Health food shopped

November 18th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, nutritionists, weight loss | 7 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday November 18, 2004
The Guardian

· Imagine what would happen if I just went crazy one day and started making stuff up. I mean, we’ve built up such a relationship of trust over the years. But I’ve found my evil twin (thanks to reader Deirdre Janson-Smith), and he’s working for the Bucks Free Press. Peter Marcasiano claims “some health foods are just as bad as junk snacks,” and the joy is he’s got buckets of science to back it up. Debunk away, Peter.

· First he rails against fruit juice: “What it actually does when you drink it is go straight to the liver – fructose does not enter the blood stream like other sugars – and the liver readily turns it into fat.” Now, I’d be really interested to know how this boy thinks absorbed nutrients are getting out of the 30 feet of well-vascularised gut that’s jumbled up in his tummy, and then across to his liver, if it’s not in his blood. Some might naively read medical textbooks and suggest that the answer lies in the hepatic portal vein. Perhaps in his world it gets absorbed into some amorphous mush behind his belly button, and then diffuses over to the liver under its own steam. I’m also enjoying the idea that every last fructose molecule gets picked up the moment it passes through the liver, without any getting into the systemic circulation. If anything, of course, the liver has to play around with what fructose it picks up to turn it into the glucose that your body can use, so the blood glucose levels from fruit don’t peak so high, and it doesn’t mess with your insulin so much. Which is one of many reasons why fruit is better than a Mars bar.

· He goes on. Commercially-treated vegetable oil is bad because it’s had sodium hydroxide bubbled through it, and “just in case you didn’t know what that is, it’s the substance you put down blocked drains to unplug them”. It is therefore a “poison”. Although to be fair, Peter, it’s not like you’re eating highly concentrated alkali, any more than the hydrochloric acid in your gut is going to melt your toes. But no, I was wrong, it’s been proven with science: “The trans-fats that are produced during the pre-frying have been isolated by researchers and injected into animals.” Gosh, what happened next, Peter? Er, that’s the end of the story. I guess that someone scientifically injecting it into animals is scary enough. Margarine “will damage your heart like no other spread,” pasteurising dairy “denatures the beneficial fats and proteins” and … Sigh. Just eat your greens. You’ll be fine.

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7 Responses

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  3. pol098 said,

    March 22, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    Re Health food shopped, Bad Science, The Guardian, 18 November 2004: Endocrinologist Robert Lustig has written about the very different effects of dietary fructose and glucose in a recent 90′ lecture: He basically supports the idea that fructose goes to the liver, and goes into great detail about the processes in the lecture. Does this newer work answer the questions raised in the article, or is it still bad science?

  4. pol098 said,

    March 23, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    Following up my own comment, there was a discussion on this on the Guardian Web site following a review of a book by Lustig. A biochemist commented, after watching Lustig’s lecture, that it was “A combination of stating the bleeding obvious combined with many biochemical and general factual errors. … thoroughly bad science”. I pointed him to this article, and he agrees with Ben Goldacre. Link to discussion is
    Seek last contribution by user TenderHooligan, 23 March 2013 10:12am

  5. pol098 said,

    March 30, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    Me again. I don’t know if anyone is going to read responses to this 2004 article, but as it’s the only page found on the site when searching for “fructose”, maybe it will be of some use.

    A 2008 study fed fructose to one group of people, and glucose to another, found that the weight gain in both groups was comparable but, crucially, that the fructose group put on visceral abdominal fat – associated with fatty liver disease/metabolic syndrome – while the glucose group put on much less harmful subcutaneous fat. Thee is much more detail in the article:
    Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans

    Kimber L. Stanhope1, Jean Marc Schwarz, Nancy L. Keim, Steven C. Griffen, Andrew A. Bremer, James L. Graham1, Bonnie Hatcher, Chad L. Cox, Artem Dyachenko, Wei Zhang, John P. McGahan, Anthony Seibert, Ronald M. Krauss, Sally Chiu, Ernst J. Schaefer, Masumi Ai, Seiko Otokozawa, Katsuyuki Nakajima, Takamitsu Nakano, Carine Beysen, Marc K. Hellerstein, Lars Berglund and Peter J. Havel1

  6. Alec said,

    February 9, 2014 at 11:45 pm

    It is a shame The Great Ben Goldacre does not consider your points worthy of a reply, pol098.

    Still, better to tow the line and tarnish reputations, I guess.

  7. John said,

    April 16, 2015 at 1:49 am

    It’s confusing that Dr Goldacre seems to conflate “fruit juice” and “fruit” in the second paragraph.I thought the main problem with fruit juice vs fruit was that fruit contains fibre, which slows the rate of absorption, whereas fruit juice does not.

    The apple vs Mars bar argument is a no brainer. 100g of apple contains 10g of sugar, the equivalent amount of Mars Bar contains 57g. Eating the Mars bar weight equivalent of a large apple would provide you almost half your daily calories.