.  Combine the accelerating profits from ‘treatment’ with the profits to be had from using cheap vegetable oils in our food and we are caught in a pincer movement of market forces working against a solution to the disease epidemics we now face.

The ART industry’s response to those statistics, and the increasing risks our children face, is that schoolgirls should be told to freeze their eggs when they are young.  But I reckon if we’re going to be telling schoolchildren (of both genders) how to manage their fertility then how about we start with – Don’t Smoke, Don’t Eat Vegetable Oil and don’t delay having children (once you decide you want them).

 

Photo by Ⅿeagan. Distributed under the Creative Commons License.

This is the final part of a five part series.  To see Part One click here.

Get all the studies mentioned in this series here

 

Error: Please enter a valid email address

Error: Invalid email

Error: Please enter your first name

Error: Please enter your last name

Error: Please enter a username

Error: Please enter a password

Error: Please confirm your password

Error: Password and password confirmation do not match