Health Star or Death Star?

By | Conflicts of Interest, Sugar, Vegetable Oils | 13 Comments

The Federal Government’s Health Star Rating system (HSR to its friends) is being heavily promoted as a solution the nation’s out-of-control obesity and chronic disease problem.  But it has turned into a food industry marketing stunt that is part of the problem not part of the solution.

This week HSR turned 1.  And as any one year old might expect, it got some lovely presents.  The government committed to spending $2.1 million telling everybody what a jolly good idea it is.  And they also cut a cheque to the Heart Foundation to look after the little fella for the next 2-5 years.

It seems everybody has been celebrating.  Sanitarium has been spending up big telling us that Up&Go (20% sugar) has 4.5 out of 5 stars.  Uncle Toby’s have also had the ad makers working round the clock, reminding us that you don’t have to drink your breakfast or have boring old oats.  Your kids can have their terrific 4 star sugar-loaded (25% sugar) oats instead.

The new multi-million dollar ad campaign helpfully tells us the more stars there are (to a maximum of 5) the healthier the food.

The government must be using a different definition of healthy to the World Health Organisation, the Canadian Heart Association and the British Medical Association, (to name just a few), because I doubt any of them would be likely to describe a ‘food’ that is 25% added sugar as healthy.  And yet that is exactly the type of ‘food’ getting the 4 and 5 star ratings in Australia.

Meanwhile, food that has sustained humans for millennia, like butter, coconut oil or yoghurt is flat out breaking the one star barrier.  Even strawberry liquorice (42% sugar) does better than that (2.5 stars).

They all score badly because they contain saturated fat.  For decades that kind of fat has been painted by nutritionists as the dietary villain.  But recent reviews of the science conducted by the US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends dropping saturated fat (and cholesterol) from its list of nutrients of concern because there is no evidence connecting it with heart disease.

The HSR is a marketing program developed by and for the processed food industry (but paid for by the taxpayer).  Its development panel includes the Australian Beverages Council (whose members include Coca-cola and Pepsi) and the Australian Food and Grocery Council (whose membership list is the phone directory for the processed food industry).

It, like the Heart Foundation tick (which coincidentally appears on all the ‘healthy’ products I mention above) should be used as a guide to what foods to completely ignore.  The less stars a product has the less likely it is to do you harm.

But this isn’t an amusing little sideshow.  People are being actively told by their government to consume products that will unequivocally harm them.  They are being told that high sugar, high seed oil products like Up&Go are the best thing they can eat when the evidence says the exact opposite.

We wouldn’t tolerate a Government sponsored program that actively encouraged children to smoke (for their health) so let’s not tolerate our money being used to market sugar laced, seed oil as health food.

Don’t tolerate you and your family being treated like processed food dump sites.  Write to Sussan Ley (the Minister responsible for this abomination) and tell her you don’t want your money spent on a labelling system designed by Big Food’s marketing department.  And tell her you want your government to base its dietary advice on evidence, not what Big Food needs to sell this week.

Two things you can avoid to take yourself off the chronic disease treadmill

By | Sugar, Vegetable Oils | 3 Comments

Australians are sicker now than at any time in our history and it is getting worse unbelievably quickly.  We are almost four times as likely to have thyroid cancer than just three short decades ago.  We are more than three times as likely to have Liver Cancer or Type II Diabetes.  We are twice as likely to have Anal cancer, Chronic Kidney Disease, Melanoma, Kidney cancer and Motor Neuron Disease.  And Fatty Liver Disease, something that barely existed in the eighties, now affects 1 in 3 adults and 1 in 8 children.

Men are more than twice as likely to have prostate cancer and 60% more likely to have testicular cancer.  Women are 43% more likely to have breast cancer.  And children are more than four times(!) as likely to suffer from a life threatening allergic reaction.

