Why Fish is no longer a good source of Omega-3

By | Vegetable Oils | 7 Comments

Over the last three decades we’ve been continuously told that to avoid heart disease, obesity, Type II Diabetes and even cancer, we need to shun animal meat and eat fish.  Fish is supposed to be terrific because, not only does it not contain all those nasty saturated fats (which, by the way, is not true), it has loads of Omega-3 fats, the so called ‘good fats’.  Unfortunately this is now dangerously bad advice.

Over 80% of the meat sold in Australian supermarkets is from feed lots.  These beasts spend their lives eating bird seed rather than the grasses on which they evolved.  The result is animal fat which is very high in Omega-6 fats and which contains almost no Omega-3.   These two fats are called essential fats.  They are ‘essential’ because we can’t make them ourselves.  We need 1.5g of each a day from our food.  And we could get that just by eating a couple of cheese sandwiches.

The perverted heart health advice of the last half century has driven a mass replacement of animal fats with man-made ‘vegetable oils’ (like Sunflower, Canola and Soybean).  Omega-6’s are the primary fat in vegetable oils and because those oils are now part of every single processed food on the supermarket shelves, we are well and truly (over) supplied with them.  Omega-3’s are however considerably harder to come by.

When our Omega-6 and Omega-3 supplies get out of balance, very bad things start happening. Things like macular degeneration, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease and cancer.  The ratio is best if it’s 1 to 1 and will work ok even at 2 (Omega-6) to 1 (Omega-3) but are currently as high as 25 to 1. We’re told the cure to this imbalance of essential fats is to eat fish.

We have heeded the call.  Since 1975, we have doubled our per capita consumption of fish.  The only way fish suppliers have been able to keep up with that kind of explosive demand is to invent a whole new industry, fish farming.  And just like the cattle in feed lots, our farmed fish are increasingly being fed seeds, with devastating effects on their Omega-3 levels.

Fish, being vertebrates just like us, are no more capable of making Omega-3’s than we are.  Just like us, they need to get them from their diet.  If they are carnivores (like Salmon and Barramundi) that means eating herbivorous fish that’ve been chowing down on seaweeds and algae high in Omega-3.

If the fish was wild caught, it will have the expected supply of Omega-3 on board.  Nature’s like that, it just works (as long as we leave it alone).  If however the fish is farmed, then all bets are off.

The only economical way to ensure that farmed carnivorous fish get their Omega-3’s is to feed them wild caught fish oil (think of it as Omega-3 capsules for fish). It takes about 5kg of wild caught (but otherwise unsaleable) fish to produce 1kg of farmed eating fish.

In 1950 this wasn’t a problem.  There were barely any fish farms and there was an abundance of wild caught fish.  But in the last 60 years the aquaculture industry has been experiencing explosive growth, driven in no small part by us all being told we need to eat more fish.  Now, about half of all fish consumed (by humans) globally (and Australia is no exception) is farmed rather than wild caught.

In 2006, 87% of all wild caught, fish oil was fed to farmed fish and it is likely that we maxed out the available supply in around 2010 (public figures on this stuff are very murky).

But don’t worry, the fish feeders have a solution, just mix in vegetable oil instead.  Increasingly, fish feed is being constructed with the very same seed oils (vegetable oils) that now infest the remainder of our food supply.  The very same Omega-6 rich oils that (at least) double the rate of cancer and cause rheumatoid arthritis and macular degeneration (to name just a few delights) is becoming an integral part of what we mistakenly assume to be our primary source of Omega-3.

The industry has seen the problem coming for some time and since 1990, the number of studies on the effects of using seed oils in fish feed has grown exponentially.  Many of the studies have shown that substitution of seed oils makes the fish more prone to infectious disease and stress as well as stunting their growth and increasing the production of the types of cholesterol responsible for heart disease (oxidised VLDL). In other words the same stuff happens to them as does to us, but aquaculture researchers are far less coy about calling a spade a spade.

But worse even that that, when fish fillets from seed oil-fed and fish oil-fed fish are compared, in general the amount of Omega-3 has halved (and is sometimes considerably less) and the Omega-6 fats have increased 5-fold.  The seed oils destroy the very reason we are told to eat fish in the first place.

While you might think you’re upping your Omega-3 ratio by chomping on fish and chips every Friday night, the chances are you’re really just eating even more Omega-6.  So if you think you’re eating fish because it contains healthy fats, think again, Big Food has gotten to that too.  Most farmed fish is now no better for you than seed oil it’s usually fried in.  Unless you caught it yourself, you’d be better off avoiding it.

