Friday, April 14, 2017

On Food Demonisation

Have you noticed how hardly anything is safe to eat any more? Because any group of food apparently will give you all sorts of nasty diseases? Milk will make you infertile and give you breast and prostate cancer (One time it's full-fat dairy which is the culprit, next day it's low fat variety, or cheese, or yogurt so it's obviously never safe). Meat will give you cancer. Fish is good, but on the other hand, full of mercury and contaminants. Butter and eggs will give you high cholesterol, heart attacks and diabetes. Sugar is the Devil incarnated and is strictly to be avoided in any form. And God forbid, you enjoy toast, it'll give you cancer, too.

Thusly, you are reduced to eating grains and plants, but don't be too happy as yet that you finally found something you can enjoy. Because, the proponents of the new paleo theories will tell you that eating grains, beans, potatoes and too many vegetables isn't safe, either, and you should eat tons of bacon, lean meat, dozens of eggs etc, but no dairy, except for butter. Then there is the famous fat controversy. One paleo group suggests you choose lean meats, while others state you really need fat, lots of it, including dairy fats. So in the end, there is apparently no food which is really safe to eat for anyone under any circumstances, right?

The truth is, that most of the theories circulating on the internet about food safety are just that, theories. There is too much scaremongering around and too many "experts" giving their opinion and pushing their own agenda. Take toasted bread, for instance. There is a theory that slightly burned toast will give you cancer because it contains acrylamide which some scientists speculate theoretically could lead to cancer.

In practise though,  evidence from human studies has shown that, for most cancer types, there is no link between acrylamide and cancer risk. Some studies have suggested a higher risk of womb cancer, but the evidence is weak and inconsistent, so we can’t be sure if this link is real. Even food industry workers, who are exposed to twice as much acrylamide as other people, do not have higher rates of cancer.

Eating tons of burnt toast is probably still not a good idea, but there is sure a lot of noise about something which can't be really linked to anything sinister after all the research. Let's now move on to dairy. From the same official UK website on cancer research:

 Studies looking into the link between cancer and dairy products have not given clear results. There is evidence that dairy products could reduce the risk of bowel cancer, but we cannot say for sure that this is the case. There is no strong evidence linking dairy products to any other types of cancer. We need further research to find out more about the links between dairy products and cancer risk.

Again, no links have been proven to exist, except that dairy can probably protect you from the bowel cancer, but it doesn't stop the campaigners. I have been asking myself whether it has something to do with anti (North) European sentiment prevailing nowadays. I think it's really lousy that people outside of Northern Europe are often lactose-intolerant but I'm not going to let myself to be guilt-tripped into not drinking milk out of some mistaken and misplaced solidarity.

Hormones in the milk could be a problem for the inhabitants of the USA, but not for Europeans, since In some countries, a hormone called bovine somatotrophin (BST) is used to speed up or increase the production of milk or meat. In the UK and the rest of Europe, farmers are banned from using this hormone, and the import of meat from countries, including the US, where this hormone is used is also banned. This ban is on animal welfare grounds and not because there is any proven effect on human health. Independent health bodies including the European Union Scientific Committee have reviewed the evidence on BST and found it does not pose any harm to human health.

Now let's look at sugar. Does it really make you fat? No. Overeating does. As in stuffing yourself with too many calories daily. And for all those meat-lovers who claim protein won't make you fat ever, excess protein turns into glucose in your body. But to return to sugar, even WHO jumped on the bandwagon of demonisation even though the only thing they could prove is that consuming too much sweets leads to caries (as if we didn't know!). Apparently, there is an international agenda behind anti-sugar campaign, which has to do with environmentalism, anti-corporate movement and similar concerns. EU sugar producers reacted to WHO new guidelines in the following way:

We note the clarification in the report that WHO has retained its recommendation that “free sugars” can provide <10% of total energy intake.
We believe that before a <5% value can be included in official recommendations,  extensive debate must take place, as called for by WHO, especially because the data this value is based on, was deemed to be of very low quality by both WHO and the dental health review authors[2]. In practice, such a threshold would be exceeded for instance with the drinking of a mere glass of orange juice...

It should be noted that the WHO intake recommendations are based purely on dental health data. The authors of the WHO-mandated systematic review on “free” sugars and weight gain concluded that any effect of sugar on weight gain is purely due to the consumption of excess calories and not a specific effect of sugar per se[3]. This review highlights the fact that obesity is an extremely complex and multidimensional problem, and preventing obesity requires the balance of managing calorie intake coming from all foods, including sugar, with energy expenditure. Therefore, simply advising an individual to decrease sugar intake without taking into account overall diets and other factors will not solve the current obesity crisis. The WHO recommendations notably have to be put in the context of each country’s food culture, which has an impact on individuals’ food patterns.

(Read the whole thing over here).  Again, it's probably not a good idea to consume too much sugar, and fizzy drinks containing 1000+ calories each, but if you are not suffering from diabetes, sugar in moderation, preferably eaten with the meals, appears to be all right.

Now, if all these foods don't give you cancer, what does? Well, the risk factors are all known and have been for a long time: smoking, obesity and overweight, alcohol, not enough physical activity, too much sun exposure, not eating enough vegetable and fibre, and processed meat. Yes, chemicals in bacon can give you bowel cancer, and eating to much red meat is also suspect, too much being defined as more than 500g cooked red meat a week, which can be easily avoided by eating fish and poultry 3 times a week.

