Wednesday, July 15, 2015

WARNING: Food is bad for your health!

This may be the healthiest breakfast you can get, and it's an
Army breakfast. (Photo credit: US Army.)

Eggs don't cause heart attacks — sugar does!

This is the headline on HuffPo's Healthy Living blog, written by Dr. Mark Hyman, posted February 9, 2014, and updated April 11, 2014. Hyman writes:
Fifty years of doctors' advice and government eating guidelines have been wrong. We've been told to swap eggs for cereal. But that recommendation is dead wrong. In fact, it's very likely that this bad advice has killed millions of Americans.

A rigorously done new study shows that those with the highest sugar intake had a four-fold increase in their risk of heart attacks compared to those with the lowest intakes. That's 400 percent! Just one 20-ounce soda increases your risk of a heart attack by about 30 percent.

This study of more than 40,000 people, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, accounted for all other potential risk factors including total calories, overall diet quality, smoking, cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity and alcohol.

This follows on the heels of decades of research that has been mostly ignored by the medical establishment and policy makers. In fact, the Institute of Medicine recommends getting no more than 25 percent of your total calories from added sugar. Really? This study showed that your risk of heart attacks doubles if sugar makes up 20 percent of your calories.

Yet more than 70 percent of Americans consume 10 percent of their daily calories from sugar. And about 10 percent of Americans consume one in every four of their calories from sugar.

Of course, if you scroll all the way to the bottom of the page, you get a sense that Dr. Hyman isn't exactly observing this topic from a neutral corner:

In my new book, The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet, which will be released on February 25, I provide an easy, step-by-step plan to rid yourself of sugar addiction and reverse your risk of heart attacks. To download a sneak preview of this book, go to and pre-order the book on Amazon.

Do tell. Whatever Dr. Hyman's financial interest in the matter, it doesn't make him wrong. In fact, he's working from the Journal of the American Medical Association (or at least its internal medicine spin-off). JAMA is the premier American medical journal; and the authors of the study have no apparent affiliation with Dr. Hyman's outfit (The UltraWellness Center). I don't have the medical creds to attack the argument; and at this point, I don't really want to.

I remember back around 1980, when it was reported that saccharine had been found to cause cancer in lab rats. O the panic! Whatever will dieters do without their little pink packets!? Turned out you had to drink about twelve cases of Tab a day to get the level of saccharine that Pinky and the Brain had been injected with; the pink packets still abound, even though Equal (EEK! ASPARTAME!) effectively took over the diet-soft-drink market. Remember when there was only one kind of cholesterol, and it was bad?

(By the way, according to ABC News, there's still no solid evidence of any side effects linked to aspartame. Yet. Which gives me no comfort at all.)

When Kat Fernandez posted Dr. Hyman's article on her timeline yesterday, I confess my first reaction was rather intemperate ("Really? How uncharacteristic!"): "Ever wish the entire medical community would just STFU with their warnings until they get their s**t straight?" And the fact that it got a slew of "Likes" depresses me a bit. I hardly have an unbiased, random sample from which to draw a valid conclusion. Nevertheless, I'll bet many Americans across the country are sick and tired of being told one year that X is bad for them and then, a decade or so down the line, being told that it's really not that bad, and/or that Y (which replaced X) is worse for them, or that X has some key benefit which nothing else replaces as effectively.

It's not that I don't believe in science or technology. If that were the case, I'd move to Pennsylvania and go totally Amish, rather than sit all day on a computer writing stuff for netizens to peruse and mock. (And even the Amish aren't completely divorced from modern tech; there are many Amish-run stores which make use of electronic point-of-sale and payment systems.)

If anything, I don't have faith (objective certitude) in science or technology, because I don't have faith in people. Neither Science nor Technology are preternatural forces which invariably work and necessarily make things better. They're things that humans do; because of that, they're afflicted with all the weaknesses and failings of human beings. Scientists and engineers are people — prone to confirmation bias, wishful thinking, denial, and hasty generalization just like anyone else.

EU suggested simplified warning label. Makes sense to me.
What I'm asking for is a little more institutional humility: a little more willingness to recognize uncertainty and we don't know how much we don't know. I agree we shouldn't allow fear to paralyze us; but foresight and caution are not the same thing as paralysis. Let's remember that many of the holes from which we look to techology to save us were dug by a too-enthusiastic embrace of previous technological advances. We wouldn't need to break an addiction to processed sugars if we hadn't first learned to process sugar and put it in damn near everything we eat.
potential for error, a little less presumption that what we "know" now will never be modified by future discoveries, a full recognition that

And while I'm at it, I'd also like revamped warning labels like Mexico has.

And, I suppose, I'd like a pony, too.