Grass fed animals have exactly the right fats in exactly the right ratios.  It is only because health authorities decided to demonise that food source that we obsessively seek out supposedly more healthy fish.  Putting aside the ethics of using finite and declining wild caught fish stocks (with food-grade potential) for animal feed, the criminally negligent advice which drives us to seek out fish as health food must change and it must change now.   Because, while it will eventually wipe out the fish, it will wipe us out first.

Image courtesy of scottchan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A little extra bit: A Consumer New Zealand investigation shows farmed salmon, which is sold as fresh and smoked products in supermarkets, has significantly less Omega-3 than that claimed on the label.

When Fructose Free means Full of Fructose

By | Big Fat Lies, Sugar | 3 Comments

Freedom Foods is being cute with legalistic definitions but the discerning fructose avoider should avoid their products.  The company known for its “Free From” range of foods is now touting a Muesli product which it boldly boasts is “Fructose Free”.  

3 Grains closeup

The 3 Ancient Grains Super Muesli has a giant fructose free logo emblazoned across the front of the pack, but close inspection of the fine print on the back tells you that one of the ingredients is “Sugar” and that the product is actually 5.8 per cent sucrose (which is of course half fructose).

When a concerned customer asked what was going on, he was told “The fructose free claim on pack meets current labelling regulations as the product contains no fructose”.  Strictly that’s true, the product does not apparently contain any free fructose, but what about the sucrose?

Ah well, say Freedom, “Sucrose needs to go through a conversion process in the stomach to convert to glucose and fructose.”  

Oh I see.  That’s where the misunderstanding lies.  Apparently they apply an ‘outside the body’ definition of metabolism.  But strangely this doesn’t seem to apply to fat.  

When it comes to fat they don’t just say it contains fat, they break it up into saturated fat and total fat.  Saturated fat does not of course appear as a discrete substance (separated from other fats) until it hits our lymph system.  I’m sure that if I were to ask them about that, they’d point out to me that they are required by law to separately identify the saturated fat.

So is that the difference?  They get to play amateur lawyer and be cute with definitions because at the moment the law lets them get away with it?  It would seem so.  Never mind that by the time sucrose hits our bloodstream (in other words, where it actually becomes useful to us) it is indeed fructose.

Slapping a ‘fructose free’ label on a product you know will be fructose by the time it hits the bloodstream is just plain deceptive.  It pushes the legal boundaries almost to the absolute breaking point.  I expected better from a company that boasts it will  “never stop pushing ourselves to bring you the very best”

Another 5 Ways Fructose will mess you up

By | Sugar | 3 Comments

Last month I threw together an infographic on the 12 Ways Fructose Destroys Your Body.  It’s a good summary, but the lawyer in my loves footnotes.  So here is the detail behind the claims that picture makes.  Well it’s the detail behind the last five of them.  You can read the detail behind the first seven here.

1.      Fructose destroys erectile function

Around 1 in 5 US men now suffer from erectile dysfunction.  But one of the more recent studies tells us that one in two men with Type II diabetes will suffer the problem.

We know exactly what causes most of it.  It is a lack of nitric oxide, the same beastie that prevents high blood pressure (see next point).  When its production is suppressed erectile function becomes seriously impaired.  Viagra, Levitra and Cialis work by temporarily encouraging the production of nitric oxide.

We know that the opposite of Viagra is uric acid.  It dramatically reacts with our home grown nitric oxide thereby effectively deactivating it.  If we have large amounts of uric acid in our bloodstream, we can expect our nitric oxide to be rendered ineffective.  No effective nitric oxide means no erectile function.

Nitric oxide is a muscle relaxant which allows all the relevant sphincter muscles to loosen their grip enough to encourage inbound arterial blood flow long enough to be useful (so to speak).

It should also then come as no particular surprise that erectile dysfunction is so closely aligned with the other symptoms of overindulging in fructose, namely heart disease, obesity and type II diabetes and that the number of men needing assistance is also increasing as rapidly as the incidence of those diseases.

Perhaps if sugar were renamed anti-Viagra people might think twice about consuming it?

2.      Fructose creates high blood pressure

Trial after trial conducted between 1972 and 2005 has shown that we’re twice as likely to suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure) if we have high uric acid levels. Because uric acid deactivates nitric oxide, the smooth muscle cells of our arterial walls are less relaxed and therefore more constricted.

