Sweet and easy food. Is it good for us?

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An excellent short video about the spotless existence of a Macdonald’s hamburger.  Not even the dog would eat it.  And yet we humans can stuff this down ourselves and call it a treat.  Last week I attended a short conference about the effect of sugar on the brain.  There were four lecturers and here are some of the interesting comments made by three of them, Robert Lustig appearing in last week’s blog. Oh, what has sugar to do with a Macdonald’s hamburger?  Do you honestly think that there is no sugar added to this tasty morsel?  As Lustig said, if you add enough sugar, even dog poop will taste good.

Dr Bernard Gesch, senior research scientist at Oxford University, has been researching  into the health and eating patterns of criminals since the 1980s.  He showed us a picture rather like this one:

Scorbutic_gumsThis person has scurvy.  So convicted criminals are sent to prison and found to have scurvy – in the UK!  They can also have pellagra and the rare disease, Magenta Tongue.  His point being that poor diet contributed towards their criminal behaviour.

One piece of research he did involved giving 231 volunteers, aged 18 – 21, either essential nutrients in supplement form or placebos. The reason for doing this was because it was easier to monitor how much they got.  They found that those taking the supplements for two weeks committed 37% fewer serious offences such as violence, a finding replicated by the Dutch ministry of Justice, but they found a 48% difference between the groups. The difference between the Dutch and Prof Gesch’s findings is due to dietary differences: Gesch was not allowed to reduce the sugar in the diet. (!)

Prof Gesch also showed a photo of a typical food pack for a prisoner – a huge variety of sweets and chocolate bars.

As he said, being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime is an excellent strategy.   Provided we actually look at those causative factors and stop playing the food companies game.

Professor Malcolm Peet, University of Sheffield has spent years studying mental health problems and nutrition.  He made the frightening point that he’d wanted to study the effect of restricting sugar in a mental health hospital and met with complete resistance.  And part of that resistance came from the staff, who felt it was an infringement of patient’s rights if they weren’t allowed their Mars Bars any more.  In every hospital, there is always a machine dispensing chocolate bars and so on.

Another point Prof Peet made was in relation to the first speaker of the day, Prof Michael Yudkin, son of John Yudkin, one of the pioneering researchers into the dangers of sugar.  From John Yudkin’s day onwards, sugar researchers are pilloried by their peers.  Prof Peet said he’d come to enjoy it.  Being laughed at was normal, but when they started shouting at him, he was much happier since they were taking what he has researched seriously.  Sugar is not good for us; it is not good for our bodies – it is sticky and so sticks things up.  And it is awful for our brains: it is still sticky in the brain. To illustrate the point,  Alzheimers now has a new name: Type 3 diabetes.

Prof Peet also went through a typical eating day of someone with severe depression.  It closely resembled what the violent offenders were eating.  No breakfast, 7 packets of crisps and 5 coffees at lunchtime, chocolate bars afternoon, another pile of coffees, a doner kebab plus chips for dinner washed down with a bottle Kahlua.  In truth, this is an amalgamation of the diets.1  Of course, when depressed, we are hardly motivated to get up and fry up a steak plus chop up a cabbage.  But I strongly feel that the current attitude to food as merely a fuel encourages people to neglect good eating – along with the endless damning of saturated fat and red meat.  And ignoring of the perils of so much sugar in our diet.

Prof Peet’s main point is that in treating mental illness, the cornerstone lies in improving the diet.  Other therapies follow.

Prof Michael Yudkin summarised his father’s work.  In 1957,  John Yudkin queried the conclusions that coronary heart disease was caused by dietary fat – and was ridiculed by such as Ancel Keys.  His later work caused him to suspect that sugar an important factor in causing many of today’s lifestyle disease.  And was ridiculed.  His book, Pure White and Deadly was disparaged.  Had it been taken seriously, we would all be much slimmer and healthier now, and the National Health Service not on its knees.  Fat doesn’t make us fat and ill.  Sugar does.  And the combo of poor quality fat and sugar is a deadly one.

Alex Richardson, who has been researching the benefits of taking omega 3 oils, came out with the statement that 1 in 5 children in the UK have special educational needs: these include ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, physical needs or impairments, difficulties understanding things and so on.  This is really quite dreadful.

In conclusion, the feeling from all four speakers is that things will never change from the top.  There is too much vested interest from the food companies in maintaining the sweet, low fat food we have become to believe is doing us good.  No, the speakers hold great hope in the revolution coming from below – from people like us.  Some of us have the noggin to realise that all is not right with the world and current dietary dogma is making people fat and ill. We are the people who will lead the change.  Tally ho.

  1. What I find most worrying is that it is all too easy for us to think that only the criminals and the insane eat such a diet.  This is not true.  My daughter is studying philosophy at King’s College, London.  And a couple of fellow students eat sweets and chocolate instead of proper food.  And eschew the greens if ever they do eat a decent meal.  Appalling eating is all too prevalent. []

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