Bin the pills, eat your greens

May 6th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, express, nutritionists | 2 Comments »

Bin the pills, eat your greens

Talk about Bad science here

Ben Goldacre
Thursday May 6, 2004
The Guardian

· It’s a simple universe for nutritionists, with a small number of fundamental laws from which all other facts derive. Antioxidants are good; stimulants are bad; laboratory studies on rat metabolism are proof of the need to spend £50 a week on pills. The only problem is, there’s practically nothing in the huge body of contradictory research on nutrition to recommend anything other than “eat your greens”, and you don’t need a journalist, or a scientist, or an expensive nutritionist to tell you that. Meanwhile, John Triggs in the Daily Express was riffing off this week, telling children to “boost their brain” for exams, using iron: “premium brain fuel”.

· I doff my hat to anyone who can make out that iron-deficiency anaemia is a greater cause of poor concentration in young people than lack of exercise and too much TV; and I’m delighted to be receiving nutritional advice from a man who tells us that thiamine – otherwise known as vitamin B1 – is a “mineral”. Perhaps it’s a special alternative thiamine mineral, mined from the viscous thiamine mountains in south India. Either way, it “helps build concentration” so get chewing. Or try “Marmite, peas, bread, oranges, eggs and pasta.” Thanks John; it never occurred to me to eat any of that stuff until you mentioned the thiamine.

· If you want to pass some exams, forget the Marmite and have a cup of evidence-based coffee. I realise any nutritionist would look at me like I’d just suggested injecting cocaine and PCP into the veins on my penis, but hey, if you want to play selective paper quoting, a recent Norwegian study found that coffee contributed 11 millimoles (mmol) of their subjects’ 17mmol daily intake of antioxidants: 1.8 mmol came from fruit and 0.4 mmol from vegetables. And a paper this week showed that antioxidant vitamin supplements (taken by 10m Britons) interfere with liver function and might cause heart attacks. Bin the pills and eat your greens.

· Don’t believe anyone who tells you caffeine is bad. Just makes you a bit bad tempered. Better than those ridiculous pills anyway. Decadence, I tell you. Lazy fat westerners, who know deep down that their lifestyles are predicated on the exploitation of people in countries where there really are nutritional deficiencies, bleating on about how they too are deficient, in, “umm, selenium and thiamine”, and stuffing their faces with pills when they should be ordering a salad. I’ll say it again: eat your greens. Er, and maybe avoid too much coffee.


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