This means that the diameter of our arteries is smaller than it might otherwise be, and our blood pressure is higher (as any plumber will tell you, a thinner pipe means higher pressure). Recent human studies have conclusively demonstrated that all you need to do to give healthy volunteers hypertension is feed them fructose.

The reason for all the interest is that there are drugs (drug companies have much deeper pockets for this kind of research) that can be used to lower uric acid levels. Recent human trials have shown that those drugs do indeed lower blood pressure, but the evidence is clear that there’s a much simpler preventative measure for all the conditions related to uric acid – kidney disease, gout and hypertension. Don’t eat or drink sugar.

3.      Fructose takes out your Heart

Throughout this section I refer to Heart Disease.  What I mean when I say that is all the diseases that are caused by Atherosclerosis (the blocking of arteries).  This group includes myocardial infarction (what most people call a heart attack), ischemic stroke and arterial thrombosis (the blocking of arteries in the limbs).  It affects all arteries but is most common in the big ones transporting the highest volume of blood, such as the ones near the heart and brain.

Some of the fat generated by fructose in the liver stays there (and causes the problems I set out in the last post), but the rest is exported into the bloodstream.  Because fat is not soluble in a water based solution like blood, it is transported by specialised proteins called lipoproteins (‘lipo’ is Greek for fat).

Lipoproteins come in a variety of sizes according to how much fat they can carry.  And scientists are now certain that having lots of large lipoproteins puts us in the lowest risk category for heart disease.  People like that are called ‘Pattern A.’  People who have lots of very small lipoproteins are called Pattern B and those people are the ones who are most likely to suffer from heart disease.

We use lipoproteins to transport the fat we eat as well as the fat we make from fructose. We know now that a diet high in saturated fat will produce Pattern A lipoproteins.  In other words, eating saturated fat lowers your risk of heart disease.  If you’re thinking this is the opposite of what we’ve been told for the last 50 years, you’re right.

We also now know that the most efficient way to convert someone from Pattern A (safe) to Pattern B (at risk) is to feed them fructose or put them on a low fat diet or, as many now do, both.  When we are fed fructose, the fat made from that fructose is exported from our liver in small dense lipoproteins.  Having more small dense lipoproteins converts you to Pattern B and sets you up for heart disease and stroke.

4.      Fructose makes you depressed (and anxious)

We can become depressed because things aren’t going well. If having your cat run over doesn’t alter your mood (one way or the other depending on how you feel about cats I guess) then you were probably built by aliens. But the science suggests how long we stay depressed has more to do with biochemistry than the state of Fluffy’s road-safety skills.

Food makes us happy (shocking, I know). Even seeing food improves our mood. This is because the anticipation of a feed, fires up the hormones responsible for how we feel. The sight (or smell) of food gives us a squirt of the pleasure hormone, dopamine. Dopamine focuses our attention, makes us think more clearly and helps us move faster and more effectively. It’s an important signal to our body that we are in for something good and we need to pay attention. And that was probably pretty handy in times gone by.  If you have to chase your food, being sharper was definitely an advantage.

Once we actually start eating, another hormone, serotonin kicks in. Serotonin is the ying to dopamine’s yang.  It’s our chill-out-all-is-good hormone. The serotonin makes us feel happier and less stressed. We relax, our mood improves (Fluffy will still be road kill, but we’ll feel better about it) and our minds can turn to less important things than eating.  Sex, another thing important for keeping humans around has exactly the same effect.  Anticipation produces dopamine and ‘achievement’ produces serotonin.

Researchers have known for a long time that severe depression is strongly associated with an inability to properly absorb serotonin in the brain. No (or low) serotonin absorption makes it much harder for us to come back from unhappiness. And this can translate into anxiety and depression if it’s sustained for long enough. The primary anti-depressant drugs available in Australia (Cipramil, Luvox, Prozac, Lovan, Aropax and Zoloft) all work by targeting the serotonin system. They give the brain more time to absorb the serotonin. Some other drugs (Ecstasy, Amphetamines and LSD) work by enhancing the amount of serotonin we produce (but you might find it tricky to get a prescription for them).

If all is well with our hormone system then severe depression should be an extremely rare disease. But it’s not. Depression is a major chronic health problem and it is getting much worse at a very rapid rate. Something is messing with our serotonin system and the evidence is starting to mount that the something is fructose. Fructose is the only carbohydrate which produces a significant spike in our cortisol levels. Cortisol is our stress hormone. It’s terribly handy for confrontations with unexpected bears (for example) because it ramps up dopamine (to focus the mind and sharpen the movements). It also rapidly increases the amount of dopamine we can absorb. But it does so at the expense of our ability to absorb serotonin.

