How Big Food is using our health system as a marketing tool.

By | Big Fat Lies, Conflicts of Interest, Sugar, Vegetable Oils | 2 Comments

Nestle, Danone and others like them, use our health system as a tool for flogging cheap and addictive powdered milk products.  Regulators have clamped down on them doing it with baby formula, now it is time to stop them doing it to our elderly.

In the early 1970s Nestle decided to exploit mothers in developing countries.  The plan was to convince breastfeeding mothers that using Nestle formulas was healthier for their children than breastfeeding them.

Nestle had realized that many mothers in Africa, Asia and South America had a strong desire to imitate Western culture.  So they leveraged this by implying that formula was the modern way to feed babies.  Anything else was old fashioned and primitive.

The aggressive marketing was extraordinarily effective. Formula sales took off like a rocket (the market is now worth $25 billion a year) but so did the incidence of childhood diseases in the developing world.  Drinking water was often unsafe and mixing it with milk powder and sugar didn’t do anything to fix that.

Breastfeeding protected children from the vagaries of the local water supply.  It is also free and doesn’t drain critically important money away from families who can least afford to buy formula.  The cost often results in mothers using less powder than required to make the tin stretch further.  So even if the water is clean the child is undernourished.

Nestle’s aggressive marketing led, in 1977, to a worldwide boycott of Nestle’s products.  And as a result, in 1981, the World Health Organization (WHO) created guidelines on the marketing of formula, but to this day there are continual breaches in the developing world and many of the groups who started the boycott continue to fight against Nestle and others.

The message was equally effective with Australian mothers.  Manufacturers provided formula ‘donations’ to Hospital nurseries and in hospital promotions often delivered by healthcare workers. And it worked.  Breastfeeding in Australia fell to record low levels in the 1970s.  In 1972 just one in 20 children was breastfed for 12 months.

In 1992 the Australian government finally implemented a voluntary code (based on the WHO rules developed more than a decade earlier) which severely restricted the way infant formula could be marketed and include a requirement that mother’s be told breast is best in all marketing material.  Promotion cannot occur at all on healthcare facilities and healthcare workers cannot receive any form of inducement to promote the products.  If formula is donated to an institution, it can only be used for children who a doctor has determined requires formula.

The code is voluntary but all the major manufacturers has signed on and breastfeeding rates are now 6-fold what they were in 1972 (although they are still just a third of the WHO recommended level).  Even so, Nestle and others continue to circumvent the ban on marketing by advertising unregulated toddler milks with exactly the same packaging and branding as the infant formulas.

But that is just fiddling at the edges compared to the latest gold mine for medical formula reps – the elderly.

Doctors are rightly concerned that older people not suffer from under-nutrition. They take weight loss among the elderly very seriously and therein lies the opportunity for Nestle and others (such as Danone, the maker of the Fortisip range).  These companies actively markets the use of food supplements for elderly patients, whether they are losing weight or not.  Hospitals and dietitians are encouraged to use things like the Nestle Nutritional Assessment tool to assess the need for supplements. Using that tool it would be almost impossible not to be assessed as requiring supplementation.

These powdered milk concoctions are offered as drinks with (or even instead of) hospital meals and patients are provided with order forms (often by dietitians employed by the hospital) for discounted purchase after they are discharged.  The products themselves are usually just hideously overprice powdered milk, sugar and a multi-vitamin and sometimes a dab of seed oil just for good measure.

The ingredients are very similar to Up&Go except they can have loads more sugar and sometimes a pile of seed oil as well.

Fortisip Vanilla Ready to Drink Sustagen Hospital Powder UP&GO Vanilla Ice Ready to Drink
water, maltodextrin, milk protein, sucrose, vegetable oil (canola oil, sunflower oil), tri potassium citrate, emulsifier (soy lecithin), flavour, magnesium chloride, acidity regulator, tri calcium phosphate, carotenoids, choline chloride, calcium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, sodium L-ascorbate, ferrous lactate, zinc sulphate, colour, magnesium hydroxide, nicotinamide, retinyl acetate, copper gluconate, DL-α tocopheryl acetate, sodium selenite, manganese sulphate, calcium D-pantothenate, chromium chloride, D-biotin, cholecalciferol, thiamin hydrochloride, pterolylmonoglutamic acid, pyridoxine hydrochloride, cyanoccobalamin, sodium molybdate, riboflavin, sodium flouride, potassium iodide, phytomenadione Non Fat Milk Solids (63%), Corn Syrup Solids, Whole Milk Powder, Sugar, Minerals (Magnesium Hydrogen Phosphate, Ferric Pyrophosphate, Zinc Gluconate, Copper Gluconate, Manganese Sulphate, Sodium Molybdate, Chromium Trichloride, Sodium Selenite), Vitamins (C, E, Niacinamide, A, D3, B6, B1, B2, Folic Acid, K1, B12), Stabiliser (414), Flavour. water, skim milk powder, cane sugar, wheat maltodextrin, soy protein, vegetable oils (sunflower, canola), vegetable fibre, hi-maize™ starch, corn syrup solids, flavours, fructose, oat flour, mineral (calcium), acidity regulator (332), vegetable gums (460, 466, 407), stabiliser (452), salt, vitamins (C, niacin, A, B12, B6, B2, B1, folate).
Sugar: 13.3% Sugar: 45% Sugar: 7.6%
Polyunsaturated Fat: 2.8% Polyunsaturated fat: 0.8% Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.7%

The sugar in Sustagen had until May 2016, been glucose.  But then Nestle decided to ‘improve the nutritional profile’ by replacing the much of the glucose with cane sugar.  Effectively this means they replaced half the nutritionally harmless glucose with toxic fructose.  Yep, the same fructose that has been nailed as causing Type II diabetes, Obesity, Fatty Liver Disease and probably Alzheimer’s disease (just to name a few of its greatest hits).

