You are on page 1of 75

Is it safe to eat breakfast?

One man’s search for a healthy diet

Michael Allen

Everyone wants to be healthy. And we want our children and


grandchildren to be healthy. And most of us, these days, are
aware that staying healthy depends to a large extent on what
we eat. We could hardly fail to be aware of it, given the
constant barrage of newspaper articles, TV programmes,
lose-weight-quick schemes, and so forth.

So, what are the best foods to eat? And the ones to avoid?
This essay tells the story of one man’s forty-year attempt to
sort out the facts from the folklore, and the reliable
information from the outright lies. It may be useful to you.
It’s free, and you can send it to your friends if you wish.
2

CONTENTS

PART ONE: EVIDENCE

Introduction 4

1. Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit 6

2. Sugar Blues 14

3. Food Combining for Health Cookbook 20

4. Diet Trials – How to Succeed at Dieting 23

5. Body by Science 29

6. Trick and Treat; Natural Health and Weight Loss 34

7. In Defence of Food 44

PART TWO: CONCLUSIONS

8. Is it really safe to eat breakfast? 52

9. Mr Rumsfeld’s conundrum 58

10. A personal strategy, likely to be of little interest to 61


anyone else

11. Spread the word 75


3

Part One

EVIDENCE
4

Introduction
Do you find food confusing? I certainly do. There are so
many conflicting opinions. And that’s why I’ve written this
essay: it’s an attempt to sort out my own ideas. And I’ve
posted it on Scribd, as a free document, in the hope that it
might be useful to other people too.
There is only one certain fact about food: if you don’t eat
anything, you will die. You may not die quickly, because your
body will consume itself to keep going – and let’s face it,
some of us have a lot more body to consume than others. But
eventually, if you don’t eat anything at all, you will starve to
death.
That much is certain. Everything else seems to be
controversial. Some books/scientists/doctors/diet experts
say one thing, some another. Some say sugar is harmless,
and some say it’s poison. Vegetarians don’t eat meat, but
advocates of the hunter-gatherer diet eat lots of it.
And so on. It’s all very confusing, to put it mildly.
In this essay I’m going to describe my forty-year effort to
find some reliable information which would help me to
decide what to have for my own breakfast, not to mention
lunch and dinner. I’m going to do this mainly by describing
the contents of a series of books which I have found
particularly useful over that forty-year period. Since this is a
record of my own non-scientific research into food, I’m going
to have to refer to myself quite a lot. This may be tedious, but
I think it’s unavoidable. Sorry about that.
Because I live in England, the context of a lot of my
remarks is English, but food is much the same everywhere
these days.
This is not a scholarly publication, so I have not provided
footnotes giving the source of every statistic and fact. But you
have my assurance that I have not quoted a figure unless it
comes from what I regard as a reputable source, rather than
from some wide-eyed ranter.
5

At the end I offer some conclusions. For what they’re


worth. Which, frankly, may not be a lot. If you find the essay
a bit long-winded in places, you can jump straight to the
conclusions if you wish – they begin on page 52 – but you
might miss some interesting stuff on the way.
6

1
Adelle Davis: Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit
1.1 Summary

Nearly forty years ago, Adelle Davis’s book Let’s Eat Right to
Keep Fit solved a serious problem for me. She showed me
how to stop feeling tired all the time.
Perhaps more importantly, Adelle Davis exposed the fact
that, even in the 1940s and ’50s, the major food-processing
companies were pursuing profit at the expense of public
health; and she was brave enough to criticise them for it. And
guess what – in the last sixty years or so, nothing much has
changed!

1.2 Publishing history

Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit was first published in 1954 (1961
in the UK), so bear in mind that most of the author’s research
would have been done about sixty years ago.
Various revised editions of this book subsequently
appeared, but the author died in 1974, aged 70, so she wasn’t
around to revise anything after that date. The book is now
out of print.

1.3 Food? Why fuss about it?

To begin with, I think it’s worth recording how I came to read


Adelle Davis in the first place.
In the early 1970s I found myself in the same position as
many young men. I was married, with a mortgage and two
small children. I left home before eight in the morning,
caught a train to work, got home (if I was lucky) about six,
and spent some time with the children. Then I had a meal,
7

cooked for me by my wife. And then… well, most of the time I


just slumped in front of the TV. Because I was tired.
Excessively tired. What is more, I was tired during the day.
I had never, at any point in my life, been what the
Americans call a high-energy guy. But surely, I said to myself,
this level of fatigue could not be normal. It certainly wasn’t
ideal. So I cast around for some ideas as to what was wrong.
Perhaps, I thought, it was because I was eating the wrong
things. So I went down to the local library and began
searching for books on diet. After a while I came across Let’s
Eat Right to Keep Fit. After dipping into it, I bought a copy
for reference, and I have it still; though it’s so old and well
thumbed that it is, in fact, falling to pieces.

1.4 Adelle’s golden rules

For me, the most important chapter in Let’s Eat Right to


Keep Fit was the first: ‘Breakfast gets the day’s work done.’
Adelle’s advice was that, by eating the right sort of
breakfast you could cure fatigue in one day. And if you went
on eating the right breakfast, you could remain energetic for
the rest of your life. ‘The general rule,’ she said, ‘is to eat
breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a
pauper.’
In other words, a slice of toast and a cup of coffee, first
thing in the morning, aren’t going to do much for you.
More specifically, chapter 1 introduced me to the
mysteries of the body’s blood-sugar level, and it provided a
clear prescription for an energy-giving breakfast. You need,
she said, a high protein content, some fat and carbohydrate,
and a small amount of sugar. To keep your blood-sugar at a
satisfactory level for three hours, eat at least 20 grams of
protein; and for five hours, eat 50 grams.
Snacks between meals were encouraged, but not candy
bars and the like. A glass of milk and an apple, perhaps.
8

Adelle recommended that you should avoid coffee, white-


flour products, white rice, packaged cereals, and commercial
desserts. You should prefer fresh food to frozen or canned;
and unrefined anything is better than refined. She was keen
on milk, liver, yogurt, wholegrain breads, and wheat germ.
Well, that’s really not bad, you know, is it? Forty years
after I first read that advice, I don’t find a lot to quibble with
there. She identified most of the main problems in our diet:
refined flour and rice, all processed foods, and anything
which comes from a supermarket in a glossy cover.

1.5 Too refined for our own good

This is probably as good a place as any to talk about that


word ‘refined’, as used in terms such as refined flour and
refined rice.
Particularly in England, the word ‘refined’ suggests
improved, pure, better quality, and altogether nicer to know.
And the big firms which process flour for retail purposes
would no doubt be delighted to have you think those
thoughts in relation to their product. But in fact refined flour
is anything but an improvement on the original.
The principal reason for subjecting flour to the industrial
process of refining is to extend its shelf life. This provides
considerable commercial advantages for the wholesalers and
retailers. But the refining process removes many of the
valuable nutrients. The needs of the human eater, you see,
are different from the needs of capitalism; and capitalism
punches much harder.
All this was known about in the 1930s, but we’re still
doing it because food with the nutrients removed is so much
easier to transport and store. Bacteria, insects, and rodents
are all interested in nutrients but they don’t bother when the
nutrients are removed.
Even by the end of the nineteenth century, one sixth of the
calories in the English diet were coming from sugar, with
9

much of the rest coming from refined flour. And many


authorities have noted that the use of refined flour (from
1862 onwards) has been matched by a steady rise in heart
disease, cancer, and other ailments. During World War I, the
Danish authorities forbade the milling of grains, for reasons
of economy, and the death rate fell by 34 per cent.
In her book Let’s Cook it Right, written over fifty years
ago, Adelle Davis says that she hadn’t had refined flour in the
house for about twenty years.
It is worth noting, for those who like rice, that when the
Engelberg milling machine was introduced, nutrients and
minerals were removed from the original brown rice, leaving
a virginally white product. This polished white rice could be
sold as new, modern, and civilised. Unfortunately, in
countries such as Japan, it soon became clear that those who
ate it became ill; the illness was named beriberi, after the
Senegalese word for weakness. When people returned to
eating whole rice (what the French call riz complêt), they
became healthy again.
The prevalence of refined foods is, in the judgement of
many, a primary cause of obesity. In England, 25 per cent of
adults are obese, up 10 per cent since 1994. The consequent
problems cost the UK’s National Health Service (i.e. the
taxpayers) some £7 billion a year. In the refined world, there
are calories aplenty, but nutrients are in short supply. Thus
we contrive to be both overfed and undernourished. So much
for progress.

