As a society alive with healthy skepticism, we often look back at historical events and are amazed at just how accepting various populations were of such blatant propaganda. Such propaganda has existed since methods of communication began, was refined into it’s modern form by the Creel Commission in 1916, and has since been a standard instrument of the state. But how does this distortion affect us now, even us healthy skeptics? Will history look back on our society’s submission to the received wisdom that emanates from corporations, and shake their head in disbelief? Based on our dietary decisions and the state of our health, the evidence suggests so.
The distortion is all around us. First off, those who want to eat a good diet may find that trying to do so can be an exquisitely complex journey. Common sense may tell us that the diet our ancestors ate served them well, building healthy bodies and an almost total absence of chronic disease, yet modern received wisdom tells us to cut down on our meat consumption, to watch our fat intake and to choose ‘healthy snacks’ such as cereal bars. Despite a solid and consistent positive correlation between sugar intake and rates of childhood obesity, recommendations of 6-11 servings of grain products per day remain in place. Fat intakes, as percentages of the energy in our diets, have fallen whilst rates of obesity have soared (Rennie and Jebb, 2005). Meanwhile, policy makers still accept money from the Sugar Bureau…
If you do manage to navigate your way through the maze of propaganda laid out by the big food companies, their awesome influence on the food you eat is evidenced on every aisle of every supermarket. The unrelenting race to offer the lowest prices sees produce sprayed with all manner of chemicals and picked under-ripe in a far-flung corner of the globe, before being shipped thousands of miles on the back of a vessel; what little nutrients the food had time to absorb is soon lost. Since the RDA values were created in 1941, it is estimated that foods have lost between 20-70% of their average magnesium content (FSA, 2002).
It is the same system that simultaneously distorts the nutritional value of our food, whilst providing the public with access to the same foods all year round. Whereas our ancestors, unable to ship food long distances, had to piece together meals from the local selection available to them. This selection changed in accordance with the seasons, and ensured that society practised rotation diets – whether they wanted to or not. This is no longer the case, with many individuals including particular foods for thousands of days in a row; this is especially likely in the case of milk (with cereals and tea) and wheat (in cereals, sandwiches, pasta and baked goods). Unsurprisingly, our under-nourished and over-stressed immune systems cannot continually deal with this change of schedule, and the rate of allergic disease continues to rise. Researchers who measured the prevalence of allergic in the American population found it had doubled in the last 30 years (Arbes et al, 2005).
The distortion of our diets and immune systems doesn’t simply stop at food selection, though, with 84 percent of UK households now regularly using a microwave. It seems there is a high proportion of people brought up to tolerate the taste of microwaved food, with most never stopping to consider exactly how the equipment ‘nukes’ their food and what effect this has on the produce itself. As well as degenerating the B vitamin content of foods more than four times faster than boiling (Wanatabe, 1998), the destruction of the phospholipid cell membrane on foods causes an immune system reaction and has been shown to reduce haemaglobin levels and increase cancerous formation (Blanc and Hertel, 1992). For having the audacity to report these results, the late Swiss scientists were actually fined and threatened with imprisonment in 1993 for ‘interfering with the interests of trade’, such was the hysterical resistance from multi-national companies who make money from the sale of microwaves and microwave meals. Few Western scientists have spoken out since on the issue.
Whilst lip service is often paid to this type of challenging study, the mainstream media continually demonstrate loyalty to their corporate sponsors; equally, Big Food and Big Pharma companies keep paying for advertising and the big debates are shunned. Questions as to the wisdom of eating in such a distorted manner are met with ignorance; “If eating microwave meals was that bad, wouldn’t everyone be ill?” The current rate of illness in our society – US spending on healthcare has doubled in the last three decades to 16% of GDP (Bartlett, 2009), whilst rates of cancer incidence are expected to increase by 45% in the next 20 years (Smith et al, 2009) – suggests that everyone is either ill, or on their way to getting ill.
In a prime example of corporate synergy, as society buys more from Big Food companies, they will sooner or later become a customer of Big Pharma. In times of illness, it may seem more natural to engage oneself in logical self-evaluation: why am I ill? am I ignoring my body’s needs? should I be taking diet advice from an untrained magazine columnist who takes money from the food companies? – but we are instead encouraged to visit the doctor at any opportunity.
He/she can then apply the ‘band aid’ in the form of painkillers, anti-depressants or anti-biotics. We are expected to feel that a visit to the doctor is a normal part of everyday life and that the doctor will make us better – society seems totally oblivious to the fact that doctors, and the fledgling experiment we call Western medicine, are the fourth leading cause of death (Lazarou et al, 1998; Wester et al, 2008).
This figure only takes into account the effect of drugs correctly prescribed under ‘standard of care’. It does not cover mistakes in dosages, and neither does it cover the effect of bad advice. One glaring example of such bad advice – trotted out by both the medical community and the big charities – is that of avoiding the sun. This modern phenomenon of sun avoidance is borne of the delirious concern that any exposure to the sun will cause cancer. Totally ignoring the fact that humans have spent thousands of years toiling for hours each day under tropical rays, we are now advised to slap on chemical-laden sunscreen the second we leave the office. Despite the fact that sunshine is the best form of vitamin D in our bodies – and that restoring vitamin D levels to their optimal range would stop the occurrence of half of all cancers (Holick, 2004) – the cancer charities continue their campaign, ensuring increased cancer as they do so. The fact that the charities are funded by both chemotherapy and radiography companies, who stand to benefit from these patterns, is surely just co-incidence, right?