I can’t see how introducing a confirmed source of chronic disease improves the nutritional profile (and they have refused to respond to my written requests for an explanation), but I can see how it improves the financial profile of Nestle.  Sustagen’s competition all use it.  Fructose is highly addictive, so products that contain it always sell better than products without it.  And since the aim of this game seems to be follow on sales after the patient leaves hospital, an addictive product would be a better choice. Commercially its a no-brainer.

The seed oils in many of these products cause cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s Disease osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (just to name a few of the greatest hits). Seed oils are cheap as chips, so using them instead of milk fat increases the profit margin.  Another commercial no-brainer.

These products are being directly promoted and marketed to patients within our healthcare system, something which would be prohibited if they were infant formula.   Nobody, but especially not a sick elderly person, needs sugar and (often) seed oil, loaded milk powder.  Nestle and their mates were barred from using hospitals as a sales tool for infant formula and its time the same thing happened for this garbage as well.

It’s probably not a good idea to smear endocrine disrupting chemicals all over your children’s bodies

By | Big Fat Lies, Conflicts of Interest | 4 Comments

There has been a bit of fuss lately about people getting seriously burnt even though they used sunscreen.  For a while now, I’ve been a little concerned about the long list of unpronounceable names on the back of our ever-present library of sunscreens. Prompted by the latest bout of bad news, I decided to finally do the research I’d been putting off. So far, the results are both infuriating and worrying.

I was a kid during the slip, slop, slap era. We were told (by a seagull with a lisp) to thlip on a shirt, thlop on sunscreen and thlap on a hat. There is absolutely no doubt that overexposure to the UV radiation in sunlight is likely a cause of skin cancer (although probably not melanoma). And so advice aimed at ensuring we minimize that risk is smart. This is particularly true in a country where most of us have a complexion more suited to Norway than the equator.

Staying out of the sun and wearing a hat and long sleeved shirt are all very effective ways of keeping our sun exposure at safe levels. The trouble is doing that is often incompatible with our favourite activities. Young netballers want to look like the Diamonds (who play indoors at night) so wear short dresses with cutout shoulders. We want to spend all day at the beach, not five minutes, and while we’re there we don’t want to be rugged up like we’re on a polar mission.

This has meant that increasingly, sunscreen has become the all-purpose panacea. The Thlip, Tholp, Thlap messaging hasn’t changed but we have decided we can do what we like and dress how we like, whenever we like, as long as we load up on the sunscreen first. Sunscreen has changed from our last line of defence to the only thing we do.

Because sunscreen has become the must-have accessory, the market for it has exploded. And like all rapidly expanding markets there is lots of ‘innovation’ to tempt the consumer from one brand to another.

When I was happily watching the lispy seagull tell me about the virtues of thlapping on sunscreen, I knew exactly what he meant. The tub of white zinc in the bathroom. It wasn’t exactly pleasant stuff. It had approximately the sticking power of superglue and the durability of house paint, but it did the job. No sun was getting through zinc in hurry. But it was difficult to apply and pretty greasy so there was plenty of scope for competition.

Now we can choose from thousands of products. Products for children, products that can be sprayed on, products that can be rolled on, products for sporty people, products to wear everyday and even products for babies. We don’t take time of day or sunniness into consideration at all, even when toting babies, because there’s a sunscreen for everything.

That greasy zinc was a physical barrier. It worked exactly the way house paint would work, by blocking out the sun. Two innovations enabled the explosion of more ‘user-friendly’ sunscreens, pulverizing the zinc so it didn’t stay white on the skin (but still worked) and the use of a whole new class of sunscreen that relied on chemical reactions to diffuse the UV radiation. Those chemical sunscreens are now what make up the majority of the stuff on the supermarket shelf.

Almost all chemical sunscreens sold in Australia are a mix of (generally) 4-methylbenzylidene-camphor (4MBC), Octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC), Oxybenzone, Homosalate, Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane and Octocrylene. And despite the huge variety in prices, labels and bottle shapes, there isn’t that much variety in what’s in them.

The problem with these convenient chemicals is that there is mounting evidence that they are endocrine disruptors – meaning they can affect human hormones (particularly reproductive and thyroid hormones).

4-MBC for example, is not approved for use in the US or Japan because the safety data is not sufficient. It is permitted in Europe but manufacturers and importers in Denmark agreed not to include it in sunscreen products marketed for children under 12. This was then extended to all products to ensure pregnant and breastfeeding women were not exposed (as the chemical was found to be present in breast milk).

Oxybenzone acts like estrogen in the body, alters sperm production in animals and is associated with endometriosis in women. OMC has produced reproductive system and thyroid alterations in animal studies using doses similar to those used in sunscreens. Other studies have raised similar concerns about many of the other chemicals commonly used in sunscreens. Worse than that these substances appear to accumulate in humans (and the environment).

At the moment however, Australian regulators are happy to impose limits on the amounts that can be used rather than ban them outright. This is because they are not satisfied that sufficient quantities are absorbed through the skin to do damage. Frankly that is not terribly reassuring. These assessments typically do not assess the risk from inhaling aerosol or spray sunscreens or from ingesting them (for example by swimming in a pool or beach with people covered in sunscreen).

