Nutrition blogging nonsense

I’ve just been sent a link to an article by third-rate Australian Gillian McKeith clone, Jess Ainscough. She runs an absurd ‘health’ blog called “The Wellness Warrior”, and the article in question is 8 Foods People Think Are Healthy … But Aren’t.

I started reading the article before I had a look at the author, her blog and other posts. I didn’t take long to realise something was wrong. The third food on the list was fish. In her reasons for avoiding fish, she states that wild fish are full of mercury, “the second most toxic element on Earth next to radiation.” Now, without doing extensive further research, I don’t know whether wild fish contains significant amounts of mercury or not. However, at this point I can safely say that Jess Ainscough is a fucking idiot.

Before I go any further on foods which people think are healthy… but aren’t, let me point out that one of the Wellness Warrior’s more recent posts is called How I Fortify My Life With Crystals, and opens with the statement that, “aside from their good looks, crystals boast various healing qualities, patching us up on an energetic level.”

So now that we’ve established her scientific credentials, and the rigorous standard of evidence her health advice is based on, let’s return to healthy (or otherwise) foods.

Among the list is a pet hate of mine: fruit juice. I don’t hate fruit juice. What I hate is people telling everyone fruit juice is unhealthy. The reasoning behind it is perfectly credible: when you extract juice from fruit, what you get is flavour, water and lots of sugar. You lose a lot of the vitamins and minerals which stay in the fruit, and also all of the fibre which helps to slow the body’s absorption of the sugar. So while eating whole fruit is good, and pulping it into smoothies is good too, extracting the juice isn’t.

Whether or not this is true is up for question, as I haven’t seen anyone who’s peddling the idea provide good quality study data backing it up. However, either way, it’s a harmful message to spread. The reason being, the problem with the majority of people’s diets in the western world is not that they drink an excess of fruit juice. It’s that they eat too much food in general, and far too much fatty processed food with large amounts of added salt and sugar. That’s the major problem which needs to be tackled, and that’s where the main effort of health advice should be focused. Encourage people to give up Diet Coke and whipped cream mochachinos first; getting them to switch to fruit juices instead would be an improvement. Only when you’ve eliminated junk food, ready meals, cakes and chocolates from their lifestyles is it time to start suggesting the sugar intake from the fruit juice might be an issue.

On another point, she advises against cooking with olive oil, because its low smoke point means it will break down to carcinogens. Actually, at the smoke point, oils break down into glycerol and fatty acids. Do you know at what other time oils break down into glycerol and fatty acids? In your stomach, as part of the digestive process. So why exactly it’s such a concern that it happens during cooking is beyond me. Ainscough and other food alarmists may be concerned about the glycerol further breaking down into acrolein, but this happens at 280°C, higher than the smoke point of any of the recommended oils, and regardless of which fat or oil the glycerol came from in the first place.

Confusion is rampant over which oil Ainscough and her colleagues believe is the best for cooking with. She advises coconut, grapeseed and safflower. The blog post she links to in support of the carcinogen claim says that safflower is one of the worst because of the amount of trans fat it contains from the hydrogenation process. The Wikipedia article on grapeseed oil says that’s not recommended for cooking either because of the level of polyunsaturated fat. On the table of smoke points, coconut oil’s 232°C only applies to the refined form, which Ainscough would presumably avoid for the same reasons. Virgin coconut oil, recommended by both blogs, has a smoke point of only 177°C, well below the refined sunflower oil most people use, and below even virgin olive oil, the original villain of the article… and lard.

How about this for some sensible oil advice: use whichever oil you like, just don’t use too much, and try not to get it so hot it starts smoking. Since the point of cooking is for the heat to be absorbed by the cold food, usually this is perfectly achievable.

The whole article is typical of the ignorant, scientifically illiterate nonsense which constitutes 99% of nutritional advice. Ainscough criticises misinformation and flip-flopping opinions, but her own list of recommended natural sweeteners contains several entries which she’s had to strikethrough because they’ve turned out to be bogus or harmful. Plus, several of the warnings (agave syrup, soy, Bragg’s Liquid Aminos) are for ingredients which normal people don’t use, and would never be included in anyone’s diet if they weren’t chasing ridiculous health food fads in the first place.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep banging on about it until people finally start listening. The only effective way to get healthy is to eat good food, take plenty of exercise, and sit inside a wood and metal lined box for one hour every day.

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