These are not comparisons to the 50s or the turn of the 20th century.  These statistics are comparisons with 1982 (and in the case of allergies, with 1994).  The chronic disease tsunami is upon us. If we are not already affected by one of these diseases (or the many others steadily getting worse), we most certainly know someone who is.

So, when something happens that reminds us of this, we pay attention.  The Ice-Bucket Challenge for Motor Neuron Disease and the Beanie for Brain Cancer campaign strike a chord with us because, like never before in human history, we are likely to have a very personal connection with chronic disease inexplicably striking down those we love.

We are intensely interested in knowing all we can about these diseases.  We don’t believe they strike randomly, no matter how many times we are told they have no known cause.  Even if we don’t know the exact numbers we have a sense that we are a population in serious disease trouble. We desperately want to know if there is something we should be doing or not doing to avoid adding ourselves (and those we love) to the statistics.

The problem is, we are never told.  The organisations tasked with telling us about these diseases tell us nothing is known about their cause.  They offer us no hope.  They ask us for money for research and they leave us to live with our fingers crossed.

But we do know some important things about these diseases.  We know that sugar consumption causes Type II Diabetes Fatty Liver Disease and Chronic Kidney disease and is likely to be part of the disease process for Liver, Kidney and Pancreatic cancer.  We know 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 Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Macular Degeneration, Multiple Sclerosis (and other auto-immune diseases) all cancers and lethal allergic reactions.

Deleting sugar from your diet will not bring a destroyed pancreas, liver or kidney back.  Deleting vegetable oil will not reverse Parkinson’s, Motor Neuron Disease or cancer.  But removing those modern additions to our diet will take you off the high risk path for all of those diseases and more.

This is the message we should be given the next time our national attention is focused on a beanie, a ribbon or a bucket of ice-water.  We should be told what we can do to avoid the disease.  Those asking us for money should be doing their level best to ensure they never need it.

 

 

Photo by Kyle Nishioka. Distributed under the Creative Commons License.

Eat Real Food now available

By | Books, Sugar, Vegetable Oils | 17 Comments

Enter the great Book #1 Give-away. David will give away the first copy of Eat Real Foodsigned and personally inscribed as Copy #1 – to the winner of this competition. Enter below.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

In the last 100 years, we’ve become fatter and sicker with millions of people developing serious diseases from diabetes to cancer. Health gurus confuse us with complex diets and expensive ingredients; food manufacturers load their products with addictive and destructive ingredients causing our increasing weight and declining health. But help is at hand. Health and consumer advocate David Gillespie shares the simple secret of weight loss and wellbeing: swap processed food for REAL FOOD. Eat Real Food features:

  • An explanation of why diets don’t work and a provides a focus on what does
  • Information on how to lose weight permanently, not just in the short-term
  • Evidence-based science explaining the real culprits of ill health and weight gain.
  • Advice on how to read food labels.
  • Easy recipes to replace common processed items and meal plans that show how simple it is to shop, plan and cook Real Food.
  • Tips for lunchboxes, parties, and recipes for food kids actually like.

Eat Real Food is the safe, effective and cheap solution to lose weight and improve our health permanently

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

By | Big Fat Lies, Charts, Vegetable Oils | 26 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.

Meadow Lea adds sugar to margarine to entice kids

By | Sugar, Vegetable Oils | 7 Comments

Just when you thought margarine was about as dangerous as any ‘food’ could get, Goodman Fielder have released their new range with added sugar.

That’s right, now you can get margarine with added sugar.  And not just a smidge, one fifth of the product is sugar (sugar content ranges from 17.8% to 20.5% depending on the flavour).

The omega-6 fats which dominate ordinary margarine are implicated in (at least) osteoporosis, male infertility, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, allergies, asthma, macular degeneration, impaired intelligence and cancer.

But now with twice as much sugar as an equivalent quantity of Coke, Meadow Lea Breakfast Twists put the unwary consumer on track for an even more spectacular array of chronic diseases including Type II Diabetes, Kidney Disease, Fatty Liver Disease, Heart Disease, Erectile Dysfunction and Alzheimer’s.