Similar concerns have been raised about the DNA disrupting potential of nano particles of zinc and titanium. Once again studies have shown them not to be absorbed at significant levels. But that proviso goes out the window when they are sprayed in the air or washed off in the pool.

The chemicals used in most sunscreens are not inert or harmless and many of them are banned in more cautious countries.  But here their use is being championed mercilessly by an industry wearing a health halo. Leading the charge is the Cancer Council of Australia, an organization which itself makes almost $3m a year from selling sunscreens full of these chemicals. We are told to wear these sunscreens all the time and many of us do. Rather than adjust our lifestyle to the reality of dangerous radiation (as our parents did), we prefer to do exactly as we please and slather ourselves with these chemicals.

The evidence is worrying enough for me not to want to expose my kids to those substances on purpose. So we try to avoid being in the sun at all during the middle of the day and if we are, we’ll be wearing a hat and shirt as well as a sunscreen containing the only the ingredient that everybody agrees is safe, Zinc Oxide.

That immediately rules out anything sold by the Cancer Council and all the cheap sunscreens. But Invisible Zinc and many of the herbal gerbil brands are fine. Doing this still doesn’t save us from drinking the stuff everybody else is wearing at the beach and the pool but it’s the best I can do.

Chocolate Nesquik Earns 4 Health Star rating

By | Big Fat Lies, Sugar | 2 Comments

Sydney, Australia (24 January 2016): Nestlé Australia announced today that its popular Nesquik Chocolate drink has earned a four star health rating.

This will be one of the first times that a product which consists almost entirely of sugar has earned such a high rating. “We don’t know why we didn’t think of this before,” said Mr Bill Wonka, Regional Director, Nestle Australia. “But once we took a close look at the Health Star criteria, we knew that Nesquik could become a key part of our promise to deliver superior nutrition to Australian families.”

“All we had to do was calculate the rating after adding Nesquik to skim milk, just like we did with Milo. Nesquik has almost twice as much sugar as Milo so we were a bit worried, but the rating doesn’t seem to be affected too much by the product being nothing but cane sugar and cocoa. From today, consumers have a healthier chocolate milk option that means they don’t sacrifice on taste. It’s a win for everyone.” he said.

“We are now looking closely at the rest of our confectionery lines and a number of beloved brands are currently undergoing renovations to meet the Health Star’s strict nutrient criteria. Keep an eye out for a five star chocolate with added fibre and vegetable oil later in the year.”

“We are proud that Nestle now has another a four star health rating in a confectionery line. Nestle Australia should be congratulated on their commitment to an extensive reformulation programme that provides Australian families with more healthier choices at snack time,” said a spokesperson for the Australian Federal Department of Health.

“The new Health Star system has been successfully challenging food companies to produce healthier foods. Now, we are challenging more confectionery makers to match the commitment of Nestle Australia.”

Reaction from the public has been mixed. Joyce Barnaby from Canberra was pleased that Nesquik was now healthy “I was sick of feeling guilty every time I knocked back a choccy milk,” she said, “Now it has exactly the same number of stars as a glass of milk without any sugar, I know it must be doing me good.”

Health professionals also welcomed the news. “A 10 year old can now run off a 4 Star glass of Nesquik in around 60 minutes,” said dietitian Ms Pixie Golightly, “With the old junk food Nequik, it would have taken almost an hour,”

But on social media the mood has been less positive. “Not fun for the kids at all any more,” wailed Dimity Smythe-Jones on Nestle’s Facebook page. “my kids won’t touch health food – as soon as they see that healthy food rating they’ll avoid it – what chance do I have of getting them to drink the new healthy Nesquik?” she wrote.

Note: This is satire – nothing about this piece is true except that if Nestle were to apply for a health star rating for Nesquik it would get 4 stars when served with reduced fat milk (as suggested on the label)

Are dietitians selling us out?

By | Big Fat Lies, Conflicts of Interest, Sugar | 9 Comments

Dietitians are rolling out their ritualistic warnings about ‘fad diets’ so it must be January. Prepare to be warned about the dangers of avoiding gluten, quitting sugar or going Paleo. Instead you will be told to give the new (heavy on whole grains) microbiome diet a go or perhaps become a Vegan.

According to dietitians, crazy ‘fads’ like quitting sugar are dangerous because they ask us to ‘cut out whole food groups.’ Only a dietitian high on sugar would describe sugar as a ‘food group’, but I guess the argument could apply to the stricter forms of paleo which ask devotees to ditch dairy, legumes and grains.

If food group deletion is the reason for official opposition to paleo, gluten free and quitting sugar why are they quite happy to give a free pass to vegetarianism and its more extreme cousin, veganism? Both of these diets do actually cut out food groups and both require careful management in order to avoid significant nutrient deficiencies. But they are never attacked by Dietitians.

Vegetarian diets do not contain meat, poultry or fish. Vegan diets go a little further and also exclude dairy products and eggs. Both diets have been part of British and US culture since the mid-19th century so we’ve had a bit of time to study them in the wild.

Those studies tell us that (compared to omnivores) vegetarian diets provide higher amounts of carbohydrates, omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, fibre, vitamin C, vitamin E and magnesium but lower amounts of protein, saturated fat, omega-3 fats, vitamins A, D and B12 and Zinc. Vegans are usually particularly low in B12 and also Calcium, a deficiency they are likely to share with hard-core paleo enthusiasts because both avoid dairy.

