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HEALTH FOOD OR HYPED FAD?

Weight-watching is a hot topic in the USA. We eat too much (food being so cheap and plentiful here); but we prefer to blame obesity and related maladies on eating the “wrong stuff.” Trouble is, everyone has an opinion regarding what’s “right” to eat. National Geographic June 2017 featured a new book, “Pandora’s Lab” by Paul Offat, which bears a lesson: The benefit of a scientific discovery is ambiguous; complications only become clear after prolonged gestation and refinement through peer review. It’s really true that a little learning is a dangerous thing; or, as Greek Classics puts it, Drink the Pierian Spring deeply, or not at all!

“Pandora’s Lab” highlights some of the dietary fads that have misled Americans for decades now: fats, margarine versus butter, cholesterol, antioxidants… the whole mumbo-jumbo gamut that is often based on incomplete inquiry, on mere whims and preferences, or at best on one-off findings that are rushed from laboratory to the media without benefit of thorough follow-up studies and controlled clinical trials. (And, oh, how egregiously the claim “clinically proven” is abused these days!) The book laments that US government’s endorsement of mere speculations regarding “heart-healthy food” did much mortal harm to the health of Americans.

One wishes the review had included “GMO,” “Organic,” & “Gluten-Free” labels: the glamorous new fads that peddle expensive abracadabra of doubtful benefit. “Organic” is an absurd prefix for food since its opposite is “inorganic,” and there are no inorganic foods. (No one eats mineral rocks!) Its unscientific pretension is like calling yourself “pro-life” to cast your opponents as “pro-death” by contrast. I will heed the “GMO” gripes and “organic” produce only when mainstream scientists demonstrate their merits. Advocacies often originate in someone’s prejudice; the strident ones tend to quote those scientific studies supporting their position, and ignore or dispute the contrary ones. Sound & lasting scientific consensus on food and health issues take long decades to concretize. Short-cuts are hazardous. When in doubt, I do not jump on any faddish bandwagon: I ask my doctor.