1.6 Adelle’s famous Pep-up

Towards the end of Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit, Adelle Davis
gives the recipe for a concoction which she called Pep-up, or
fortified milk. This is a drink made up of eggs, lecithin, cold-
pressed oil, calcium lactate, yogurt, brewers’ yeast, and a few
other things. This drink, she claimed, provided all the
necessary nutrients in one dose.
10

To the great amusement of my family, I drank this stuff


for years. Every two or three days I mixed up a quantity of it,
and drank some every morning. I found it quite pleasant, but
to others it looked, and tasted, quite disgusting – a muddy
brown sludge.
Well, I didn’t mind if people laughed. Adelle’s
recommendations for breakfast, plus a glass of pep-up, gave
me a splendid foundation for the day’s work. And while I
never became a particularly active person, out playing tennis
or golf at every opportunity, I did have enough physical and
intellectual stamina to do an enormous amount of work. I
owe Adelle Davis a great vote of thanks.
The only drawback to reading Adelle Davis is that the facts
which she set out are somewhat depressing. As you go
through her book, she identifies all the nutrients which are
absolutely essential to good health, and then demonstrates
how these nutrients are so often missing from modern food.
Often the nutrients are deliberately removed, in order to
extend the shelf-life.
One typical chapter, which has stuck in my mind all these
years, is entitled ‘Which Apricot? Grown Where?’ Apricots
are a useful source of Vitamin A, without which you may
suffer all kinds of skin problems and damage to your eyes. In
fact, the lack of adequate Vitamin A can lead to a long list of
ailments, both major and minor. And, as so often when
reading Adelle, you end up feeling that it’s a small miracle
that any of us ever have any semblance of good health, and
that, if we do, it can only be temporary.
Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit is out of date in certain
respects, and you should certainly not take all the vitamin
supplements that the author recommends without medical
advice. All in all though, the author was remarkably
perceptive. Her chapter on breakfast is an absolute eye-
opener.
11

1.7 How to make enemies and influence people

Adelle was a respectable scientist. She did postgraduate work


at Columbia University and the University of California at
Los Angeles, and was awarded an MSc degree in
Biochemistry by the University of Southern California. She
also held some important posts, such as supervisor of
nutrition for Yonkers Public Schools.
None of this protected her from being bitterly criticised,
and you can find an online discussion of her critics here. It
was said that she ‘didn’t really understand the science’, and
that she ‘only read the abstracts’, i.e. the brief summaries of
the scientific papers. Underlying all these criticisms there
was, of course, an unspoken and implied sneer. She was ‘only
a woman’. To add insult to injury, she was even criticised for
dying of cancer at the age of 70. ‘If she knew so much about
healthy eating, how come she didn’t live longer?’
Adelle Davis was, of course, writing for a non-scientific
public. The very title of the book reveals that: any fool can tell
what it’s about. And her books sold in large numbers. That
background in itself was enough to make many scientists
critical of her. Scientists don’t like books on scientific
subjects which any reasonably educated person can read:
such books ‘distort the facts’ and ‘oversimplify’. However,
what really generated attacks on Adelle Davis was the fact
that she dared to criticise the mass processing and
distribution of food. These very powerful commercial
companies are sometimes referred to as Big Food.
For example, this is what she says in Let’s Eat Right to
Keep Fit:

The enormous power of the food processors is almost


beyond comprehension. Millions upon millions of dollars
spent for lobbyists sway state and federal lawmakers to
the food refiners’ advantage…. Tremendous wealth can
12

still be made annually at the expense of our health and the


health of our children.

After reviewing official statistics on the tens of millions of


people in the United States who were suffering from
afflictions such as arthritis, allergies, heart disease, and
cancer, Adelle Davis concluded that, ‘This is what’s
happening to us, to America, because there is a $125 billion
food industry who cares nothing about health’.
Now if those aren’t bold statements I don’t know what
would be. And the lady was under no illusions about what
attacks those statements would bring her. She pointed out
that the food processors had arranged for ‘the blacklisting of
books which would in any way harm their colossal sales….
Name-calling, derogatory articles and adverse propaganda
are other methods used to belittle persons refusing to
recommend refined foods.’
All of that happened about sixty years ago. Judging by
actions (rather than pious statements and advertising
slogans), Big Food is still not seriously interested in what
impact the products have on your health, just as long as the
Yummy-Scrummy Candy Bar – or whatever it is – doesn’t
actually poison you in a way which will enable you to sue
them. They would certainly be worried about that, because it
could cost them millions.

1.8 You could learn more

There is another book by Adelle Davis that I definitely think


is worth buying. It too is out of print, but there are plenty of
copies on the secondhand market. Its title is: Let’s Cook it
Right.
Few people have ever known more about cooking than
Adelle Davis, and this must be one of the most thorough
cookbooks ever written. It’s worth buying just for the section
13

on making gravy. It isn’t as famous as Mrs Beeton, but it


deserves to be.
Opening the book more or less at random, I find the
following: ‘Eat the superior meats most often. The meats
which are most important nutritionally are liver, kidney,
brains, thymus (sweetbreads) and heart.’
Now – question: When did you last see brains on a
restaurant menu? Or heart? Why is liver so cheap? The fact is
that the most nutritionally valuable meats are the ones that
hardly anyone buys. Go figure. The last time I asked a
butcher about sweetbreads, he told me he hadn’t seen any for
years. They are regarded, he said, as slaughtermen’s perks,
and they never reach the shops. So obviously there’s no
demand.
Glancing through my copy of Let’s Cook it Right today, I
regret that I haven’t used it more often over the years. It
covers all the old favourites, of course, plus much relatively
obscure stuff, such as how to cook kidneys and six methods
of serving brains. Adelle Davis was no modern-day celebrity
cook, flashing her tits at us and whipping up sugary rubbish
(I will mention no names). She was a stunningly learned
woman, and it’s a great shame she isn’t around to offer
guidance today.
If what I have said about Adelle Davis interests you, can
find out more about her here:

Wikipedia entry
The Adelle Davis Foundation
Adelle Davis revisited
14

2
William Dufty: Sugar Blues
2.1 Summary

William Dufty persuaded me that refined sugar (or sucrose,


the white stuff that you put in your coffee) is thoroughly
unhealthy. He also demonstrated to me (as Adelle Davis had)
that Big Food is very far from being an unqualified force for
good. However, the macrobiotic diet which he adopted was
not one which I would wish to follow myself.

2.2 Publishing history

Sugar Blues was first published in 1975. The publishers claim


that 1.6 million copies have been printed, and they will still
sell you one. They issued the latest edition in 2002.

2.3 Dufty the crusader

The first thing to be said about Sugar Blues is that it is not an


academic work. No self-respecting university scientist would
do anything with Dufty’s book except drop it in the waste-
paper bin and then piss on it. It comes into that category of
work which is referred to in academe as ‘mere journalism’.
‘Mere journalism’ is a phrase which has to be spoken in a
tone of extreme contempt – as if there were nothing worse on
the face of the planet. But you and I, of course, know better.
We know perfectly well that top-class journalism is one of the
few things that keep the world sane. Well, as sane as it ever
is. Top-class journalism includes the Watergate
investigations by Woodward and Bernstein, Ed Murrow’s
wartime reports from London, Randy Shilts’s reporting on
15

AIDS, and the Daily Telegraph’s exposure of the MPs’


expenses scandal.
A top-class journalist knows how to do his research. He
(occasionally she) knows how to ferret out the facts that
people don’t want him to know. He knows how to hold the
reader to the page, and he can recognise a bullshitter at fifty
paces. Dufty does all of this, and a lot more.
After World War II, Dufty entered the newspaper business
in New York. He soon became a leading columnist,
specialising in exposés, including one of J. Edgar Hoover.
Hoover was then one of the most powerful (and vindictive)
men in America, and few had the courage to stand up to him.
Dufty also specialised in ghost writing, i.e. producing the
autobiographies of famous people which would be published
as if they had written the book themselves. Dufty’s most
famous subject was the jazz singer Billie Holiday.