We use vitamin B12 to create our DNA, red blood cells and the myelin insulation around our nerves. Not having enough of it can result in fatigue, weakness, psychiatric problems and anaemia. B12 deficiency in children and the elderly is even more worrying. Studies have consistently shown that children and older people lacking B12 suffer significant cognitive defects such as memory and reasoning.

The lack of long chain omega-3 fats, the abundance of omega-6 fats and deficiencies in the fat soluble vitamins A and D are also serious cause for concern particularly in pregnancy.

This does not mean that vegetarian or vegan diets should not be followed, just that they need to be carefully managed, particularly in pregnant women, children or the elderly. But that is what you might expect from a diet that actually does delete ‘whole food groups.’

So where then are the January warnings to avoid those ‘fad diets’? Why are the dietitians’ scare tactics focused only on diets which might stop people eating grains and legumes? It’s a real conundrum.

Coincidentally, the body that regulates dietitians in Australia is sponsored by Arnott’s, Nestle and the Australian Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers Forum. And while that last one sounds like an almost official body, it’s really just a long-winded way of saying the Breakfast Club. No not that one, this one is responsible for supplying all those sugary boxes of grain we are supposed to consume as part of a ‘balanced breakfast.’ The gang’s all there. Kellogg’s (coincidentally founded because of a vegetarian religion), Freedom, Nestle (again) and Sanitarium (coincidentally founded, and run by, the same vegetarian religion).

But surely that can’t be the answer? Surely dietitians wouldn’t sacrifice their professional integrity just to grasp a few stray dollars from the Breakfast Cereal manufacturers? No, there must be some other reason which is not fathomable to us uninformed masses. Because if that were the case, it would mean dietitians are really just the undercover arm of Nestle (etc)’s marketing departments. And that would spell big legal (not to mention moral) trouble.

If dietitians have really been selling us out to flog processed food, then collectively they would owe this country the hundreds of billions a year spent treating the chronic disease disaster those foods have inflicted. But even more importantly they owe us something that can’t be repaid, our health.

This is not a game. Australians are no longer prepared to accept dietetic advice which is curiously aligned with the interests of the processed food industry rather than what the science tells us. Now would be a good time for the dietitians of Australia to lead, follow or get out of the way. A good start would be to stop telling us that quitting sugar is a ‘fad’ that should be abandoned. And they can hope like crazy that when the lawsuits start, everyone has forgotten their role in the catastrophe which is Australia’s health in the 21st century. I, for one, won’t.

 

Also published in the Huffington Post

How much Imitation Food did you eat today?

By | Big Fat Lies, Sugar, Vegetable Oils | 8 Comments

In these days of regulated, well, everything, it is easy to forget that we are not far down the track from a time when food was regularly adulterated in search of profit.  Milk (and beer) was watered down.  Bread was padded out with Plaster of Paris and sawdust.  And jam was stretched with sugar and pectin to save on costly fruit.

Some of these changes were just plain dangerous.  Some were not likely to be immediately harmful, but did mean the consumer wasn’t getting what they paid for.  To deal with the grey area between adulteration (with, say, sawdust) and cheating (with, say, water or sugar), in 1938 US legislators introduced laws that required that ‘Imitation Foods’ be clearly labelled.

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) was authorised to create legally binding ‘standards of identity’ based on “the time-honored standards employed by housewives and reputable manufacturers”.  These were recipes which specified what well recognised foods such as cheese, or milk or bread or jam (for example) must contain and in what quantities.  The FDA attacked the task with gusto and by 1950 about half of all food sold in the US had a standardised description.

This meant that if you wanted to make a jam with less fruit than the standard you could do so but it had to be clearly labelled as Imitation Jam.

It also meant that if you wanted to sell low fat milk it had to be labelled Imitation Milk.  If you wanted to sell cheese slices made with milk solids and vegetable fats, it was Imitation Cheese. Or if you wanted to sweeten yoghurt with fruit juice instead of sugar it had to be called Imitation Sweetened Yoghurt.

You don’t have to be a marketing genius to understand that your product might not fly off the shelves with ‘Imitation’ stamped on the front.

The food industry wasn’t a fan in the 1950s but they became even less of a fan by the 1970s as the market for low-fat food really took off.  And they weren’t alone.  The American Heart Foundation was keen to get Americans to switch from animal fats to vegetable oils (to avoid cholesterol) and generally lower the fat in their diet.  But vegetable oils were rarely part of the traditional descriptions of these foods and the amount of fat was specified by law anyway.

Sustained lobbying by the food industry and the Heart Foundation resulted in the laws being changed in 1973.  From then on a food did not have to use the word “Imitation” as long as it had the same level of nutrients as the original.  Calories and fat were excluded from the requirement.  So as long as your Cheese like substance wrapped in plastic had the same vitamins and minerals as the real deal, it could be labelled as Cheese.

One of the most obvious results of that twisted logic is now available in your local supermarket.  There you can purchase a substance which describes itself as having “The protein, energy and fibre of 2 Weet-Bix and milk”.  The actual ingredients of Up&Go are (in descending order by weight):

  • water,
  • skim milk powder,
  • cane sugar,
  • wheat maltodextrin,
  • soy protein,
  • vegetable oils (sunflower, canola),
  • inulin,
  • starch,
  • corn syrup solids,
  • fructose,
  • cocoa (0.5%),
  • oat flour,
  • mineral (calcium), food acid (332), flavours, vegetable gums (460, 466, 407), stabiliser (452), salt, vitamins (C, niacin, A, B12, B6, B2, B1, folate)

You might be tempted to call that ‘Imitation Weetbix and Milk’ but as no Weet-bix appear to be involved, ‘Imitation Sweetened Milk’ is probably closer to the mark.