Just as we are convinced the sun – the source of all life – is an evil agent of cancer, we are conditioned to recognise all bacteria and fungi as ‘the bad guys’. This is simply a fallacy – more than 500 species of micro-organisms have been discovered in the intestines of normal humans and most of these benefit the health of the individual. On top of this, bacteria and fungi have played a critical role in the evolution of both plantlife and humans; the fermentation process they undertake increases the availability of vitamins such as B12 by as much as 148 times (Leim et al, 1977). This effect goes some way to explaining the increased health of those populations known to regularly consume fermented foods, such as the Japanese. Unfortunately, the role that fermented foods have to play in human health have not so much been distorted as totally ignored, as live foods are the anti-thesis of the mass-produced, standardised food products that serve our convenience culture.
Happy to react to the occasional medical scandal, the mainstream media are not likely to ever take an objective view of the medical model. The medical model suits them fine exactly the way it is. Just the most brief glances without the rose-tinted spectacles shows an unjustified faith in the medical system – the same medical system where only 20% of procedures actually have any scientific rationale supporting their use (US Congress, 1982) and that, despite the use of X-rays, antibiotics and advanced drugs, has extended our lifespans by just two years (Colgan, 1982). Despite this, and despite the dismal results that this medical model yields, it is still considered unusual to go against the grain and choose alternative methods of care. In our distorted times, it is viewed as radical to be selective in your diet and to exercise regularly, yet it is considered conservative to take drugs each day and allow strangers to slice you open with surgical instruments.
In this light, we should not be too surprised that the doctors treating our citizens look so ill and tired; they are most likely just following their own advice. Luckily, you do not have to. Eating a diet more in tune with our evolution, providing the physical stimuli to your body that nature intended and avoiding unnecessary slicing and dicing of your internal organs provides a firm basis towards establishing true health. Understanding the limitations of modern farming should lead to a sensible selection of a good multivitamin, additional magnesium, zinc and iodine, and the inclusion of fermented foods and those rich in omega-3 oils. Who knows, it may even involve some sun exposure!
As a society, we must learn to embrace new changes without distorting what has gone beforehand. There is no doubting the advantages that may be yielded from pioneering medical/nutritional research, and witnessing new surgical techniques save lives is inspiring. But doctors must learn to remember that cutting people open should be a last resort, not the modus operandi, and adjust their revenue forecasts accordingly. Equally, the public must learn to remember than trusting a stranger with your health – be that a journalist you’ve never met, or a doctor that doesn’t know your name – may have undesirable consequences, especially when market forces dictate that their interests directly oppose yours. The distortion can be overcome with a traditional choice of foods, a sensible intake of nutritional supplements and a willingness to question – really question – what you are told. My primary prescription? Common sense and a healthy scepticism.
Arbes S, Gergen P, Elliott L, Zeldin D (2005). Prevalences of positive skin test responses to 10 common allergens in the US population: Results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 116(2): 377-383.
Barlett B (2009). Health care: Costs and Reform. Forbes Magazine, 03 July 2009.
Blanc, BH & Hertel, H.U (1992). Comparative study about the influence on man by food prepared conventionally and in the microwave oven. Raum & Zeit, 3(2): 43.
Colgan M, 1982. Your Personal Vitamin Profile. Blond and Briggs Publishers. P22-23
FSA (2002). McCance and Widdowson’s The Composition of Foods: Summary Edition (6th Edition). Royal Society of Chemistry, UK.
Holick MF (2004). Vitamin D: Importance in the prevention of cancers, type 1 diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 79 (3): 362071
Lazarou J, Pomeranz BH, Corey PN (1998). Incidence of adverse drug reactions in hospitalized patients: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. Journal of the American Medical Association, 279(15): 1200-5.
Leim IT, Steinkraus KH, Cronk TC (1977). Production of vitamin B12 in tempeh, a fermented soybean food. Journal of Applied Environmental Microbiology. 34(6): 773-6.
Rennie KL, Jebb SA, (2005). Prevalence of Obesity in Great Britain. Obesity Reviews, 6(1):11-12. Wester K, Jonsson AK, Spigset O, Druid H, Hogg S (2008). Incidence of fatal adverse drug reactions: a population based study. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 65(4): 573-9.
Smith BD, Smith GL, Hurria A, Hortobagyi G, Buchholz TA (2009). Future of Cancer Incidence in the United States: Burdens Upon an Aging, Changing Nation. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 27 (17): 2758-2765.
US Congress, Office of Technology Assessment (1982). Assessing Health Practises and Designing Practice Polices. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.
Wanatabe F et al (1998). Effects of microwave heating on the loss of Vitamin B12 in foods. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, 46(1): 206-210.
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