If I tried to think of a way to combine the very worst of a processed food diet in a single product, I don’t think I could do any better than this.  Besides the obligatory preservatives, flavours and colours there’s really nothing in this product but seed oils and sugar (with a pinch of salt and a dash of ‘milk solids’).

Ingredients: Vegetable oils 45% (containing 36% Canola & Sunflower oil), water, sugar, salt, milk solids, emulsifiers (soy lecithin, 471), preservative (202), food acid (lactic), colour (beta-carotene), flavour, vitamins A & D.

But perhaps the very worst thing about this stuff is that it is being marketed to (and for) kids.  The site proudly proclaims

“And because it’s been taste tested with kids, you know they will love it!”

This is especially appalling because the evidence is clear that many of the diseases associated with omega-6 fat consumption develop in childhood.  Worse, the damage is cumulative and likely to be irreversible.

None of the research on the harm done by sugar and seed oils is a secret. No-one should ever eat margarine, but children especially should be kept as far away from it as possible.  And yet, Goodman Fielder appear to have explicitly designed this product to make it more appealing to kids (by adding a ton of sugar).

It is despicable behaviour of the highest possible order and it should not be rewarded with commercial success.  Please tell everyone you know to avoid this product like the bubonic plague.

Margarine makes your kids stupid enough to eat margarine

By | Big Fat Lies, Vegetable Oils | 3 Comments

A significant component of what makes us intelligent is created from our mother’s fat stores.  Unfortunately the fats which dominate margarines and processed food stop that absorption happening and impair intelligence in children to a greater degree than was ever caused by lead. If you want your kids to be as smart as they can be then they (and you) need to immediately stop eating those fats.

About 10% of our brain is made from an Omega-3 fat called DHA (docosahexaenoic acid for the biochemists amongst us).  We can make DHA from a simpler omega-3 fat called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).  That’s the form of omega-3 which exists in most of our food.

Unfortunately we are not very good at converting dietary omega-3 ALA into DHA.  Less than half a percent of the ALA we consume ends up as DHA.  This means that relying on mum to eat enough omega-3 ALA while she’s pregnant would be a disastrous strategy for baby brain building.

Luckily we have a plan.  As soon as a woman reaches puberty her body starts storing up as much Omega-3 fat as it can.  Uniquely among animals (because we are the only ones who need to build relatively gigantic brains), female humans store all that omega-3 ALA in a baby pantry located at the top of the legs and in the buttocks.

Unfortunately for girls who wish to become Supermodels, the body cannot tell the difference between the various sorts of fat, so it just stores all the fat it can find in the hope that enough of it will be the good stuff.

Since the point of storing the fat is to ensure there is enough (ALA to make) DHA to make a baby’s brain, the body will not easily let go of it.  That is, until the third trimester of pregnancy.  Then the floodgates are opened and the fat is released.  Because brain construction doesn’t finish when a child is born, it’s also important that the supply of DHA continues after the baby is born.  Breast milk (and now formula) contains large amounts of DHA.  In total, 80% of the fat used in construction of a child’s brain comes from the mother’s stores (rather than her current diet).  So perhaps the old saying should be ‘A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips in your child’s brain’

We know from animal studies that if there is not enough DHA, animals end up with brains that don’t have enough neurons, the cells that do all the work in our brains.  That lack of basic circuitry in turn impairs the child’s development and intelligence.   And it looks like the results hold in humans as well.

Just last month, a study in humans was able to show that the amount of DHA in breast milk was the strongest predictor of test performance across samples drawn from 28 OECD countries.

But before you start force-feeding teenage girls, mothers and kids fish oil tablets, you should know that there is a little twist in this tale.  Omega-6 fats stop us using DHA to make us brainy.  So it doesn’t matter how much Omega-3 you have if you also consume too much Omega-6.