I’m sure that does add up to the same amount of protein, energy and fibre as Weet-bix and milk but I suspect that an appropriate amount of sawdust and offal would too.

I say bring back the Imitation label.  If your Mayonnaise is made with sugar, emulsifier and water rather than eggs and olive oil, it should be labelled Imitation Mayonnaise.  If your chocolate is made with sugar and vegetable oil rather than sugar and cocoa butter, it should be labelled imitation chocolate.  If your bread has added Fructooligosaccharides, then it’s Imitation Bread.  And if your Weetbix and Milk is made from skim milk powder and sugar, it should be called Imitation Sweetened Milk.

Assuming anyone still wanted to sell food labelled that way, it would make the shopper’s task significantly easier.  There would be no chance you would accidentally buy food containing vegetable oils as they would all be labelled as Imitations.  It wouldn’t eliminate sugar but at least the foods which contained sugar would clearly list sugar as an ingredient (rather than things like juice concentrate or pear extract).  In fact all the ingredients would be recognisable and the list would be much shorter.

This kind of change would result in almost all the contents of a modern supermarket being labelled as Imitation Food.  Yes, I know there is no chance of this happening.  Industry would fight it tooth and nail.  Very real and very large amounts of money would be on the line.  And that just shows how much we have lost control of our food supply – in the space of less than one human lifetime.

The 20th century will go down as the century when mankind surrendered the ability to prepare their own food (or at least know the person who did).  We surrendered that right to corporations motivated by nothing other than profit.  And the result is mass epidemics of chronic disease, the likes of which humankind has never before experienced.  This is not a coincidence, it is a consequence.  And it will end badly for us and our kids.

Removing imitation labelling requirements did not cause the disaster but it certainly and massively accelerated it.  Don’t be a victim of the corporatisation of our food supply.  Eat Real Food, that is, food that is assembled from recognisable ingredients.  Oh, and ditch the sugar. It’ll kill you whether it’s labelled properly or not.

Also published on The Juice Daily

Oops, sorry ‘bout that – 5 Big Things Nutrition science got horribly wrong

By | Big Fat Lies, Sugar, Vegetable Oils | 10 Comments

Australia is in the midst of a chronic disease epidemic.  Kidney cancer, Melanoma, Prostate cancer and Anal cancer have all doubled since 1982, as has Chronic Kidney Disease since 1991. Type II Diabetes has tripled since 1989.  Multiple Sclerosis has done the same since 1961. Thyroid and Liver cancer has almost quadrupled since 1982.  And life threatening childhood allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) have almost quintupled since 1994.

In the same timeframe, we have become more health conscious than ever.  The science of Nutrition has moved from a back-room study of malnutrition to daily media coverage of what to eat.

The problem is most of what the nutrition profession has told us about food and its effect on disease has been horribly wrong.  So horribly wrong that, in many cases, we’d have been better off if we had done the opposite of what they said.

Here are 5 Big Things they’ve stuffed up.

  1. Fibre prevents bowel cancer

In 2002 the Cochrane Collaboration reviewed all high quality controlled trials (involving almost 5,000 patients).  They concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that increased dietary fibre would reduce Bowel Cancer.

That review was followed up in 2005 by a major evidence review by the Harvard School of Public Health.  The paper covered 13 studies which involved 725,628 people.  And again fibre drew a blank.  The authors concluded that high dietary fibre intake did not reduce the risk of Bowel Cancer.

Other recent research has also demolished many of the other claims around fibre.  It doesn’t prevent heart disease.  It doesn’t improve constipation (in fact it may be part of the cause).  And it likely increases our chances of getting diverticular disease.

  1. Cutting salt is good for the heart

When we consume salt, we retain more water.  More water means higher blood pressure.  A large Cochrane review conducted in 2004 showed that reducing salt intake does reduce blood pressure – but only slightly.

And while that’s nice, the real question is, does it prevent heart disease.  Unfortunately for the low salt brigade the answer (revealed in a 2011 Cochrane review) is a definite no.

There is no evidence that reducing salt reduces heart disease outcomes.  And worryingly one of the reviewed trials showed that reducing salt increase the risk of death in heart failure patients.

  1. Animal fat and Cholesterol are bad for the heart

Over the last five years a series of major reviews have all arrived at the same conclusion – Saturated Fat (the type which dominates fats from animals) does not cause heart disease.  The most recent review, published in August 2015, also adds that those fats are not associated with stroke, type II Diabetes or death from any other cause.

We’ve also been told for decades to avoid cholesterol.  It has been a major part of dietary warnings in the US (and eventually Australia) since 1961.  But this year the US government’s top nutrition advisory body released a review of the evidence which concludes dietary cholesterol is no longer a ‘nutrient of concern’.

No, we didn’t suddenly become immune to its evilness, the advice had been wrong all along.  And that dreadfully wrong advice stopped us consuming one of the most nutritionally perfect foods available – eggs (also vilified for their saturated fat content) – and had us falling victim to every marketer who wanted to plaster ‘low cholesterol’ on the front of a pack.

  1. ‘Vegetable Oil’ is good for the heart

One of the more recent demolitions of the ‘saturated fat’ is bad for the heart, myth also looked at whether vegetable is good for the heart.  We have, after all been told to replace butter with margarine for exactly that reason.

