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What to believe?

Posted on November 22nd, 2010 by Alf | Print

If you are of a certain age you will remember quite well that, many years ago, milk was considered to be the ultimate- even the super food – rich in protein, plenty of calcium, phosphate and other minerals, and vitamins. Then came the detractors – we were told that milk contained saturated fats and cholesterol and these were bad for you because they caused your blood cholesterol levels to rise and this in turn increased your risk of heart disease. What is more, as Asians drink little milk and their incidence of osteoporosis is lower than in Western countries, further evidence, surely, that milk is bad for us.

 Then along came another view about milk – the saturated fats may be bad for us but so too was the A1 casein, a key protein component of milk, because it may increase the risk of diabetes and other degenerative diseases. And more recently, there are claims that pasteurized milk is not good for us because it contains dead bacteria which are the cause of milk allergies. And we are also told that pasteurization destroys important enzymes that are needed to help the digestion of milk. There is really very little evidence to support any of these claims.

Of course, the effect of all of this has been to create new industries with burgeoning sales of no fat and low fat milk, and more recently, omega-3 milk, lactose free milk, genuine A2 milk made from A2 cows, unpasteurized milk, and vegetarian substitutes made from soy, including soy milk, soygurt and tofu.

There are of course many other examples of why we are becoming increasingly neurotic about our food and dietary oils is one of these. If the saturated fats and cholesterol in milk are bad for us, surely this means that butter must also be bad for us. So, this provided a boost for another industry – margarines and other butter substitutes. The argument here went something like this. If the saturated fats and cholesterol in butter are bad for us, and people like some fatty spread on their bread, let us substitute something made from vegetable oils which contain almost no cholesterol, smaller amounts of saturated fats and plenty of good polyunsaturated fats. There was one slight problem with this and that is oils are not the right consistency so let us convert them into something with the same consistency as butter by “hardening” them. And it worked! With a bit of tweaking around the edges, we could sell genuine no cholesterol, low saturated fat, high polyunsaturated fat margarine which looks like butter – we even added color to make it yellow like butter. What we did not know back then was that the hardening process was not as innocuous as it seemed because it generated trans fats which were subsequently shown to be as bad as saturated fats for your heart.

In the last few years it has become even more confusing –even to specialist dieticians, nutritionists, and scientists. We are now told that not all saturated fats are necessarily bad for us. Also, the polyunsaturated fats in margarines may not be the good polyunsaturated fats because they are omega-6 fats and they may increase the risk of heart disease. However, the omega-3 polyunsaturated fats in fish and some seeds such as flax are now considered better for our health so why don’t we add some of these to margarine or even butter? Or we could add some olive oil, which is not bad for your heart or, better still, let us add some sterol esters or statins which we know can lower blood cholesterol. And thus it goes on-and on – and on!.

How does the average consumer react to all of this? And, what can they believe? How do we separate out the fact from the hype? Well, it is not easy, particularly for people who do not have a technical background and have to rely on information they have gleaned from the internet, newspapers, magazines, or shop assistants. However, when we do our search on the internet, or when we read an article in a magazine or the paper, or are told something on the radio or television, the first question that should always be asked is – does the person or organization/company from whom I am getting information on a particular product have a vested interest in the product? In other words, what do they gain from providing me with this information? And, if they do, the next question that could be asked is – do they have a background in the area they are advising me about? Or, to put it another way, have they the appropriate scientific or medical background to be able to assess the medical/scientific literature on the particular topic for which we are seeking advice because, lets face it, you would not go and see a dentist if you wanted advice on the noise your car is making. While it is not easy to separate out fact from conjecture completely, if we ask the questions suggested above, we can certainly be in a better position to assess the credibility of information which can guide us to make more informed choices

Promoting Good Health was established to help consumers cope with the deluge of information – some blatantly biased, misleading, or just plain wrong- that is now available from many different sources, and particularly the internet, on different foods and health supplements. Because of our scientific background, we are able to look beyond the hype to see whether there is any substance, based on properly conducted scientific research, to any claims, particularly those that relate to positive or negative health benefits, made about a product. Some of the types of claims we are referring to include those mentioned above that relate to milk and dietary oils and fats. We are proposing to do this through regular blogs, but for people who want more in depth information about specific products, through one of our books or DVDs. Our aim is to inform and educate, not mislead, the consumer. We believe that a bit of healthy skepticism is a healthy thing. We look forward very much to working with you in the future.

Until next time, stay happy and healthy.

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