Omega-6 fats are the dominant fat in seed oils (canola, soybean, grapeseed, corn, sunflower etc).  These are the fats that margarine is made from.  These are the fats which are now used in every packaged food on the supermarket shelf.  And these are the foods in which every fried food is boiled.  We now eat 10-20 times as much omega-6 fat as omega-3 fat.

Omega-6 fats compete with Omega-3 fats for the same enzymes.  Critically one of those is the enzyme which turns garden variety omega-3 ALA into DHA.  If we have equal amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 in our diet, just the right amount of DHA is created and all is good, but if we have too much omega-6, we fail to make enough DHA.

You might predict from that, that countries that eat a lot of seed oils loaded with omega-6  would tend not to do so well in tests and you’d be right.  The researchers in the most recent study found that there was a very strong correlation between the amount of omega-6 in the diet and how poorly 15 year olds did on standard international benchmark tests.

This confirmed the findings of five previous human studies which showed that higher omega-6 intakes impaired cognition (made us dumb – translation provided in case you’ve been hitting the margarine).  Indeed one 2011 study determined that the impairment was greater than the effect of lead!! (double exclamation points are well and truly warranted on that statement)

Just like omega-3 fats, omega-6 fats are stored in the baby pantry, ready to use when needed.  So the fats used to construct a baby’s brain are not just the fats a woman is eating when she’s pregnant or breastfeeding.  They are every fat she has stored since puberty (or since the last baby used them up).  Babies being constructed today are having brains built from the fats used in processed food for the last 20 years.

We now use unleaded petrol because of the damage lead in petrol did to developing brains. If we want the next generation not to be ‘cognitively impaired’ by seed oils, we need to act now.

We need to ensure that (at the very least) young women are not consuming foods overloaded with omega-6 fats.  This means no margarine, almost no processed food and no commercially fried food.  In other words they need to eat real food and they need to do it now.

If they do this their children will be smart enough to thank them for it.

Image courtesy of Phaitoon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How Margarine breaks your bones

By | Big Fat Lies, Vegetable Oils | 5 Comments

Scientists have known for more than a decade that the omega-6 fats contained in vegetable oils (like those used to manufacture margarine) degrade human bone density.  Now new research has thrown light on how that happens and why anyone concerned about osteoporosis needs to immediately stop consuming them.

One in twenty Australians have osteoporosis (Greek for ‘porous bones’) and 1 in 4 have low bone density (the precursor to osteoporosis). The number of people affected is accelerating wildly. In the last 10 years the number of GP visits related to osteoporosis has doubled in Australia.

Our bones are not static lumps of rock.  They are living tissue which constantly accumulate and dispose of minerals.  Osteoporosis occurs when bones lose minerals, such as calcium, more quickly than the body can replace them.  This causes a loss of bone thickness (bone density or mass).

As bones become thinner and less dense, even a minor bump or fall can cause a serious fracture. Unfortunately most people don’t know they have the disease until after they suffer a break.  Eight out of ten cases are recorded in people over the age of 55 but the age of onset is becoming progressively younger.

Osteoporosis medicines work by making the cells that break down bone (osteoclasts) less active.  This tips the balance towards accumulation of minerals by the cells that form bone (osteoblasts).

A long series of animal studies have clearly established that polyunsaturated fats are important drivers of the bone recycling process.  We know that omega-3 polyunsaturates which dominate some fish oils, flax seeds and kelp help us build up bone density.  While the omega-6 fats which dominate seed oils (like sunflower, soybean, canola, safflower and rice-bran) destroy bone density.

In 2005 researchers at the University of California confirmed that the same rules were at work in a large human population.  In that study 1,532 people were observed for 4 years.  The results were spectacularly consistent.  The more omega-6 a person consumed (or the higher their omega-6 to omega-3 ratio), the lower their bone density was.  It really was that black and white.