The study, sponsored by the British Heart Foundation, looked at trials involving over half a million people and concluded “Current evidence does not clearly support [heart health] guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated [fats – the ones found in vegetable oils].”

But these vegetable fats are not benign additions to the diet.  Increasingly the science is demonstrating  that the fats contained in vegetable oils (like Canola, Sunflower, Soybean, Cottonseed, Grapeseed, Rice Bran and Safflower oil) are a significant part of the disease process for Motor Neuron DiseaseParkinson’s DiseaseMacular DegenerationMultiple Sclerosis (and other auto-immune diseases) all cancers and lethal allergic reactions.

  1. Sugar doesn’t cause Type II Diabetes

Most nutrition authorities still maintain that nothing about sugar (other than the calories) is associated with Type II Diabetes.  And perhaps that is why the Heart Foundation is happy to endorse high sugar foods like Milo and a low-fat Mayo that lists sugar as its primary ingredient.

In June 2015, the latest in a long line of research once again concluded that sugary drink consumption (yes, even juice) was associated with Type II Diabetes even after adjusting for the weight of the people involved.  In other words the calories weren’t the problem.  Something else about the sugar was causing the diabetes.

It turns out that ‘something else’ is the fructose half of sugar and it is not merely responsible for Type II Diabetes but for many of the other chronic diseases that now plague us, including Fatty Liver Disease and Chronic Kidney Disease.

When nutrition science was in its infancy (in the 1960s and 1970s) it made some bad guesses about what makes us sick.  It guessed that eggs and animal fat gave us heart disease.  It guessed that salt caused heart disease and stroke.  It guessed that sugar was harmless.  And it guessed fibre was good.

These guesses were not illogical.  They were just naïve.  And, as it turns out, wrong.  But science has moved a long way since then and guessing is no longer required.

We now know that Heart Disease is caused by chronic inflammation and cancer risk is significantly elevated by oxidative stress.  And we know that loading our diets with man-made fats (labelled vegetable oil) and sugar will ensure we have both.

We no longer need to speculate.  Science has provided the answers.  The sooner those in charge of our dietary recommendations put their pride behind them and admit that, the healthier we will all be. 

But don’t wait for the apology.  Take control of your own health and (at the very least) ignore the nonsense they tell you about Fibre, Animal Fat, Salt and Sugar.  Good Health.

4 Good Reasons not to add fibre to your diet.

By | Big Fat Lies, Conflicts of Interest | 28 Comments

Nutritionists have been telling us to pump up the fibre in our diet for 44 years.  But the evidence is now in.  Not only is that pointless.  In at least one case, it is very likely to be harmful.

In 1971, Dr Denis Burkitt, an Irish Surgeon, published a paper based on his observations of life in Uganda, where he lived at the time.  In it he hypothesised that a lack of dietary fibre was the cause of much that then ailed Western Society.  He thought it caused bowel cancer and probably also heart disease, Type II Diabetes, varicose veins, obesity, diverticular disease, appendicitis, gallstones, dental cavities, haemorrhoids, hernias and constipation.

Dr Burkitt had noticed that native Africans produced on average four times as much poop as English boarding school children and did so at three times the speed.  He felt that this was because of all the fibre they ate.  And he theorised that the, ah, high rate of flow meant that there was less time for cancer causing foods and impurities to be in contact with our insides.

It was an idea whose time had come and the good doctor quickly became ‘fibreman’, releasing a best-selling book on the topic (a page-turner called ‘Don’t forget Fibre in your Diet’) and crusading ceaselessly for the addition of fibre to the Western diet.  He is famously quoted as saying “America is a constipated nation…. If you pass small stools, you have to have large hospitals.”

His simplistic guess was swallowed whole by the medical and nutrition communities and heavily promoted by those who stood to gain the most from it (largely the Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers).

The shopping list of things fibre is supposed to prevent has gotten shorter as science has delivered better evidence on their real causes but it is still impressive.

To this day, the DAA (Dietitians Association of Australia) claims that eating ‘at least 25-30 grams of fibre a day’ will ‘reduce the risk of constipation, diverticular disease, haemorrhoids and bowel cancer.’ They also mention it will ‘lower the risk of [heart] disease.’

Unfortunately (as is often the case with claims made by the DAA) there is no credible evidence that any of that is true.

Bowel Cancer

In 2002 the highly respected Cochrane Collaboration reviewed five high quality randomized controlled trials involving 5,000 patients.  They concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that increased dietary fibre would reduce Bowel Cancer.

That review was followed up in 2005 by a major evidence review by the Harvard School of Public Health.  The paper covered 13 studies which involved 725,628 people.  And again fibre drew a blank.  The authors concluded that high dietary fibre intake did not reduce the risk of Bowel Cancer.

Heart Disease

The theory goes that fibre is supposed reduce heart disease risk by lowering our ‘bad’ cholesterol. Once again though the research community is being singularly unsupportive.

While oats do lower cholesterol, trials on other types of fibre show that it doesn’t, good, bad or otherwise.

And when it comes to the only thing that really matters, there is no evidence that fibre reduces the risk of dying from heart disease (or anything else).

Constipation and Haemorrhoids

Fibre is supposed to cure constipation (and all its travelling companions, including haemorrhoids, bloating, anal bleeding and abdominal pain).