But really, it's all about using common sense, isn't it? 


  1. First, thank you for your blog. I am a regular reader and enjoy your posts very much.
    You may find the work of Jason Fung, MD (a nephrologist from Canada) interesting. He is reversing type 2 diabetes by lowering insulin through fasting protocols on his patients; they get off of or severely lower the need for medication and lose weight, even those who have been diabetic for many years. Fasting can be no snacking between meals to intermittent fasting to longer fasts. He has lots of talks available for free on the internet: if you do a search, a lot of things come up. In this you tube talk he explains why calorie restriction doesn't work, but fasting does (no calorie restriction when one eats a meal).
    Here is the same material in an article from Dr. Fung's website for those who prefer to read:
    His website - Intensive Dietary Management (IDM) ( - it has some videos, testimonials from patients, and articles for those who would rather read than watch talks.
    Jimmy Moore, Dr. Fung and Megan Ramos (IDM Program Director and Clinical Educator) also have a podcast called Fasting Talk that answers questions people email in about fasting (
    My husband and I are doing this on our own and it is working (I am pre-diabetic - I've been steadily losing weight [!!!] through fasting, no calorie restriction when I eat).
    Thank you again for your blog!

  2. Hi Adelaide and thanks for the links!

    Yes, I've read the diabetes type 2 can often be reversed through diet and exercise and just losing weight. Fasting appears to be working against many diseases, too, though I've not looked into it in detail.

    Diabetes patients obviously should follow the diet prescribed by their doctors and sharply reduce their intake of sugar and simple carbs and the same is true for those who are overweight. Young, active and healthy persons though can be allowed more wiggle room, so to say.

    If one food group really should be restricted or ditched altogether, it's processed and fast foods, imo:)

  3. I don't know about your country, but in the U.S. the meat and dairy supply has been proven to cause various ills due to factory farms and man's greed. I suggest you look into research before posting your thoughts on such a complicated issue, because it is obvious some ignorance is present, sadly.

    1. I'm American and have been eating dairy and meat all my life without issue. Some magic obesity bug didn't creep up on me, nor did some wacky imbalance in my gut bacteria make me fat or any of those things. Normal weight, healthy and eat just regular meat and dairy, including drinking whole milk. While I have no doubt there needs to be changes, I think more so it is just people looking for a scapegoat.

      And I'm sick of people saying calorie restriction doesn't work. It's the only thing that works. That's why people go on these wacky diets over and over again yet still keep getting fat and regaining weight, yet they will do anything rather than count a single calorie. Ridiculous. But I could care less. Let them continue wasting money on diet programs and denying themselves their favorite foods in the hopes of fitting into a bikini. I know calorie counting works to lose and maintain weight if you are truly doing it, but most won't and then they complain and look for a scapegoat.

  4. Don't you think it's rather impolite to come to someone's blog and accuse them of ignorance? I'm sorry if you have problems in your country, but really, whatever happens in the USA can hardly influence people's food choices in other parts of the world.

    Also, as far as I know organic options are available in America, too.

  5. Paleo enthusiasts always crack me up. How on earth is butter paleo if dairy isn't??? Haha. Like, what???

    Leaving out foods and substances that will directly poison your body, if a food is bad or not depends on who you are and how much of it you eat. For lunch today I hate a bacon cheeseburger (about 820 cals.) A small diet dr. Pepper, (OMG aspertame!!! It must be bad for us because rats pumped full of the stuff at 1000× more than what the average person could ever consume got cancer) and a sugar cookie ice cream sandwich (about 290 cals) and a protein shake (160 cals). It was a good lunch!

    But yeah, the only thing about food that is PROVEN to be harmful and cause disease and obesity is calories. I eat kind of a big lunch and only small snack for breakfast and dinner. I track my calories and work out everyday and guess what, I'm not overweight. In fact, I've just brought my weight up to normal in the last few months (bmi is now about 18.4 or so) after being underweight for a while.

    I love fat, I love sugar and protein but I eat it in moderation. No need for these wacky diets. Just make sure to keep an eye on calories and make sure you get the vitamins and minerals you need with adequate intakes of fat and protein. And yes, excess protein can be broke down into sugar bit so can fat. Our bodies are designed that way. Sugar is used for energy but our bodies convert fats and proteins to sugar for energy when sugar is low. We need certain essential fatty and amino acids but we don't have to consume carbs, though I personally think carbs are healthy.

    Sorry for the long post but your post was rather long too so we both apparently feel strongly about this one and sick of the BS!

  6. It's OK, Radical! I've just been wondering lately what foods are actually good for us to eat any more. Because even vegetables are suspect with some people:) I just heard that some folks claim they are allergic to salad...

    As for dairy, there are people who are lactose-intolerant and shouldn't be eating it. My Granny couldn't stand milk but never had any problems eating butter. If you are lactose- or gluten-intolerant, you shouldn't be eating that stuff. It's that simple, I just wonder whatever happened to the common sense???

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  8. I think if we just go back to cooking and eating normally, like people used to do, before fast food and TV dinners it'll solve a lot of problems already:)

  9. I wish I would have read this 5 years ago! I took my family through some very silly food mazes out of fear on the internet! Praise God back to eating " regular" old fashioned and plain...meals!!

  10. Us women are guardians of the family's health, so it's natural we get interested in those things, but being women just get carried away sometimes:)

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