The results were independent of medication use, their BMI or the amount of exercise they did or didn’t do.  This means that all the things which we are told affect our chances of getting osteoporosis were rendered irrelevant by just one thing, the amount of omega-6 fat in the diet.

Unfortunately (for our health) nobody in the Health Community wants to hear that they should stop telling people to eat seed oils, so there has been precious little publicity about that line of studies.  That is, until bone density started mattering to people who breed animals for a living.

As we feed more and more of our farmed fish, diets which are high in omega-6 fats, they are becoming more and more fragile.  It seems that just like humans (and rats).  Their bones go to pot if we ramp up the omega-6.

This latest proof of the bone destroying power of omega-6 comes courtesy of an aquaculture study out of the Norwegian National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research. In that study, the scientists observed a rise in the level of activity of the enzyme that breaks down bone, in line with the rise in omega-6 concentrations.

We don’t know exactly how omega-6 works its destructive magic but the scientists suspect that it relates to the production of PGE2, the prostaglandin responsible for bone metabolism.  We make PGE2 from omega-6 fats, but the presence of omega-3 fats stops it being produced.  This is because omega-3 and omega-6 compete for the same enzymes.  If we make just the right amount, everything is tickety-boo but if we make too much, say, because we have too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3, then we start breaking down our bones.

Every processed food on the supermarket shelves is loaded with omega-6 fats (in the form of seed oils).  Every fried food has been boiled in omega-6 fats (seed oils again). Our National Heart Foundation actively encourages us to eat margarines brimming with omega-6 fats (yep, seed oils).  And the charity responsible for advice about Osteoporosis doesn’t even mention the known link between omega-6 fats and the disease.

In this environment it is not strange that the number of people affected has doubled in just a decade, it’s a bloody miracle it hasn’t tripled.  But stay tuned, at the rate we are increasing the consumption of omega-6 fats, there is much more pain to come.

Image courtesy of Boaz Yiftach at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Real Food Tick of Approval

By | Sugar, Vegetable Oils | 14 Comments

Most modern deaths are caused by diseases which barely affected anybody 200 years ago.  And the science says that between them, sugar and seed oils are responsible for almost all of those deaths.

The twin innovations of commercial sugar production (which made food addictive) and seed oil manufacture (which made food cheap to construct) has completely transformed our food supply in that timeframe.

Almost every packaged food now contains significant quantities of sugar or seed oil or (more usually) both.  But far worse than that, it almost impossible to tell from that packaging (other than the fact that there is packaging, that is) whether a given food is safe or not.

I propose a simple way to tell the difference.  Introducing, the Real Food Tick of Approval.  The rules are very simple:

  1. All whole food qualifies for the Tick
  2. Any packaged food which contains more than 1.5 grams of fructose per 100 g does not qualify
  3. Any drink which contains fructose (at all) does not qualify
  4. Any packaged food or drink which contains more than 1.5 grams of Omega-6 fat per 100 g does not qualify
  5. All other food qualifies for the Tick

To see how this works in practice, check out my free, foods database.  In it I have applied these rules.

The database is not perfect, it is using an automated formula (which tries to use fibre content to guess which are whole foods) to do the coding.  This means it doesn’t properly take account of Rule #1 (at this stage), so there will be obvious errors – but you get the gist.

Most things coloured green would get the Real Food Tick.  And the application of a little nouse would eliminate the obvious exceptions (for example Apricots in Intense Sweetened Liquid)

Most of those coloured yellow or red would not qualify. But there are whole foods which are particularly high in fructose (for example a Pink Lady apple) or Omega-6 (for example Peanuts).

Neither of these whole foods are coloured green but Rule #1 says they should qualify.  With those I would suggest, they still deserve the Tick (because they are whole foods), but it should be a yellow tick rather than a green one, merely to indicate that more than one serving of these foods should not be consumed.

I’d love to hear your thoughts (in the comments below) on the proposed Real Food Tick.

Graphic based on an Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If the Heart Foundation and Dietitians Association didn’t exist, would the food industry need to invent them?