2.4 Sugar Blues: the two-page version

Dufty begins his book with some personal history. His work
regularly brought him into contact with celebrities, and one
day he arrived late at a meeting and found himself sitting
next to Gloria Swanson, one of the most famous film stars of
the day. He was served coffee, and was just about to put
sugar in it when Miss Swanson hissed in his ear: ‘That stuff is
poison. I won’t have it in my house, let alone my body.’
Well, Dufty didn’t take a lot of notice, but he certainly
didn’t forget. His diet up to that time had been about as
unhealthy as it is possible to imagine, and his various
illnesses got worse. Thoroughly miserable, he trailed from
doctor to doctor, seeking a cure. ‘I cannot recall a single
doctor,’ he says, ‘who ever displayed the slightest curiosity
about what I ate and drank.’
One day he came across a book which stated that sugar
was more lethal than opium and more dangerous than
atomic fallout. He then remembered that Gloria Swanson
16

had warned him that everyone had to find out the truth
about food for themselves – the hard way. And he certainly
had.
Dufty there and then made the fairly drastic decision to
give up sugar, and all other ‘drugs’ such as aspirin, caffeine,
and all the chemical additives in food which he had hitherto
consumed unthinkingly. He found the next few days very
difficult. Going cold turkey made him extremely ill, but then
he began to improve. In five months he lost 70 lbs in weight
‘and ended up with a new body, a new head, and a new life.’
Dufty then gives us a history lesson. He describes how
sugar was first introduced to the human diet, and how, from
the very beginning, it was seen to have damaging effects on
health. However, as the sugar trade generated ever greater
profits, the harder it became to criticise the use of sugar.
Powerful business interests were involved, and, as usual, they
didn’t like losing money. The government also took taxes, so
there was little incentive for politicians to curb its use.
For me, the most interesting parts of Dufty’s book are the
chapters in which he documents the growth in the
consumption of sugar, and compares that with the increase
of disease, particularly diabetes. For example, sugar
consumption in Denmark rose from 29 lbs per person per
year in 1880 to 113 lbs in 1934. Over the same period, the
death rate from diabetes rose from 1.8 per 100,000 to 18.9
per 100,000.
Of course, correlation is not the same thing as causation,
as any scientist will be quick to tell you. In other words,
figures such as these (and there are many other examples) do
not prove that sugar causes diabetes. In fact, to this very day,
the official Party Line of the medical establishment is that we
do not know what causes diabetes.
If you go to official sources of information – try the BBC,
for example, since it still has some reputation for telling the
truth – you will find that the cause of diabetes is ‘not clear’.
Could be a virus, or chemical toxins, or cow’s milk.
17

If you try the UK’s National Health Service web site, you
will find that there is no real attempt to identify a cause of
the disease, in terms of anything outside the body. The NHS
states simply that diabetes is brought about by too much
glucose (sugar) in the body. Turn to the pages on treatment
and diet, and you will find no suggestion that you should
cease to consume even the white refined stuff, let alone other
sources of sugar.
In 1911, the Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on diabetes
stated that ‘The excessive use of sugar as a food is usually
considered one of the causes of the disease’, but science has
moved on since then. The web site of the UK Sugar Bureau is
quite clear on the issue. Diabetes, they say, ‘is certainly not
caused by eating too much sugar.’ So that’s definite then,
isn’t it? Well, maybe. It just so happens, of course, that the
Sugar Bureau is ‘supported’ by British Sugar, which is the
leading supplier of sugar to the UK market. Not exactly a
neutral observer.
Far be it from me to sow doubts in your already troubled
mind, but it is my view that, when looking at reports of
research into anything relating to food and health, it is
always a good idea to ask yourself: Who funded this
research?
Such caution applies to the research on drugs in
particular. Doug McGuff, whose book Body by Science I shall
discuss shortly, says bluntly: ‘If, for instance, a
pharmaceutical company or a [food] supplement company
funded a study, any data derived may be suspect, and serious
doubt will have been cast on its conclusions.’ This is true, but
is not often so baldly stated. The only reason why McGuff can
make such a statement is because he works as a hospital
doctor and his career does not depend on obtaining research
funding.
18

2.5 William Dufty assessed

Sugar Blues is well worth reading, even today, and because


Dufty was a writer by profession it’s a very easy read,
entertaining and thoroughly enlightening. Yes, he was
definitely a man with a large bee in his bonnet, and he
sometimes overstated his case. But, as he reveals repeatedly,
there were very few people around who were prepared to tell
the truth about sugar, and of those that were, few could get
their voice heard.
Dufty, fortunately, was a well known journalist, which
gave him many friends in the media. This is a great asset if
you find yourself under attack from the forces of Big Food,
which he assuredly did. He was also brutally critical of the US
medical establishment.
In due course Dufty married Gloria Swanson. (He had
become such a good cook, she said, that it was easier to
marry him than employ him.) Both he and Swanson were
advocates of a macrobiotic diet, which is a low-fat, high-fibre
diet of whole grains, vegetables, sea algae, and seeds. This is
definitely not something that I could live on myself, but it has
had its enthusiasts, among whom were the pop-star John
Lennon and his Japanese wife, Yoko Ono.

2.6 Gloria was right

My immediate response to reading Sugar Blues, in the late


1970s, was not quite as dramatic as the author’s own
overnight conversion to the complete elimination of the
substance from his own diet. However, it was blindingly
obvious to me that I would do well to cut out as much sugar
as possible.
That proved to be quite difficult. Yes, I could stop adding
sugar when I stewed fruit, for instance. I could stop taking
sugar in tea and coffee; after a week I didn’t miss it, and after
two weeks, if I did have coffee with sugar in it, it tasted
19

disgusting. But when you start to read labels in


supermarkets, you soon discover that sugar is loaded into
damn near everything.
Buy a can of soup, it’s got sugar in it. Tomato ketchup,
ditto. It’s in bread. Bacon sometimes. Peanut butter. And so
on. And on, and on, and on. (Dufty reported that an average
of 5 per cent sugar was even added to cigarettes, if you
please, with up to 40 per cent in pipe tobacco.) In 2002, the
Guardian reported that one UK ‘weight-loss’ drink was 61.9
per cent sugar. The same Guardian article stated that, in the
UK, the average consumption of sugar, per person, was 1.25
lbs a week.
In retrospect, I regret that over the past thirty years or so I
haven’t tried even harder to cut down on the sugar. Note to
self: must do better in future.
20

3
Jean Joice & Jackie Le Tissier:
Food Combining for Health Cookbook
3.1 Summary

Food Combining for Health Cookbook is one of many books


that you can find on the Hay diet (of which more in a
minute). It gives a short history of the ideas which Dr Hay
expounded, covering all the key points; and it then provides,
as the title suggests, a large number of recipes which conform
to the Hay principles.
This book was first published in 1994. The second edition
appeared in 2000 and is still in print.

