Screaming of the health police just making us fatter
Published 04/04/2014 | 09:11
Right, fatties, listen up. Forget the sweets and crisps and fat-laden ready meals. If you don't want to drop dead before you're 50, you need to bin the junk and start eating only fresh fruit and vegetables.
Oh, and you're not allowed to eat meat with your salad – it gives you cancer. No salt, either – it wrecks your heart. No bread – it makes you fat and mad. And definitely no sugar – don't you know it steals your soul? Refined sugar is the most evil ingredient of all, killing us slowly with every addictive, delicious spoonful.
All right, slight exaggeration there. But it's not so far from the hyped-up reality. This week's advice is that we should be eating seven portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day, rather than the previous target of five, if we want to keep on living.
Experts at University College London studied the eating habits of 65,000 people over eight years and found that at least seven helpings of the good stuff was linked to a 42% lower risk of death from all causes. Ten would be even better, apparently, while you assume that 15 practically guarantees you immortality. The salad-munchers will inherit the earth.
Of course, as soon as recommendations like this come out, you get all the other experts piling in with their own rules. Ditch the fruit, that makes you porky, too, because the body can't tell the difference between the sugar in a raspberry smoothie and the sugar in a Snickers bar.
Potatoes don't count as vegetables, because they're full of carbohydrates, which will also make you bloat like a whale. Choose liver, not peas. Sardines, not strawberries. Butter is better than margarine. (But what are you going to slather it on, if bread is bad? A slice of cucumber?)
And don't feel smug if you start your day with a helping of porridge. That was good for you last week, or maybe the week before. Now it's just a stupid big bowl of starch, which will play ballyhoo with your blood sugar levels, causing you to have a certified mental breakdown before lunchtime, and inevitably – yes, how did you guess? – make you fat.
Here's the unpalatable truth: the more the health police scream at us, the bigger we get. Especially here, where we're always wodging up on rubbish like there's no tomorrow (which there won't be if we keep on going at this rate).
I heard the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride, on the radio the other morning insisting that "obesity is undoubtedly the most significant public health issue confronting our generation".
Two thirds of us are either overweight, or obese, as adults, as are a quarter of children aged two to 10. We need to take it seriously, says Dr McBride, who admits to making the same point every year in his annual report.
But do we listen? No, we're too busy chowing down a bumper pack of cheese and onion Taytos, to blot out the awfulness of reality.
I'm all for people taking personal responsibility for their own health, but it's not surprising that so many of us tune out of the shrill, contradictory and increasingly punitive messages (we'll tax you if you can't learn to keep your mouths shut, you greedy porkers, but don't worry, it's all for your own good) coming from the health lobby.
The problem is not food itself, but our weird, over-determined relationship with it. We all have too much time to think about it; some of us have too much money to spend on it.
It looms too large in our lives – not as a basic necessity and a source of simple pleasure, as it should be, but as something we fear and dread and desire all at the same time.
Women, in particular, claim to suffer all kinds of odd reactions to certain foods – can't eat this, can't eat that. There's a global industry – from Hollywood, USA to Holywood, Co Down – financed almost entirely by anxious, affluent women, based on eliminating the crazy-making effects of candida in the gut, a condition that medical science does not acknowledge to exist.
But if there's one thing that health experts should have learned by now, it's that lecturing people about their weight, dictating what they should and shouldn't eat, simply doesn't work. In fact, it seems to scare us into scoffing more doughnuts than ever.
The logic is clear: the food police have got to shut up. It's our only chance to slim down.