We like dopamine. It is our reward drug. It tells us we are about to get good stuff (like food and sex). Frequent hits of fructose mean frequent hits of dopamine. This leads inevitably to fructose addiction and that is exactly the mechanism used by other man-made opiod drugs (like nicotine and cocaine). The trouble is that it seems the upregulating of dopamine at the expense of serotonin can become hard-wired if we allow it to go on for long enough. And once we’re addicted, we can’t help but let it go on for long enough.

We don’t run into that many bears on a daily basis (well, I don’t). Fructose was once about as common as a bear encounter, but is now embedded in almost every processed food we buy. And it has an addictive quality as powerful as nicotine.  We are now on a constant drip of fructose. That means we are on a constant cortisol (and therefore dopamine) high. This in turn continuously impairs our ability to absorb serotonin, the one substance that can turn our mood around. Fluffy will still become a bumper sticker if he chooses an inopportune moment to cross the freeway and that will probably be a downer. But the science is suggesting that how quickly (or if) we bounce back from that may depend on how much fructose we are eating.

5.      Fructose destroys your Brain

As well as destroying the brain with an acute event like stroke (see the previous section), fructose can destroy our brains more slowly by causing dementia.

For a long time, researchers have known there is a strong relationship between diabetes and dementia. Estimates have varied, but you are approximately two to four times as likely to have dementia if you also have diabetes or a history of insulin resistance (the precursor to Type II Diabetes discussed above). Now a bunch of Swedish twins are starting to put some real meat on the bones of the diabetes link.

Almost 14,000 twins participated in a recently published study. The twins were part of the Swedish twin registry and were all over the age of 65. Because they had provided health data to the registry throughout their lives, the researchers had excellent information about their health over a very long period.

Twins are great for this kind of work because when one becomes ill but the other doesn’t; large tracts of potentially irrelevant causes are eliminated. Clearly the twins share the same gene pool and (usually) have been raised in an identical environment. When dementia sets in early, as it increasingly is (15,000 Australians under the age of 65 now have dementia), the number of possible causes is narrowed further. The study proved beyond any doubt that diabetes is associated with dementia (at least in Swedish twins). Even more interestingly, they concluded that the longer you have had diabetes (or insulin resistance), the more likely you are to develop dementia. In a somewhat depressing footnote, the researchers suggest their estimate (that you are 125% more likely to become demented if you are diabetic) is probably a bit light on because so many diabetics die before they are old enough to notice they are losing their grip.

Research published a month after the twin study took the issue further and established a direct link between consuming sugar and ‘impaired cognitive function’. Almost 3,000 people suffering from Type II Diabetes, aged 55 years and older took part in that study. They were subjected to a battery of tests (part of a standardised set used for detecting early signs of dementia) designed to measure things such as how fast they performed calculations, how well they multi-tasked and the accuracy of their memory.

The researchers then compared the results of the tests to measures of each person’s average blood glucose reading over time. They found that there was a significant correlation between a person’s score on the tests and their blood sugar level. The higher the blood sugar level, the lower their score on all the tests. Just to put icing on the cake, the researchers noted that a one per cent rise in blood sugar takes you two whole years closer to dementia.

Persistently high blood sugar is caused by insulin resistance, which in turn is caused by over consumption of fructose.  And the research is clearly suggesting the next step in that deadly cascade is dementia.  Perhaps we should rename Alzheimer’s disease, Type III diabetes.



Not all Big Macs are created equal

By | Charts, Sugar | 3 Comments

In the fast paced global economy of the 21st century the weary traveler often yearns for something that reminds them of home.  And one thing that is sure to be available anywhere a jet can land is a Big Mac.  But not all Big Macs are created equal when it comes to sugar content.

In the graph above, I’ve charted some samples of the sugar content of Big Macs around the world.  If you want more than two teaspoons of sugar added to your burger then the US & Canada is the place to dine, with the UK and Ireland not far behind.

The Italians dial it down a little and Australia takes it down even further but the place where a Big Mac contains the least sugar is in New Zealand.  Go the Kiwis!

If you want to find out how to avoid the sugar in processed and take-away food, then you’ll find it easy if you have my Sugar Free Shopper’s Guide.  Australian and UK versions are now available with the US version coming soon.