Believe it or not, this is simply based on Fibreman’s observation of high-flow Ugandans.  They didn’t seem constipated so ramping up the fibre is sure to cure the Western blockage.  Once again though, the evidence has not been kind.

Studies have repeatedly failed to detect that patients with constipation eat less fibre than people without it.  Worse (for the Cereal Industry), those studies have observed that there is no benefit for constipation when fibre is added to the diet.

But something really interesting happens when you reverse the treatment.  A recent trial measured the effect of removing fibre from the diet of people with constipation, with spectacular results.

Six months after the added fibre was removed, ALL of the (initially) constipated patients no longer suffered from constipation, bloating, bleeding or pain.  In contrast the folks who stayed on high fibre diet still had all of those problems.

Diverticular Disease

The news is significantly worse when it comes to Diverticular Disease, an extremely common and painful condition affecting more than half of all people over 70.

As early as 1981, clinical trials were finding that fibre was no help at all.  One author even concluded that the suggestion it might was “simply a manifestation of western civilization’s obsession with the need for regular frequent defecation.”

But much more worryingly, one significant recent study concluded not only that fibre didn’t help but that it increased the likelihood of contracting the disease.

The evidence is now in.  Just like so much of the dietary nonsense we’ve been fed over the last half century, fibre for disease prevention turns out to be twaddle that benefits nobody except the people flogging us whole grain cereals.

A combination of ignorance, arrogance and negligence (with a sizable smattering of corporate profiteering) has kept the eat-more-fibre message front and centre for all nutritional advice.   But we didn’t need added fibre before 1971 and we still don’t need it.  Worse, it is likely to be adding to the burden of diverticular disease (at least).

An Irish doctor’s theory about prodigious Ugandan turds has ensured the rest of us have been fed crap for the last four decades.  But that needs to stop now.  The DAA needs to step up and change the message – even if that is likely to really annoy its cereal selling sponsors.

 

Image: DAA Corporate Partners (via the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council)

4 Sugar Filled Foods the Heart Foundation would like you to eat

By | Big Fat Lies, Sugar | 7 Comments

Yesterday the Heart Foundation publicly demanded the Government take action to address Australia’s obesity crisis.

Heart Foundation chief executive Mary Barry told The Age that with 60 per cent of Australian adults and a quarter of children now classified as overweight or obese, the government needed to immediately implement a tax on sugar water.  You see, the Heart Foundation is (rightly) very concerned about sugary drinks. It has been campaigning against them for two years now.

Oddly though, their concern about sugar does not extend to products that bear the Heart Foundation’s paid endorsement (the Heart Foundation Tick).

Perhaps it’s the water in a sugary drink that renders them dangerous?  Because the Heart Foundation apparently has no problems accepting licensing fees from the manufacturers of these sugar loaded ‘foods’.

  1. Nestle Milo Cereal.

At 27.3% sugar, Nestle’s Milo Cereal will add a tidy 7 teaspoons of sugar to the average teenager’s breakfast bowl (100g).  If you caught your teen ladelling 7 teaspoons of sugar into anything you’d probably have a word or two but with this stuff the work is all done.  Welcome to the first Heart Foundation approved breakfast.

  1. Kellogg’s Just Right.

Ok Milo might have a Tick but it is chocolate after all.  The next cab off the rank is less obviously dessert like but it packs a sugary punch too.  This little Heart Foundation approved beauty weighs in at 28.7% sugar.  Do you want some cereal with your sugar?

  1. Uncle Toby’s Quick Sachets – Creamy Vanilla

You might think you were on safe ground with a nice bowl of porridge (especially from a product bearing the approval of the Australian Heart Foundation) but with almost a quarter (24.9%) of every bowl being sugar this aint no dieter’s paradise.

  1. Kellogg’s K-Time Twists – Strawberry & Yoghurt

Having filled the kids (and you) with Heart Foundation approved sugar for breakfast you will probably be looking for a healthy snack for morning tea.  Have no fear, there are Heart Foundation approved delights at hand.  This little sweetie is a whopping 36.2% sugar, which is a fair chunk more than a nice bar of Lindt Dark Chocolate (29%).  The chocolate bar of course does not bear a Heart Foundation tick but perhaps they should think about applying?

While it is lovely that the Heart Foundation wants us to consume less sugar, their campaign would be significantly more persuasive if they stopped accepting payment for endorsing sugar loaded products like these at the same time as they demanded that sugary drinks be taxed.

We are entitled to more than insults and hand-waving from the medical profession

By | Big Fat Lies, Sugar | 5 Comments

Yesterday the President of the AMA in Queensland, Dr Shaun Rudd warned Queenslanders that their State was at risk of sinking into the sea if they didn’t stop being so fat.  He declared a “state of emergency” in the “war of the wobble”.  The excuse for his bizarre rant (which seemed also to target tuckshop ladies and their arms for some reason) was that the AMAQ wants whoever wins the QLD state election to implement their recommendations aimed at reducing obesity.

It is a good while since I have heard fat-ist drivel so plainly spoken.  The message is loud and clear.  If you are overweight, you have a character defect and you need to harden up (and be saintly and thin). The derision in this Irish GP’s voice was palpable.  That it should be uttered by a doctor representing the health system that has put us in this position is quite frankly disgusting. It should come as no great surprise then that the AMA’s proposed solutions to the crisis are worse than pathetic.