3.2 A one-minute guide to the Hay diet

When my father died, in 1982, I found a book on the Hay diet


among his papers. I took a brief look at it, but it seemed to
me to involve a great deal of effort for not much benefit.
Nearly twenty years later, however, I came across other
references to it, and this time I paid a bit more attention.
The first thing to note is that the Hay diet has nothing to
do with eating hay, i.e. the dried grass which is used for cattle
food. (But, if you adopt it, this will not prevent your friends
from asking you how you are getting on with the nosebag.)
Neither is it a diet in the sense of being presented as a way of
losing weight.
The Hay diet is simply a way of making sure that, at every
meal, you eat foods which do not disagree with each other in
your stomach. By this means, you not only ensure that you
suffer from less indigestion, but, more importantly, you also
give your body a chance to digest the food properly and thus
21

obtain the maximum nutritional benefit from what you are


eating.
The name of the diet derives from the fact that it was
developed by an American doctor, William Howard Hay, in
the 1920s. Hay himself suffered from a great deal of ill
health, which he cured by eating only natural foods. In other
words, he gave up all the mass-produced, messed-about-with
stuff with which we are now all too familiar.
Hay also did some research, and concluded that the
digestive system works best if we avoid, for example, eating
starchy foods with protein. He recommended that you should
avoid serving potatoes or pasta with meat. He was strongly in
favour of vegetables, fruit, salads, wholegrain bread and
cereals. He recommended that all refined flour and sugar
should be eliminated from the diet.
I should point out to you, without further delay, that there
is absolutely no scientific evidence in support of Dr Hay’s
theory of food combination. As a researcher he seems to have
been a bit of an amateur, and insofar as modern science has
taken any notice of him at all, which isn’t much, his ideas
about how the digestive juices work seems to have been
wrong.
However… Dr Hay was clearly on the right lines about
some things. He was an early recommender (in the 1920s,
remember, before things got really bad) that we should avoid
heavily processed and refined foods, and stick to the fresh
stuff. And there is lots of anecdotal evidence, from people
who have applied his food-combination theory, that they
have benefited from it. The English actor John Mills, for
example, was invalided out of the army in World War II with
stomach ulcers. He was advised to observe the Hay diet, did
so, and was rapidly cured; thereafter he became a lifelong
enthusiast, and he lived to be 97.
My interest in Hay theory was aroused because my own
digestive system has never been wonderfully effective (I will
spare you the sordid details). In general, I think I have
22

benefited from following the Hay principles, in particular the


one about eating starchy foods – potatoes, pasta, bread – at
different times from protein dishes such as fish, meat, et
cetera. And anyone who is just eating normal supermarket
fare at present could hardly fail to benefit from the advice to
give up all the stuff in glossy packaging, cut out white flour
and sugar, and concentrate on unprocessed natural foods.
If the Hay diet sounds even remotely appealing, you could
buy the Joice and Le Tissier book and give it a try. If you feel
better as a result, fine. If not, give it up. Dr Hay himself said
that it was important not to get obsessive about food.
I mention this book here because, if nothing else, it
confirmed in me the opinions which I had already gathered
from the likes of Adelle Davis and William Dufty – namely
that, to stay healthy, you should ignore all the white-flour
and sugary shit which is so attractively offered on the
supermarket shelves.
And I can’t help wondering… If Dr Hay had figured out
some fairly obvious principles of how to stay healthy, ninety
years ago, how come we’re still making the same mistakes?
Well, that of course is the problem. History suggests that
the human race goes on making the same mistakes, over and
over again. It’s a depressing but inescapable conclusion. Poor
old Dr Hay. If there is an afterlife he must be very distressed.
23

4
Lyndel Costain: Diet Trials – How to
Succeed at Dieting
4.1 Summary

Diet Trials is a thoroughly unsatisfactory book in many ways,


but it is useful because it summarises much of the official
thinking about food (what you might call the Party Line), as
of the turn of the century. I find it a useful reference work to
have on my shelf.

4.2 Publishing history

In 2003, the BBC broadcast a series of documentary


programmes about slimming. This book was written and
published to accompany the series. It is now out of print but
you can buy it on the secondhand market.

4.3 Flawed but useful

In 2004 I wrote a short review of Diet Trials which read as


follows:

This book bears all the signs of something cobbled


together in great haste to meet a deadline. The material is
less than perfectly organised, contradicts itself in places,
and would have benefited from more careful editing. The
index is pitiful.
However – and it’s a big however – the book does
contain some very useful information, if you have the
patience to burrow for it.
24

The BBC programmes took 300 volunteers, divided them


into four groups, and persuaded each group to follow one of
four major weight-loss schemes. One of these was the Atkins
diet, which was then all the rage, and another was the well
known Weight Watchers method. (Weight Watchers, by the
way, is owned by Heinz, a food company which markets,
naturally, a range of special slimming products with the
Weight Watchers brand name.)
The page giving the full results of the BBC’s comparative
test of slimming programmes has now been deleted from the
BBC web site, but if you’re comfortable with scientific papers
you can read the scientists’ version on the BMJ web site. My
recollection is that only a small proportion of the 300
participants actually lost any significant weight and kept it
off, something which is not immediately obvious from the
published data.
For our present purposes, however, the detailed results of
the BBC’s programme don’t matter. What does matter is that
the author of Diet Trials is a UK state-registered dietician,
who for six years acted as official spokesperson for the
British Dietetic Association, and was named Health
Professional of the Year in 2001. In other words, as I
mentioned above, I think we can assume that her book is, as
the politicians say, on message.

4.4 The Party Line

In a section headed ‘What is a healthy diet?’ we are told that


‘there is widespread international consensus on what makes
up a healthy diet… The American guide is shaped as a food
pyramid, while in the UK a plate-shaped guide called the
Balance of Good Health is used.’
The UK’s Balance of Good Health has recently been
updated into the Eatwell Plate, which was produced by the
UK Food Standards Agency ‘following consultation with
consumers and health professionals’. Well, it’s nice to know
25

that consumers are consulted, I suppose, but why they


should have any direct input into a guide to healthy eating I
am not sure.
As far as I can see, The Eatwell pie-chart (no pun
intended) does not give any precise advice as to whether we
are talking about proportions by weight, calorific value, or
some other criterion. But perhaps it’s unfair to expect it to,
because it’s a broad-brush recommendation. And for our
purposes it illustrates the official thinking of the day.
If you look at this UK guide, you will note that fruit and
veg constitute about one third of the pie, and bread, cereals
and potatoes another third. Protein, dairy foods, fat, and
sugar constitute the remainder. The US food pyramid, which
you can also find online, is similar.
When we come to consider Barry Groves’s books (see
section 6, below) it will be relevant to note that fruit, veg,
bread, cereals, and potatoes are all technically carbohydrates.
Thus the Party Line, in both the US and the UK, is that
carbohydrates should constitute about two thirds of a
‘healthy diet’. This seems to be the firmly entrenched view of
the scientific and medical establishment.
It would be nice to think that this consensus has been
worked out by objective scientists whose motives are pure
and noble, and who intend to do nothing but set out the truth
as far as it can be discerned. But you would be naïve to think
so. As far as I can tell, the US version of this consensus is a
political hodge-podge, the culmination of deals done in
(formerly) smoke-filled rooms by men with either powerful
commercial interests to protect, or scientific careers to
promote, or both. For details, see Marion Nestle’s famous
2002 book, Food Politics. I see no reason to suppose that the
UK version is any different. I wish I had total faith in it. I
don’t.
As we shall shortly discover, there are some highly
intelligent, well informed, and sensible people who disagree
26

with that consensus view. And I am in no rush to accept that


consensus, unquestioningly, myself.