The first 7 ways fructose will mess you up

By | Sugar | 12 Comments

Last month I threw together an infographic on the 12 Ways Fructose Destroys Your Body.  It’s a good summary, but the lawyer in me loves footnotes.  So here is the detail behind the claims that picture makes.  Well, it’s the detail behind seven of them.  The rest will come in the next post on this topic.

1.    Fructose rots your teeth

The first part of your body that fructose touches is your teeth and they are usually the first to go in its path of destruction.

The statistics are clear. Populations exposed to sugar for the first time go from ‘background’ levels of decay (of around 4 cavities per 100 teeth) to ‘modern’ levels of around 24 cavities per 100 teeth. The mechanism is known and the science is uncontroversial. Not even Coca-Cola dares deny that sugar and tooth decay go together like peas and carrots.

Tooth decay is caused by bacteria called S. Mutans (Streptococcus Mutans). S. Mutans loves a good feed of sugar. And after it gets some, it produces lactic acid as a waste product. It’s that lactic acid that can do the damage to our teeth. But if the only sugar in our diet is glucose or carbohydrates that are converted to glucose, our saliva quickly neutralizes the acid and we regenerate any damaged enamel.  This means t0oth decay is kept to the minimum.

But, if there is some fructose available as well as glucose then through a quirk of evolutionary biology, S. Mutans can build itself a saliva proof home.  

We call this little anti-saliva shield, plaque. Plaque binds S. Mutans to each other and to the tooth enamel. It traps the lactic acid against the tooth surface, protects it against the waves of saliva and gives it time to eat through the enamel.

2.    Fructose inflames your gut

Our small intestine can become inflamed when toxic molecules normally attached to bacteria (endotoxins) escape through our intestinal walls and into our bloodstream.  Our immune system has an inflammation reaction to endotoxins.

Binge drinking alcohol will produce exactly that effect.  Unfortunately so will overconsumption of fructose.  If you drink alcohol all day every day then fructose will not be noticeably adding to the problem, but if you are like most people and your daily poison choice is sugar, then it is probably responsible for your inflamed gut.

Unfortunately both alcohol and fructose also appear to increase the populations of bacteria which produce endotoxins in our intestines (something charmingly termed bacterial overgrowth). So we get the double whammy of more endotoxins in our gut and doors left ajar (gut permeability) to let them into our bloodstream.

3.    Fructose destroys your liver

After absorbed fructose hits your bloodstream, next stop is the liver.  We are adapted to a diet where most carbohydrates are glucose or glucose based.  So we have exquisitely finely tuned feedback loops which tell us we are full when we’ve taken on enough glucose.

Those loops don’t fire for fructose, so our liver will merrily convert any that it finds straight into fat.  That fat is stored in the liver and exported into our bloodstream.   Because we all have such a high fructose diet more than a third of Adults now have (NAFLD) Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease as a result. NAFLD can then progress through various disease stages and ultimately end in cirrhosis requiring a liver transplant.

By the way there is interesting speculation that the trigger for converting mere fatty liver into cirrhosis is an immune response to endotoxins leaking from the gut.

4.    Fructose takes out your pancreas (and your eyes and limbs)

Our bodies convert most carbohydrates to glucose. In healthy people that glucose is pumped out to the cells that need energy via our bloodstream. Cells that need energy, signal their desires by moving glucose receptors to the cell surface (kinda like hanging out the “this room needs servicing” sign in a hotel).

But when fructose-fat accumulates in the liver and bloodstream, it affects something called insulin sensitivity.  The receptors never get to the cell surface (or if they do, it’s in smaller numbers). The result is that the glucose goes sailing by. The maid doesn’t know the room needs her and our bodies starve in a sea of food.

Because the glucose doesn’t get used by the cells (or not as many of them), it stays in the bloodstream longer and the result is a longer than normal high blood sugar concentration.  This is called insulin resistance or pre-diabetes.

Our body usually responds to insulin resistance by pumping up the insulin levels until the glucose is cleared.  If we ask our body to run on overdrive like that for years, for most of us, our pancreas (the insulin maker) will pack it in and we will need to get daily insulin injections to live.  Along the way, the persistent high blood glucose will result in blindness and limb amputations for many sufferers.

5.    Fructose makes us fat

Our appetite control hormones are exquisitely balanced to ensure we have just the right amount of energy on hand.

But when that balance is disrupted, our fuel management system can veer wildly out of control. A disrupted appetite control system can store too little or too much fuel. Too little looks like anorexia, too much looks like, well, most of us. Obesity is a symptom of a failure of the balance of hormones controlling how much food we take in.