Do they suggest implementing the WHO guidelines on the reduction of sugar?  Have they reviewed the recent evidence (again) confirming that sugar is the source not only of obesity but the vast majority of chronic disease now crippling our health system?  No.  Their suggestions are to ban fast food outlets opening near schools and subsidise fruit and vegetables in ‘at risk’ communities (whatever they are).  Describing those policies as ‘limp’ would be a significant overstatement.

There is nothing wrong with lamenting the danger we all face from obesity.  There is nothing wrong with wanting government to do something about it.  But name-calling and spit-balled non-initiatives spouted by a doctor afflicted with superioritis majoris is not the answer.  We know what causes obesity (sugar) and we know what fixes it (removing sugar).  So please AMAQ, drag your policy (and speech) writers into the 21st century and start lobbying for change that would really make a difference.

How Margarine and its seed oil filled brothers give us Multiple Sclerosis

By | Big Fat Lies, Charts, Vegetable Oils | 25 Comments

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) was once a rare disease that mainly affected Scandinavians or people who otherwise didn’t get much sunlight.  But that has all changed.  Its prevalence is accelerating wildly and sunlight is much less relevant than what you shove in your gob.  If you’d rather not get MS then it is vital you avoid consuming the Omega-6 fats found in most processed foods.

Our central nervous system is our electrical wiring.  If our brain wants to tell our fingers to move, an electrical signal is sent along the nervous system and the fingers move.  Just like electrical cables nerve cells have an insulating cover (called myelin).  Electrical signals travel much faster (and are much more certain to get to the destination) in insulated nerves than in non-insulated nerves.

Seventy percent of the insulation is fat and a fair chunk of that is polyunsaturated fat.  Unfortunately this means that the insulation is prone to damage from oxidation.  But not to worry, we have a perfectly good repair system.  The cells which make myelin (called oligodendrocytes for those who want to get all technical) are very handy at continuously patching up any damage.

MS is disease caused by our immune system attacking and destroying the myelin insulation.  This damage disrupts the ability of parts of the nervous system to communicate and it results in an array of symptoms which range from fatigue, physical incoordination, spasms, partial blindness as well as learning and memory problems (depending on which part of the nervous system is damaged).

Unfortunately people with MS can’t completely repair the damage being inflicted by their immune system and over time the cumulative damage means that the symptoms become progressively worse.

According to the World Health Organisation the biggest risk factors for MS are living in a place with little sunlight or a place exposed to processed food (the Western Diet).  In the 1950s the biggest risk factor by a country mile was latitude, but as processed food has infiltrated the diet of more and more countries, those countries have caught up to the rates in countries with low sunlight exposure.   In Iran for example the incidence rate quadrupled in just the two decades between 1989 and 2008.  But there is (and always has been) plenty of sunlight there.

In countries exposed to the Western Diet for most of the last five decades (such as Australia), the number of new cases of the disease recorded per year (after adjusting for population increases) has also quadrupled.  Make no mistake MS is an epidemic on the march.

Our immune system attacks parts of the body largely because the component (T regulatory cells or just TRegs) which is supposed to stop that happening becomes disabled.  One of the most efficient ways to disable TRegs is to consume too much omega-6 fat.

The Western Diet is stuffed to the brim with Omega-6 fat courtesy of the steady replacement of animal fats with seed oils (such as canola, sunflower soybean etc).  So every time you eat processed food or tuck into fried food you are taking on a massive dollop of omega-6 fat.

For example if you were drop a serving (20g) of Praise Mayonnaise onto your bacon and egg sarnie you would be consuming around 5 grams of Omega-6 fat (just from the mayo).  That’s about three times what your body needs for the day (and that’s before we take into account the margarine, the bread, the grain fed bacon, the factory farmed egg or anything else you eat that day).

Sunshine (or, at least its ability to make us make Vitamin D) is a partial remedy to this problem because Vitamin D boosts the numbers of TRegs.  This gives us a fighting chance at stopping our own immune system in its tracks.  And that is why, before the advent of a seed oil filled diet, the exposure to sunlight, more or less determined your likelihood of having MS.

We aren’t born with a completely myelinated nervous system.  It takes us about 20 years to finish the job.  This means that when people move from a place with low rates of MS to places of high rates of MS (or the other way round), their age when they move is an important factor.  If they are over 15 when they move they will have the same risk of developing MS as the place where they were born.  If they are 10 or younger it will be the same as the place where they move to.

It’s likely that this strange age-related phenomenon is because of another characteristic of our seed oil filled diets.  Overconsumption of omega-6 fats causes the body to enter a state called oxidative stress.  This is where the highly reactive omega-6 fats overcome our anti-oxidant defences.  Oxidative stress is known to be lethal to the cells which produce our nerve insulation.

It is therefore probable that constant exposure to omega-6 fats while a child is growing those very cells, will result in insulation which is not up to spec.  And a weakened insulation makes them much more susceptible to the immune system attacks which will almost inevitably happen if they stay on that diet.

MS is a truly horrendous disease that is striking more people, younger.  It is clear that the cause is the massive increase in the use of seed (vegetable) oils in our food.  MS was once a disease that struck only susceptible people who were not exposed to enough sunlight.  Seed oils are now ensuring it is something that all of us must fear.

If you have MS, I’m sorry.  If you can stop eating seed oils (and get some Sun), it may help with symptoms.  If you don’t have MS, stop eating seed oils (and get some Sun) and you will dramatically reduce your chances of getting it.  If you have children, don’t let them anywhere near seed oils, ever, but especially not before they’re 20.

Graphic from:  WHO – Atlas multiple sclerosis resources in the world 2008.

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