Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Fact or fiction?

Newspapers love a sensational headline, and never more so than when it comes to scientific research into the health benefits or otherwise of food. Never mind the facts, let's grab people's attention with an out of context claim - and one that's often a completely wrong conclusion drawn by the reporter or editor, at that.

"Chocolate prevents heart disease" turns out to be based on a study showing that approximately 6g of dark chocolate per day can reduce levels of C-reactive protein (a risk factor for cardio-vascular disease). Of course, most people aren't going to get to the fine print in the article anyway. It's the headline that catches their eye, and they may think "Phew! That family block of Cadbury Dairy Milk that I've been getting through most nights in front of the TV is actually a health food".

Maybe that's a slight exaggeration...but you see what I'm getting at.

The internet is just as bad. Websites that many people rely on for health and nutrition information may not be as reliable as you think. It always pays to read the whole article, and then go do your own research into any studies that are quoted and draw your own conclusions.

A couple of weeks back, I came across a "health blog" that claimed that agave syrup was sent by the devil to kill us all. Or something like that. Apparently, it's far, far worse than high-fructose corn syrup, not to mention that it's all factory-produced, chemically-laden, processed crap and we should carry holy water to sprinkle liberally on any of this evil product we see lurking around the health food store. Then burn it at the stake, just to be on the safe side.

The reason I was even interested in this was because I use the stuff now and then. It's bloody delish, and far, far tastier than any of that aspartame garbage that so many people are prepared to swallow. Anyway, after a bit of research and some logical thought here's my perspective:

The product that I use is imported into Australia by a reputable company. It's certified organic and thanks to our ridiculously strict food laws, I'm fairly confident that it's: a) uncontaminated; and b) not going to kill me.

The whole "fructose is scary, evil stuff" notion makes me laugh. Why? Because cane sugar is known to be a poor food choice. Honey, maple syrup, golden syrup and so on are really no better. Artificial sweeteners are... well, artificial, so not really food. Here's the thing: None of these things are meant to be staples in human diets. The bottom line is, if we want to be healthy, we shouldn't be eating any of these things in large quantities.

The comments on this particular blog from dieters having meltdowns over which product was safer or whatever made my eyes pop (Oh noes! What will we DOOOOO?). I was very tempted to leave a comment myself, asking: Just how much of these things do you people EAT?

I won't touch aspartame or saccharine because they taste disgusting. My sugar consumption is low, but if I do want a cake or a chocolate bar, I have it without worrying about consequences. I sometimes use Xylitol in cooking, although I can't remember the last time I did. These days I mostly use fruit to sweeten pancakes and yoghurt and so on.

And my jar of agave syrup? Well, I've had it for THREE YEARS, and it's still more than half full. Even if it's laced with arsenic, at the rate I'm using it, I don't think I'm in imminent danger.

P.S. If you're thinking about leaving a comment to tell me all about the virtues of Stevia, don't bother. That stuff is feral. *shudders*


Kathryn said...

Who the hell eats 6g of chocolate anyway? What's that, a lick of the chocolate bar?

I think the whole point of food research is so that magazines have some wacky food "facts" as filler for those first couple of pages.

LizN said...

I've never tried stevia - don't think I will be anytime soon.
And 6g of chocolate? what can I say....disappointed!

Debstar said...

Don't diss the chocolate

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