When the pancreas attempts to cope with elevated blood glucose (caused by fructose derived fat) by ramping up insulin, it is only fixing the immediate problem. All that extra insulin doesn’t make the damaged cells any less insulin resistant, it just means that undamaged cells use the insulin to make fat.  In other words the blood glucose is cleared from the bloodstream by making us fatter.

Just for good measure, fructose also interferes directly with leptin signalling.  Leptin is our long term energy storage hormone, the one that tells us not to eat between meals.  Fructose makes us less sensitive to that hormone and as a result we eat more of everything.

This double dose of hormone dysfunction causes us to store too much fat in our cells, but the body is not aware the fat is there and keeps demanding food. Our appetite control system thinks we are starving even while we have more than enough fat being packed away (usually in very unsightly places).

When an obese person restricts the amount of food they eat, they are not changing the underlying error in the appetite control system. The body thought it was starving before the diet, now it’s really starving. It will not use the fat store to satisfy its need for food because the hormonal disruption means it doesn’t even know it’s there.

The hormones will force the body to sacrifice muscle and even organs to make up for the missing calories. And the whole time, the dieter will feel like they are starving to death.

6 & 7. Fructose messes up your kidneys (and gives you gout)

When fructose is converted to fat by our liver, a significant amount of a waste product called uric acid is produced.  Our kidneys are our built in pool filter for removing waste products like uric acid.  But they can be overwhelmed by the quantities that will be produced by the amount of fructose in the modern diet.  When that happens our kidneys start to fail.  And this is likely to be why excess uric acid has been associated with significant increases in kidney disease in a long line of rat studies and more recently in human trials.

Kidney disease is massively debilitating. The only effective ‘treatment’ is getting hooked up to a dialysis machine three times a week. Meanwhile the number of people needing that treatment is growing at the rate of 6 per cent every year. The only ‘cure’ is replacing the kidneys (if you’re lucky enough to get to the head of the transplant queue (currently the wait is about four years) before you die.

A side effect of that failure to remove uric acid is that it accumulates in the joints of the feet and ankles, causing a form of acute arthritis called gout.  If you suffer from gout, then it might be time to get your kidney function tested.

And that’s the first 7 ways fructose wrecks your body and health.  I’ll detail more in the next post, but if you want a preview check out my infographic – 12 Ways Fructose Destroys Your body.


Whoops – Australia accidentally privatised its education system

By | Education | No Comments

Australia is sleep walking into a privatised education system that will deliver massive inequity, steadily declining results, and cost vastly more. Last week the Federal Treasurer gave us a giant shove further down that road. In deciding to remove $5 billion from the State Education budgets, he is telling the States (who run the government schools) to make do with less. The inevitable result of this will be to accelerate the rush to private education and ultimately, the destruction of our once great school education system.

According to the APC (Australian Productivity Commission) in 2012 Australian Taxpayers spent $8,546 per student per annum on educating children in non-government schools. And according to the ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) taxpayers spent $11,980 per child in government schools. Neither number includes capital expenditure, which was about the same per child in both systems. In other words, the average non-government school student costs the taxpayer 71 per cent of the average public school student.

And therein lies the core argument for boosters of private education in this country (unfortunately including our Education minister). You see, the argument goes, children at non-government schools are actually saving the taxpayer money. They are transferring the cost of their education from the community to their parents (and church congregations presumably). They are choosing to participate in a user-pay community. And even if it does only amount to a 29 per cent saving, they are doing us all a favour.

But those average numbers hide some pretty big gotcha’s for the public system. The government schools are overwhelmingly the ones providing education to Australia’s most remote students. 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 the Government schools doing the heavy lifting, educating 3.3 times as many children with a disability as their non-government brethren. Unlike public schools, non-government schools are 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.

Educating the hard-and-expensive-to-teach students is undeniably a task that is increasingly falling to government schools but strangely it is in the non-government sector that the costs (to government) are exploding.  Over the decade prior to 2012, per student government recurrent spending on government schools increased by just 19 per cent. At the same time government funding for ‘private’ students increased by 28 per cent (both numbers after inflation).

That means that if current funding trends continue, it is inevitable that the taxpayer contribution to private schools overtakes the contribution to government schools. And that is notwithstanding that the Government schools are the ones educating the vast majority of the children with special needs, in remote locations or with behavioural difficulties.

The small and decreasing taxpayer ‘saving’ is the reward we have reaped for the decision to destroy the equity (and the achievements) of our education system. In the half century since Australian taxpayers started funding private education choices, our school education has been progressively failing.