4.5 Don’t lose weight, lose fat

For years and years I had no idea how much I weighed. If you
had asked me, I would probably have guessed somewhere
between 12 and 13 stone (168 to 182 lbs, if you think in
American). I was actually about 190 lbs. But the precise
figure didn’t interest me.
How I felt, and how much energy I had to spare, certainly
did interest me, and the time came when I began to feel too
heavy. After retirement I started going to a gym two or three
times a week (more about exercise in section 5, below). And
one day, while I was doing some gentle jogging on a
treadmill, I decided I was overweight. Not by most people’s
standards, but by my own.
I had the beginnings of a beer belly, which I could feel
swinging around as I jogged; and I had a pair of emergent
bosoms which would have thrilled some twelve-year-old girls
to bits.
Just as an experiment, I later filled a couple of buckets
with stones and carried them up and down the garden a few
times. It’s quite an instructive thing to do, and after this
experiment I decided that I could certainly lose about 30 lbs
of fat without doing myself anything but good.
I went in search of a good book about ‘dieting’. At that
time (around 2002/03) the fad for the Atkins diet was at its
peak, so I read the latest edition of the manual.
Dr Atkins, of course, had been around a long time. His
first diet book was published in the UK in 1973, and in the
late ’70s he found new readers by plugging a ‘super-energy
diet’. That sounded interesting to me, and I had a look at it
then. But I certainly didn’t feel inclined to act on his
recommendations.
27

In 2002 the latest book expounding Dr Atkins’s theories


was called New Diet Revolution. This is an interesting book,
with quite a lot of science in it; I suspect that you need a
degree in biochemistry to understand it fully, and it includes
24 pages of scientific references, which is unusual in a mass-
market paperback. I read most of this book twice, and it
certainly made me think, though in the end I decided that the
Atkins diet was definitely not for me. The main thrust of
Atkins’s argument, if you aren’t familiar with it, is that
carbohydrates are what make you fat, and that you should
well nigh eliminate them from your diet.
At about the same time as I was familiarising myself with
Atkins, the BBC began its series of programmes on slimming,
so I bought a copy of Diet Trials and had a look at that.
Which proved useful. Beginning on page 102, there is a
description of a ‘weight-control guide’ which is, Lyndel
Costain says, ‘frequently used in large clinical studies into
obesity. It is also widely used by dietitians and doctors
working with people who want to control their weight.’
I can testify from personal experience that this method of
losing weight (specifically, losing fat) does work. I lost about
30 to 35 lbs. And if it’s any help, let me add that, in my
opinion, no method of losing weight is going to work if it
depends on ‘will-power’. It will only work if you have the
right attitude – in other words, you have to genuinely want to
be lighter.
Why did I want to be lighter? First, I was convinced that I
would just feel better. (And I do.) Second, I found some data
in Diet Trials which gave me some very strong incentives.
For an overweight person, the benefits of losing even 5 to 10
per cent of body weight could result in at least a:
• 20 per cent reduction in the risk of dying from any
cause
• 30 per cent reduction in the risk of dying from
diabetes-related problems
28

• 40 per cent reduction in the risk of dying from obesity-


related cancer
• And other benefits, including less risk of heart disease
and lower blood pressure.
For me, these benefits provided more than adequate
motivation. I didn’t have to resist temptation because I
wanted the benefits more than I wanted the sugary bun.
There are people, however, who prefer the short-term
pleasure of the sugary bun to the reduction of a risk which
seems an awful long way into the future. And I’m not going to
say that these people are foolish, ignorant, stupid, lacking in
will-power or anything else. But you just have to decide
which benefit you want: short-term or long-term. Because
you probably can’t have both.
29

5
Doug McGuff & John Little: Body by
Science
5.1 Summary

Body by Science is not a book about food at all. It’s a book


about exercise (and an excellent one too: see my discussion
of it on Scribd). However, after describing how anyone can
markedly improve their overall health and fitness by a course
of resistance training, McGuff and Little then consider what
else you can do to improve your quality of life. Diet is
discussed, briefly, in that context.

5.2 The paleo guys appear

There are two reasons for including Body by Science in this


essay. One is that exercise clearly (to my mind) affects health,
and the other is that the authors favour what they call the
hunter-gatherer diet.
Some time ago, well before I read Body by Science, I
began to come across internet references to something
known variously as the paleolithic diet (spelt ‘palaeolithic’ if
you’re English), the hunter-gatherer diet, the stone-age diet,
or the caveman diet. For reasons of brevity I shall refer to it
as the paleo diet.
The paleo diet was first described in the mid 1970s by a
gastroenterologist named Walter L. Voegtlin. The essence of
the theory is that mankind is millions of years old, and for
almost all of that time human beings lived a nomadic life.
They ate what they could catch and kill, together with
whatever they could take off the trees and bushes, which
wasn’t much.
30

Then, barely 10,000 years ago, stone-age man discovered


how to cultivate crops. This discovery resulted in huge
changes to the human diet and way of life. Instead of eating
very little except meat, the formerly nomadic tribes now
settled in one place and began to eat largely the crops which
they grew. They invented (or discovered) bread, pasta, and
various other cereals. Today, as we have seen, the Party Line
is that two thirds of our diet should be food which is
cultivated through agriculture.
More recently still, in the last 200 years, the industrialised
nations have imported foodstuffs from other countries,
making them available all year round rather than just
seasonally, and we have learnt how to refine and process
foods, and have pumped vast quantities of sugar into
everything.
From a genetic point of view, 10,000 years is no time at
all, and the advocates of the paleo diet argue that the human
body has not had time to adapt to the new way of eating.
Biologically, they say, we are still equipped for eating meat,
rather than wheat and other cereals. Consequently, we would
do well to abandon the ‘new’ diet and go back to the old one.
As with the Hay diet, there are numerous different
versions of a modern paleo diet, but generally speaking it
consists mainly of meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, and nuts; it
excludes grains, dairy products, and anything refined or
processed. The key point, I believe, is that this diet usually
involves giving up eating almost all carbohydrates and eating
a lot more protein and fat than is recommended in the Party
Line.

5.3 Hmmm – not quite sure about that

I think my first acquaintance with this diet came through the


blog of Arthur De Vany. De Vany is primarily an economist,
but in early life he was a professional baseball player, and he
has maintained a lifelong interest in fitness and health. His
31

ideas on diet are fully described on his web site, but if you
want access to all his thoughts you need to pay a
subscription. (Professor De Vany is not an economist for
nothing, you know.)
It’s worth noting that Arthur De Vany has a book on diet
scheduled for publication in 2011. The advance publicity
suggests that it is going to be marketed as just another quick-
fix lose-weight book, which is a pity, because I suspect it will
be rather better than that.
In Body by Science, the adoption of the paleo diet is
recommended, but it is only briefly described, and there isn’t
even a great deal about it on the book’s web site; but, in an
article entitled ‘Internal Starvation’, Doug McGuff outlines
how he came to favour it – eventually.
McGuff is a hospital doctor by profession, working in
A&E, and it was his experience with obese patients which
showed him the perils of the Party-Line diet. He then came
across a reference to Arthur De Vany, and it was that which
converted him to the potential benefits of the paleo diet. The
conversion process was, he admits, rather slow, but he got
there in the end.
Since the paleo diet is essentially a low-carb diet, it has
much in common with the famous Atkins diet. Well, as I
mentioned earlier, I read the good Dr Atkins’s book very
carefully, getting on for ten years ago.
Atkins, of course, doesn’t mention the stone age. Of course
not. His diet is NEW! And it’s REVOLUTIONARY! Nothing
old-fashioned about him.
Well, new or old, I considered his recommendations in
some detail, and I was ultimately unconvinced. Then I too
came across Arthur De Vany, and other references to the
paleo diet. Once again, I took a long hard look at the
underlying theory, and I remained unconvinced.
Stated crudely (and perhaps unfairly) the idea is that, in
the stone age, man lived in a kind of paradise. He was
perfectly adjusted to the available food, and as a result lived a
32

comfortable life free of the modern diseases which plague our


civilisation.
This struck me as most unlikely. It had overtones of the
eighteenth-century Noble Savage concept, which has few
supporters these days. For my part, I thought it more than
likely that primitive man lived in conditions of almost
permanent discomfort, suffered from high child-mortality
rates, was infested with parasites, and generally lived a life
which the political philosopher Hobbes characterised as
‘nasty, brutish and short’. So I wasn’t in any hurry to adopt
this creature’s diet.
Neither was I wholly convinced by the ‘10,000 years is too
short for genetic change’ argument. It seemed to me that it
could be argued that mankind has actually done rather well
on the new agricultural diet. The human race has vastly
increased in numbers, child mortality is down, and so forth.
Yes, we suffer from a large number of nasty diseases, but are
we any more diseased than were our ancient ancestors? I
doubted it.
As a result of these doubts, and others, I three times
considered and three times rejected any thought of
converting wholeheartedly to the paleo or low-carb diet.
Atkins? Interesting, but no thanks.
De Vany? Ditto
McGuff and Little? Yes to the exercise programme, no to
the full-blown paleo bit.
I take note of the fact that many of those who run gyms
and/or are involved in the personal-training business, are
enthusiasts for the paleo diet or something like it. In addition
to Doug McGuff, examples include Drew Baye and Fred
Hahn. These are men whose livelihood depends on
producing results; and they have each had literally thousands
of face-to-face dealings with clients. So we can be quite
certain that they would not be sticking with the paleo thing if
it didn’t work for a high percentage of trainees. And I do
know that it has produced impressive results for some
33

people. And yet, I retained my doubts – more instinctive


than based on science.
But then I came across someone who forced me to
reconsider. Barry Groves (see next section) did not convert
me to the paleo diet as such. But he has written two well
argued books which led me to conclude, rather reluctantly,
that for some people the best chance of living a full life to a
great age might, in principle, lie in a low-carb, high-fat diet.