By | Big Fat Lies, Conflicts of Interest, Sugar, Vegetable Oils | 7 Comments

The Dietitians Association of Australia and the Australian Heart Foundation spend quite a bit of their time attacking what they call “Fad Diets”.  Unfortunately, their flat out disregard for the evidence is making their statements sound more and more like press releases issued by the processed food industry.

I don’t pretend to know what is motivating either of them, but I do know that both have financial backing from the industries which stand to lose the most if there is widespread adoption of many of the diets they declare to be fads (for example reducing sugar, seed oils, or more recently paleo).

The Dietitians Association’s sponsors include Nestle (the second largest manufacturer of breakfast cereals in Australia and no slouch when it comes to moving other forms of sugar either), Unilever (largest margarine manufacturer in Australia) and the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council (a lobby group funded by all the major breakfast cereal manufacturers)

The Australian Heart Foundation is not overtly sponsored by anyone.  But the processed food industry has found a way to rent the Heart Foundation’s healthy halo.

It’s called the Tick Program. Processed foods can gain endorsement from the Heart Foundation by doing what they were going to do anyway. They wanted to use seed oils instead of animal fats because they are loads cheaper. Tick – foods that use seed oils are given preference. They wanted to use tons of sugar because food with sugar sells better than food without. Tick – sugar is not a criteria. They want to sell breakfast cereals because they are vehicles for sugar (and the margins are stupendous). Tick – whole grains are encouraged for their fibre.

The program is a nice little earner for the Heart Foundation, pulling in $2.8m in 2013 alone. The only problem is that, through the Tick Program, the Heart Foundation now finds itself in the position of having endorsed hundreds of products that the science says are very dangerous to our health.

The World Health Organisation, the Canadian Heart Foundation and the American Heart Association all regard sugar as a dangerous additive to food because there is convincing evidence that it is “associated with heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, high blood cholesterol, cancer and tooth decay.”  But the Australian Heart Foundation is earning millions from its endorsement of products like ‘Mayonnaise’ that has more sugar than Coke, a children’s snack which is 73% sugar and spreads made of the very oils which science says almost doubles the risk of heart disease death.

That is what we lawyers call a conflict of interest. When doctors experience a conflict of interest (say by accepting gifts from pharmaceutical companies), the regulators tighten the rules and (no matter how much it hurts the doctors) attempt to put the brakes on the gravy train.

The same thing happens in just about any profession we depend upon for expert knowledge. We have to be able to trust paid specialists. And no matter how morally astute they believe they are, we cannot allow them be led into temptation by conflicts of interest. If we do, we can never be sure if they are giving us advice based on the best evidence or on their own financial interest.

And if by chance you think that the existence of, say, a tick program makes no difference to the advice being dispensed, you need look no further than the Canadian Heart Foundation.  In June, they killed off their tick program.  Before June, they were happily handing out ticks to Slush Puppies and children’s snacks where sugar was the primary ingredient.  After June they were attacking the sugar sellers like they were on commission for the sale of Sweet Poison.

So when the Dietitians Association and the Heart Foundation fly into a frenzy to decry a diet which asks people to avoid processed food, any thinking person would ask, why?  Is there science behind this or have these two venerable organisations simply become mouthpieces for the processed food industry that provides them with such significant financial support?  Such is the corrosive power of conflicts of interest.

There are now very persuasive reasons to worry about their advice that we should consume seed oils (vegetable oils). And there is just as compelling evidence that ignoring sugar is taking a daily toll on the health of all Australians.

We need the Heart Foundation to follow the lead of the Canadian Heart Foundation and immediately trash its Tick program. And we need our dietitians to throw off the yoke of corporate sponsorship and provide evidence based dietary advice untainted by the smell of food industry money.

We don’t need the guardians of our health attacking a scientifically (and logically) defensible aversion to processed food. We need them guarding our health without fear or favour (especially without favour).