Even though we now pay five times as much (after inflation) to educate a student, by the time that student reaches Year 9 they are 3 months behind where the same student was in 1964. And if that’s not bad enough, when we compare that same student to the world’s highest performing educators, we find they are more than two years behind. The leaders in education (a group that used to include us) have marched forward and we have slid slowly backwards.

Some people might be able to justify that destruction if the privatised part of the system was setting the world on fire. Unfortunately not even that is true. All Australian schools performed terribly in the latest round of international comparative tests. But our best private schools did even worse than everybody else.

And while (after adjusting for socio-economic disadvantage) all Australian schools performed equally badly overall, there were significantly less really high performing students in the nation’s private schools. There were no changes in the numbers at those levels in government schools. If private schools are supposed to cultivate the best and brightest, those results suggest they are failing dismally.

The privatisation of education, just like the privatisation of healthcare, results in islands of underperforming privilege amongst a sea of despair and it drags the whole system down. We have systematically created a school education system which performs worse for everyone (even the better off) than the system it replaces. That’s quite an achievement, but it is not irreversible. We can return to a high equity, high performance system. Unfortunately it appears the current Government is hell-bent on doing exactly the opposite.

Also published in The Courier Mail

Letters to the editor in response appear here.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The 2014 British Sugar Free Shopper’s Guide

By | Books, Sugar | No Comments

The 2014 British Sugar Free Shopper’s Guide is the must-have navigator for your local supermarket if you plan to buy anything in a package.

The guide contains comprehensive listings of the most commonly purchased categories of packaged food available in British stores. Each category has been scoured for brands that have less than 3 grams of sugar per 100 grams.

It’s a guide that removes all the bad products from the supermarket shelf and makes it easy for you to select simply and quickly from the good ones that are left.

But wait. There’s more. It also includes a similar analysis of the popular fast food options on offer in most UK cities.

Buy Now(Paypal also accepted just click the button above)
Also available for Kindle – click here


Use the buttons above to get the guide for the introductory price of £3.95 (normally £6).  You’ll be emailed the PDF immediately so can have it on your smartphone, iPad or tablet or print it out if you prefer and have it with you all the time.

Alternatively you can subscribe to howmuchsugar.com and not only get the shopper’s guide (and updates as part of your membership) but also detailed sugar guides to the sugar content of all foods in a given category, great recipes that you can make at home, the members forum to share your experiences and extras such as the Vegetable Oil Ready Reckoners and other handy shortcut tools that I regularly create and share with members.

Like this product? Spread the word about it and earn 30% of the purchase price on sales you refer. Click here to join David Gillespie’s affiliate program »

The 2014 Australian Sugar Free Shopper’s Guide

By | Books, Sugar | 28 Comments

It’s Finally Here!

The 2014 Australian Sugar Free Shopper’s Guide is the must-have navigator for your local supermarket if you plan to buy anything in a package.

The guide contains comprehensive listings of the most commonly purchased categories of packaged food available in Australian stores.  Each category has been scoured for brands that have less than 3 grams of sugar per 100 grams.

It’s a guide that removes all the bad products from the supermarket shelf and makes it easy for you to select simply and quickly from the good ones that are left.

But wait.  There’s more.  I’ve also included a similar analysis of the popular fast food options on offer in most Australian cities.

Buy Now(Paypal also accepted just click the button above)
Also available for Kindle


Use the buttons above to get the guide for the introductory price of $6.95 (normally $9.95).  You’ll be emailed the PDF immediately so can have it on your smartphone, iPad or tablet or print it out if you prefer and have it with you all the time.

Alternatively you can subscribe to howmuchsugar.com and not only get the shopper’s guide (and updates as part of your membership) but also detailed sugar guides to the sugar content of all foods in a given category, great recipes that you can make at home, the members forum to share your experiences and extras such as the Vegetable Oil Ready Reckoners and other handy shortcut tools that I regularly create and share with members.

Like this product? Spread the word about it and earn 30% of the purchase price on sales you refer. Click here to join David Gillespie’s affiliate program »

12 Ways Fructose Destroys Your Body

By | Sugar | 39 Comments

In the early 1800s the average person ate about 1.3 teaspoons of sugar a day.  Now the average person eats somewhere between 35 and 45 teaspoons of sugar a day. But the irony is that the modern adult probably thinks they barely eat any at all.  Our food supply has been so completely and totally polluted with sugar, that it is almost impossible to buy packaged food that doesn’t contain it.