5.4 Later note

Some time after I had written the above, McGuff and Little
published The Body by Science Question and Answer Book,
a follow-up to their first book. This second work includes a
section on diet – or, to be precise, on nutrition.
The new section is much longer and more informative
than the brief references in Body by Science. The key point,
perhaps, is this: McGuff and Little don’t recommend cutting
out carbohydrates altogether, but they do suggest restricting
carb intake to fruit and veg, and avoiding carbs which are
grain-based and refined in nature. They argue that eating
refined carbs ‘produces not just increased insulin levels, it
also produces other negative side effects in terms of systemic
inflammation.’
By contrast, consumption of natural foodstuffs, or ‘real
food’, ensures that humans can tolerate widely variant
macronutrient mixes without ill consequences. This is an
important point for anyone, like me, who just finds the whole
paleo thing a step too far.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the two authors admit that
there were periods of years during their lives when their
respective diets were ‘absolutely terrible’, but they didn’t get
fat or develop diabetes because of the beneficial effect of their
high-intensity physical training.
For details, read the book.
34

6
Barry Groves:
Trick and Treat
Natural Health and Weight Loss
6.1 Summary

Trick and Treat runs to about 500 pages, and it was


published in the UK in 2008. Its subtitle is ‘how “healthy
eating” is making us ill’.
The book is primarily a wide survey of scientific research
into diet over the last century: there are extensive references
to the underlying scientific literature. As such it is an
impressive piece of work, if polemical in tone. It represents
the culmination of many years of hard work, and there can be
few people around with a similar grasp of the relevant
literature.
The thrust of the argument in Trick and Treat is that the
Party Line on food, hammered into us over the last thirty
years in particular, is all wrong. The UK establishment’s
Eatwell pie-chart urges us to eat at least five fruit and veg
portions a day, avoid fat, and eat lots of bread, rice, and
pasta. But Groves believes that the establishment-approved
advice on healthy eating is ‘directly responsible’ for the
alarming increases in the killer diseases of modern
civilisation, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
The remedy for this dire situation, says Groves, lies in the
direct reversal of the official eating recommendations and in
the adoption of a low-carb, high-fat diet. Individuals who
think for themselves and take this step will, he argues,
experience a marked improvement in health. Groves and his
wife have been eating according to this credo since 1962,
several years before Voegtlin came up with the paleo-diet
35

theory. And, as Groves reminds us, the value of a low-carb


approach was first demonstrated by William Banting nearly
150 years ago.
Groves’s central assertion is, as he recognises, highly
controversial, and if you read the book you will have to form
your own view as to its validity. Fortunately, for my
purposes, it is possible to separate out the dietary
information and advice in Trick and Treat from the
accusations of plots and ruthless money-making schemes.
Once that is done, the book becomes more useful and
interesting; at least to me.
The other book by Barry Groves which is listed above,
Natural Health and Weight Loss is rather calmer in tone.
This was published in 2007, by a different publisher, and it is
a much shorter and more practical book than Trick and
Treat. Not surprisingly, because that’s where the money is,
this one concentrates on showing people how to lose weight.
Consistently with Trick and Treat, the book urges you to
adopt a low-carb, high-fat diet.
There is a great deal of overlap and duplication between
these two books, and you can certainly absorb all the main
arguments that Groves puts forward on healthy eating by just
reading the second one.
Both books, sadly, lack a decent index. And that is putting
it mildly. A book with a poor index loses 50 per cent of its
value (imho), and the more you try to find a reference which
you remember reading in Groves’s books, the more irritating
and unsatisfactory these indexes become. A less generous
soul than I would describe them as useless. Compare, if you
will, the index of Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit, which is a model
of perfection.
Finally, one typo distressed me. In both books the author
manages to misspell both parts of Adelle Davis’s name.
36

6.2 Introducing the author

Groves tells us that he and his wife were overweight from


1957 to 1962, at which point he came across the low-carb,
high-fat approach to weight loss. It worked for them, and
subsequently he became deeply interested in diet. In 1982 he
took up full-time research into diet and the ‘diseases of
civilisation’, and has been writing and lecturing about the
subject ever since.
We are told that Groves has a PhD in nutritional science,
but we are not told (in either book) which institution
awarded the degree. This made me suspect that his degree
was not from the University of Oxford but from somewhere
less prestigious. I learn from his web site that it was in fact
awarded by an American distance-learning university.
Although he has written numerous books, and lectures
and writes widely, I think it is fair to say that, at the moment,
Barry Groves has a low public profile. But if he were to
become famous for fifteen minutes, as a TV guru perhaps,
then we can be quite sure that Big Food would turn its guns
upon him.
The food processors would start, no doubt, with the same
sort of criticisms that were used against Adelle Davis. He
‘isn’t a proper scientist’. He ‘couldn’t get a PhD in the UK’.
He ‘doesn’t really understand the science’.
Groves also leaves himself exposed to attack through his
tendency to utter sweeping statements. For example: ‘We
have known for over 70 years that diabetes is caused by
excessive intake of carbohydrates.’ And, in similar vein: ‘Both
obesity and diabetes are caused by the same thing: a low-fat,
high-carb “healthy” diet.’
I am inclined to agree with him on these points; but, as we
saw above (para 2.4), the establishment, not to mention
British Sugar, do not agree with him.
For his part, Groves states that the contents of Trick and
Treat are not his original ideas at all, but are simply reports
37

of recognised and respected scientific research. It’s just that,


so far, the Party Line has not been adjusted to take such
uncomfortable and unwelcome findings into account. Too
much loss of face is involved, not to mention the upset
caused to powerful commercial interests.
Those will be those who find Groves worryingly under-
qualified, and will prefer to seek an overall view of the
scientific findings on nutrition from a ‘proper’ scientist –
perhaps a Professor of Nutrition at Cambridge. But they will,
I fear, have a long wait before they find one.
The fact is that scientists have to specialise; often they
have to focus on one tiny aspect of one small area of a
narrowly focused subject. Consequently few of them have the
time or inclination to survey a large field of study. Even if
they had an overall view, they would lack another important
skill, which is writing about science in a way which can be
understood by the layman. That is a skill which is possessed
only by a writer of popular science with a large amount of
experience and talent.
If I characterise Barry Groves as a first-class polemical
journalist, therefore, I am not insulting him. On the contrary,
I am paying him a compliment. He is in the William Dufty
class – someone who can read and master vast volumes of
information on a desperately complicated issue and convey
the sense of it to anyone with enough application to read his
books. And he is courageous enough to present a view
contrary to the Party Line, which is never comfortable and
often thankless.

