Thursday June 2, 2005
Talk about bad science
Â· OK, hands up. I hate nutritionists and phoney diet marketers. I hate them because they confuse evidence and theory. I hate them because they make sweeping assertions that something will work in the real world on the basis of tenuous laboratory data. And they either do not understand that, or they do and they are being dishonest. In either case, I hate them. I hate them because they are richer than me. And lastly, and this is a tricky one, I hate them because they give dangerous advice.
Â· At first glance, they give quite sensible advice. Dr Gillian McKeith PhD – for all the awful poo business and her bizarre misunderstanding of basic science about things like photosynthesis – promotes a pretty normal, sensible, healthy diet. The GI diet, for all the guff that goes with it, does too. And the grandiose nutritionism-peddling columnists from Sunday magazines, even if they do recommend you eat some particular nut because it contains lots of vitamin G and selenium, are still basically recommending fruit and veg. Everyone knows basic dietary advice, and they don’t need a nutritionist, doctor, alternative therapist or journalist, to tell them. They need their mum.
Â· But the trouble is this: nutritionists and their kin sell the idea that diet is somehow more complicated than that; something that requires access to arcane and detailed knowledge to which only they have access; knowledge of the breakdown of exactly what is in each food. And so the shopper is paralysed. But do I need vitamins L and Y this week? Or calcium? Or protein? Or no protein? What kind of fat did you say again? Because when you sell the idea that eating well is complicated, that foods are made of immemorable combinations of chemicals, then you prime the market for Fruittella Plus “with added calcium and vitamins B, C and E”, and 7-Up Plus from Cadbury’s “with calcium and vitamin C” and the rest. I could go on. In fact, market research company Mintel’s new Global Products Database has identified a trend among confectionery manufacturers to fortify their products with vitamins and minerals. Mintel watch you eat. Their reports have chapter headings such as “continued focus on indulgence in desserts” and “focus on children in processed poultry sector”. And they are watching your every little irrationality so that somebody, somewhere, can take advantage of it. The moral? Eat your greens. Or the bogeymen will come and get you with their weird processed chicken army.