One half of that sugar tsunami is a substance called fructose. It doesn’t matter whether the sugar is made from corn (called High Fructose Corn Syrup), beets (called Beet Sugar) or cane (called Cane Sugar or often just Sugar), it is all half glucose and half fructose.  And because we have never before in our evolutionary history as a species been exposed to significant quantities of fructose, our bodies are incredibly poorly adapted to dealing with it.

Consume serious quantities (like that contained in 35-45 teaspoons of sugar a day) and the chronic diseases caused by the maladaptation start to pile up.  The picture above shows the 12 biggest disease states that science has currently linked to fructose consumption.

Time to focus on the private school elephant in the pool

By | Education | One Comment

Tony Abbott’s hand-picked head of the Audit Commission, Tony Shepherd wants to end middle-class welfare but the Family Tax Benefits he’s targeting are just a sixth of the value of the annual subsidy paid to ‘private’ schools. In 1963 Australian taxpayers contributed less than a brass razoo to private education. Now we pay over $10 billion per year in recurrent funding. On top of that we taxpayers build fabulous facilities on private property (with capital funding) that very few of us have the right to access. It’s time the Audit Commission looked at the real middle class welfare, private schools.

Educating the children of prisoners (or guards) was not a priority in the early Australian colonies. And because it was charitable work, it was left to the churches to do with as they pleased.

As the population changed from largely prisoners to largely free colonists and the demands for education increased, the churches were able to negotiate significant government aid for their efforts. Unfortunately this resulted in a large amount of competition (and school choice) for easy to reach students in the cities and no education for everyone else.

In Australia, the market can deliver most things efficiently in the cities. But huge distances mean no profits to private providers and consequently no services for the rest of us. That particular ‘market failure’ is exactly why Australia found it necessary to have a state funded bank, a state funded telecommunications company and a state funded broadcaster.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the Australian colonies solved this problem in schooling by withdrawing their funding from church run schools and investing in their own ‘state schools’. The aim was to provide a free education to every citizen no matter where they lived (or what brand of religion they favoured).

The Catholics opted out and decided to run their own schools (on a shoestring) and there were a few Anglican secondary schools who continued to rely exclusively on private fees. But for almost a century, Australian governments refused to fund private choices about school education. And for almost a century we had a high equity, secular education system which was the envy of the world.

It was mostly fear of an electoral backlash that kept the politicians at bay. But when Sir Robert Menzies won the 1963 election with a promise to fund science blocks in non-government schools, the can was open and the worms tasted freedom. There was no backlash. The electorate no longer cared.

There is no better way to target a marginal parliamentary seat than selectively distribute largess among school communities. School funding is the laser guided vote buyer. The pollies had entered pork barrel heaven. And Australia has incessantly increased funding to ‘private’ schools ever since.

But the annual funding is just the tip of the money-berg. In addition to the cool $10 billion the taxpayer forks out every year to run ‘private’ schools, we are buying Olympic swimming pools, cricket ovals that the ICC would envy, fabulously appointed gymnasiums, fantastic science facilities and computer labs to die for.

The total bill for all this extra taxpayer generosity between 2005 and 2010 was just a smidge under $5 billion (on top of the $10 billion a year in running costs).

Over the same time frame we invested about $10 billion in government school infrastructure. And while those ratios are roughly in line with the respective numbers of each, they don’t take account of the fact that after the money is funnelled through the state government bureaucracies, $1 buys you about 60c worth of building work in a state school.

In 1964, DOGS, (the Council for Defence of Government Schools) was formed to protest the decision by the Australian Government to fund private schools. Their campaign against ‘schools with pools’ goes on to this day.

A favourite publicity stunt of the early DOGS protests was to turn up to the pools their money had purchased and ask for a swim. They were swiftly given the bum’s rush. These are not like other tax payer funded gyms, pools and libraries. These gorgeous facilities are not open to the public (that would be you).

Taxpayer funds have been used to significantly improve the value of private property and provide educational facilities that no government school could ever afford. Yet ordinary taxpayers are not allowed anywhere near them.

So the next time you peer over the hedge of the local ‘private’ school at the new Olympic pool, remember this was built using (upper?) ‘middle class welfare’. The Audit Commission will ruthlessly target all manner of what it deems to be unnecessary government spending but I guarantee you it will coyly avert its gaze from the ‘private’ school elephant wallowing in the pool.

Also published in The Courier Mail

Image courtesy of markuso / FreeDigitalPhotos.net