6.3 Can that really be true?

As always with food, individuals in search of reliable


information will find it necessary, in the end, to make a
judgement of their own. And there is a well known danger of
being most influenced by the book that you have read most
recently. But I started reading Groves’s books with, you will
38

recall, my mind set against the low-carb or paleo diet. And it


is a tribute, I think, to Groves’s thoroughness in listing and
discussing a huge amount of scientific literature that I ended
up being persuaded that there is indeed a case for the
adoption of a low-carb, high-fat diet.
At times, when reading Groves, I experienced exactly the
same sensation that I had when reading Adelle Davis, forty
years ago. He presents so much information about the toxic
nature of the modern supermarket-based diet that you
wonder how on earth we manage to survive at all. In fact, it’s
worse than that: I found myself getting quite depressed by
the exposed record of greed, stupidity and deliberate lies.
Reading about the damage which a poor diet does to babies
still in the womb, let alone when born, is enough to make
anyone weep.
Take, for instance, the simple matter of milk. Now you
wouldn’t think there was much wrong with milk, would you?
Wholesome stuff, right? Best to drink the skimmed version,
so that you don’t damage your heart, right? Oh no. Wrong on
every count. At least Groves believes so, on the basis of the
research which he quotes.
Like Groves, I am old enough to remember when milk was
delivered to many peoples’ door, fresh from the cow. It came,
naturally, complete with cream. Today, the food processors
pasteurise it, separate the cream from the milk, and then
blend the cream back in to produce (a) ‘whole milk’, which
actually contains less cream than it originally did, and (b)
skimmed milk, which contains only a little cream. (The
‘excess’ cream is sold as pure cream or used to make butter.)
While the milk is being treated, it is homogenised, to prevent
such cream as is there from rising to the top. The milk is then
heat-treated again and finally cooled before being packaged
for retailers. At every stage, the processing makes the milk
less and less nutritious.
It is this stripping of the cream from milk, to make it
‘healthier’, which has been found to increase the risk of
39

prostate cancer. Low-fat milk has also been implicated in


ovarian cancer in women. And it’s linked to low rates of
fertility. And to acne. And allergies. And more.
Groves’s conclusion is that processing milk in this way
‘has ruined it as a healthy food at this time.’ He drinks cream.
Perhaps you might decide that, since milk has these
question marks over it, you will switch to soya milk. I’ve been
using it for years on my porridge, because it seems to digest
better.
Well, the soya bean is now widely used in ‘all manner of
foodstuffs from meat sausages and fish fingers to salad
creams and breakfast cereals.’ You will be hard pressed,
apparently, to find any bread which does not contain soya
flour.
Unfortunately, soya beans ‘contain large quantities of
natural toxins.’ These are only destroyed by fermentation, a
process first introduced by the Chinese. Unfortunately again,
‘many of the products sold in supermarkets… contain
unfermented soya flour and soya milk.’
The consumption of unfermented soya exposes you to
certain risks. These include over-stimulating the thyroid,
which can cause goitre and undesirable side effects such as
constipation and fatigue. Soya also contains substances
which have been linked to numerous disorders, including
infertility, increased cancer, and infantile leukaemia.
The effect of the isoflavins in soya is particularly serious in
children. ‘An infant exclusively fed on soya formula receives
the oestrogenic equivalent of at least five birth control pills a
day…. An American study found that one girl in every
hundred had started to develop breasts or pubic hair before
the age of three…. The effect of the female hormone on boys
is potentially far more serious.’
The Americans have 72 million acres of soya bean under
cultivation, and you can bet that the growers have a man in
Washington to make sure that no one gets any silly ideas
about banning anything.
40

Well, I’m going to give up soya for a start. And the list goes
on. Groves has unpleasant stories to tell us about almost
every item you can think of on the supermarket shelf. In fact
he believes that no more than 2 per cent of supermarket
products are fit for consumption.
Oh, and if you’re short of something else to worry about
(which I doubt), bear in mind Groves’s conclusion on
ordinary flour. ‘The flour from which our bread is made is
probably more highly contaminated than anything else to be
found in the food industry.’

6.4 Back to the stone age

As we have noted, Groves and his wife adopted a low-carb,


high-fat diet even before the term ‘paleo diet’ was introduced.
But he does have quite a lot to say about the rationale behind
the paleo concept. He presents a great deal of both
archaeological and anthropological evidence, much of which
I had not come across elsewhere. There is also the usual
argument about genetics, and how the body has not had time
to adjust to the consumption of plant material.
This evidence will, I dare say, be sufficient to convince
many readers of the strength of Groves’s case. Personally I do
still have reservations, but my own doubts need not
necessarily worry any other reader. And I did find that the
overwhelming body of evidence which Groves has assembled
is impressive.

6.5 Here’s a surprise – not everyone agrees!

Groves’s suggested diet is, of course, markedly different from


that recommended in the UK’s Eatwell plate and the US
government’s food pyramid. But he takes the view that the
official Party Line is over-influenced by industry and
commerce. So if you want the view of another large-scale
organisation, which might be more objective than Big Food,
41

you might perhaps consider the findings of the World Cancer


Research Fund (WCRF).
In 2007 the WCRF issued a report on diet. In preparing
the report, over 500,000 scientific studies were reviewed.
From these, 7,000 were determined to be the most relevant,
and these were considered by a team of 200 scientists.
The result of this survey can be summarised in one
sentence: in order to reduce your chance of getting cancer,
WCRF recommends that you should ‘Choose mostly plant
foods, limit red meat and avoid processed meat.’
This advice needs to be contrasted with another of
Groves’s sweeping statements: ‘All the evidence suggests that
carbs should be replaced with fats, and those fats should be
mainly from animal sources.’ All the evidence? The WCRF
would not agree.
More specifically, the WCRF advice is to eat a diet of at
least two thirds vegetables and other plant foods, including
cereals. You should limit meat consumption to 750 grams
(raw weight) each week; by my calculation, using imperial
measures, this is about 4 ounces a day. And the definition of
processed meat (to be avoided) includes ham, bacon,
pastrami, salami, hot dogs, and some sausages.
For those unfortunate enough to be already suffering from
cancer, the Penny Brohn Cancer Centre, in England, offers
similar advice. Patients should adopt:

…a diet composed of whole foods, by which we mean


foods that are minimally processed…. It is recommended
that people consume a diet composed mainly of plant
foods, with vegetables and fruit as the primary source but
also including whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds, herbs
and spices. For a complete and balanced diet, animal
products are also recommended. There is no perfect diet
that suits everyone as we all have individual, ever-
changing nutritional needs. It is recommended that
people use the guidelines as a starting point but then
42

experiment and adapt the recommendations to suit


themselves.

Those last two sentences surely constitute one of the keys to


the whole matter.

6.6 Lemme see now…

So, am I going to switch to Groves’s version of the low-carb,


high-fat diet?
No, I am not. At least, I’m not going to switch to the full-
blown version of limiting carbs to 50 or 60 grams a day, with
unlimited fat.
Why not?
For several reasons, all of them strictly personal and
relating to what the Penny Brohn Centre calls ‘individual,
ever-changing nutritional needs’.
The first reason is that, when I come to do the sums, I find
that I am already on a relatively low-carb diet, without
having to change anything. I confess to being slightly
surprised by this discovery.
As related in this essay, I have been much influenced over
the last forty years by the likes of Adelle Davis, William
Dufty, and Dr Hay. Consequently I have for a good many
years tried to limit the amount of processed food that I
consume, cut out sugar, avoid eating carbs with meat, and so
forth. These relatively simple steps have, almost as a side
effect, reduced my carb intake quite substantially.
Using data supplied by Groves, I find that on a typical day
I now consume no more than 130 grams of carbs from all
sources. On a 2,400-a-day calorie intake, that is about 22 per
cent; which compares with Groves’s recommendation to limit
carbs to no more than 15 per cent of calories.
Occasionally – about once a month – I might have what
for me is a high-carb day. I might, for instance, have a piece
of cake in the afternoon, plus pasta for one of my main
43

meals. The maximum amount of carbs that I can imagine


myself eating on any such day is some 275 grams, or 45 per
cent of calorie intake. And 45 per cent is way below the diet
of two thirds carbs which is the standard daily
recommendation of the Eatwell plate and the food pyramid,
not to mention the WCRF.
OK, I hear you say. But if you’re already within spitting
distance of the Groves target, why not make the minor effort
to get down to 50 grams a day? And the answer involves
several factors.
To begin with, I am not convinced, intellectually, that
there would be any great benefit. Is it really necessary to be
quite so fanatical about omitting carbs? There are so many
unknown factors involved that not even the most rigid
adherent to the Groves formula (or the paleo diet) can
guarantee continued good health until the age of 99. Would
that it were possible.
Next, and rather more important to me, I don’t think that
50 grams of carbs a day would suit my insides. If I were 25
years old, and had a perfectly normal digestive system, then I
would be prepared to give Groves’s suggested diet a full trial.
Let’s say three to six months. Because, as noted earlier, some
people seem to do very well on it.
But I am not 25. I am 71. I carefully considered, and then
rejected, the extreme low-carb concept three times before
(Atkins, De Vany, McGuff and Little); and although I find
Groves’s overall argument impressive, I am going to trust my
instincts on this one.
44

7
Michael Pollan: In Defence of Food
7.1 Nearing the end

This is going to be the last book that I discuss in this essay.


Honest. But it’s a good one; too good to leave out.
In Defence of Food was published in 2008, and if you’re
looking for just one book to read about food, nutrition, and
the modern Western diet, this is the one.
Michael Pollan is a professor of journalism at the
University of California, Berkeley. He has been researching
the food business, and interviewing many of those involved,
for some twenty years. He is the author of several previous
books, one of which (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) was listed by
both the New York Times and the Washington Post as one of
the ten best books of 2006. So he is no fool.
In Defence of Food is calm, well balanced, and avoids the
tone of barely restrained hysteria and outrage which is so
common in books by modern food activists. Which is not to
say that he doesn’t have some very powerful points to make.

7.2 Summary

Pollan tells us (reminds some of us) that the human body is


very adaptive in terms of the food it can cope with
successfully. In ‘primitive’ societies people lived off a wide
variety of foods, depending on what was available in their
home territory. But it seems that the one thing that the
human body cannot cope with is the modern Western diet,
which consists largely of refined foods with a large amount of
sugar. Wherever such a diet is adopted, obesity soon appears,
and high rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease ‘are
certain to follow’.
45

Now the Big Food processors will, of course, insist that


there is ‘no evidence’ that it is their products which bring
about disease. British Sugar, as we have noted, declares
firmly that sugar does not cause diabetes. But we do not need
to waste our time arguing the point. It is well documented
that when a western diet is adopted by a population which
had hitherto been healthy on some more ‘primitive diet’, the
diseases of civilisation soon appear, and often in the same
order: obesity, followed by type 2 diabetes, followed by
hypertension and stroke, followed by heart disease.
In plain English, the modern Western diet is making us
sick, and eventually, after some seriously unpleasant
experiences and probably expensive medical treatment, we
die; often before our time. So the question is, how do we
avoid this fate? It’s a question which faces both individuals,
and Western societies as a whole.
Pollan has provided an answer, which he elaborates in his
book. It can be boiled down to seven words: ‘Eat food. Not
too much. Mostly plants.’
He makes a distinction between real food, which is what
your (great-great) grandmother would have recognised as
food, and modern, pseudo, fake, refined, processed, and
packaged junk, which Pollan refers to as ‘edible food-like
substances’. Sugary shit is what I call it, when I’m feeling
particularly disillusioned. These edible food-like substances
may look, smell, and even taste wonderful, but as a means of
maintaining your body in good health they lie somewhere
between useless and lethal. US food processors offer us a
staggering 17,000 new such products, every year. Most of
these never catch on with the public, and are abandoned, to
be replaced by yet more new mixtures of sugar, refined flour,
hydrogenated oils, corn sweeteners, and salt.
Pollan’s basic rules for survival in this mad world are
explained in some detail, together with practical advice on
surviving in supermarkets. E.g., avoid products which make a
health claim, and shop around the peripheries of the
46

supermarket, staying well away from the middle. You need to


read the book to obtain more detail. In fact, don’t just read it,
buy it.

7.3 The thirty-year experiment

One of the most interesting sections of In Defence of Food is


that in which Michael Pollan describes how, over the last
thirty years, society has been subjected (often unknowingly)
to an attempt to transform our diet in the light of what he
calls the ‘lipid hypothesis’ – that is to say, the US and UK
governments have acted upon the belief that dietary fat is
responsible for much of our obesity and ill health, notably
heart disease.
Thirty years ago, government advisers in the US, soon
followed by those in the UK, began to recommend a low-fat
diet. Eat less fat, they said, and you will reduce or eliminate
your chances of becoming obese and dying of heart disease.
Big Food had no difficulty in endorsing this campaign: they
just tweaked their margarines and yogurts a bit, labelled
them NEW! LOW FAT!! HEALTHY OPTION!!!, and carried
on as before.
In 2001, however, a group of scientists at the Harvard
School of Public Health undertook a critical review of all the
relevant research. After which they came to the following
conclusion, which even a layman can understand:

It is now increasingly recognised that the low-fat


campaign has been based on little scientific evidence and
may have caused unintended health consequences.

What this means, in even plainer English, is that


government advice to give up eating butter, for instance, was
wrong. Many people who gave up butter ate margarine
instead, and margarine contains substances known as trans
47

fats. And by about 1990 it was beginning to be clear that


trans fats actually increase the risk of coronary heart disease.
So, as Pollan succinctly remarks, the effect of ‘thirty years
of official nutritional advice has been to replace a possibly
mildly unhealthy fat in our diets with a demonstrably lethal
one’.
But hold, I hear you say. You’ve never heard a word said
about this. And the supermarkets are still full of low-fat this
and fat-free that. How come?
Well, my dears, it’s all so embarrassing, that’s why you
haven’t heard about it. If the government suddenly admitted
that all that low-fat stuff was crap, you might decide that you
were never going to listen to a nutritional scientist or a
politician ever again. And we can’t have that, can we?
Back in the 1980s I had a friend whose wife was very
worried about protecting his heart. So she served him
margarine and skimmed milk for breakfast. Fat-free
everything else. My friend hated all this, but he didn’t like to
argue, and his first act on leaving the house each day was to
buy a pint of Jersey milk, which is the richest, creamiest,
most fat-laden milk you can buy in the UK – or anywhere
else for that matter. That kept him going till dinner-time.
It turns out my friend was right all along. And he hasn’t
had a heart attack yet.

7.4 Snippets of Pollan

Pollan, like Groves, has things to say about soy (or soya). The
average American now takes 20 per cent of her calories in the
form of soy. I wonder if she knows that? Ten years ago I’d
barely heard of soy, but having looked at the index to Sugar
Blues I see that William Dufty predicted in 1975 that its use
would grow. Why? Because it’s cheap to grow, and you can
feed it to cattle. But do we really want to take 20 per cent of
our calories from soy?
48

Then there’s fruit. Your granny had fruit of course. And


my father grew apples, which I ate. But the apple that I buy
in the supermarket today is not the same as the one which
grew on my father’s tree. Modern apples have been
selectively bred for sweetness, because most of the
population is hopelessly addicted to sugar. So the nutrient
content of apples – together with that of 43 other crops – has
fallen. Specifically, you now need to eat three apples to get
the same amount of iron as you would have got from a 1940
apple. And you need to eat several more slices of bread to get
your recommended daily amount of zinc.
By now you are surely getting the point. Modern food is
designed to be sold. Nobody in big Food sits down and tries
to figure out how to produce food which will generate the
maximum health in those who eat it. They sit down and
figure out how to make the maximum profit from those who
buy it.
Michael Pollan gives a very specific example of this
process at work. In the 1980s, scientists began to understand
that the omega-3 fatty acids which are found in plants are
vitally important to human health. But for years before that,
plant breeders had unknowingly been selecting plants which
contain fewer omega-3s, because such crops don’t spoil so
quickly. And now that we know all that, did Big Food rush to
restore the situation and sell plants which contain lots of
omega-3s? No, sir and madam, they did not.
Pollan reports the words of a spokesman for Frito-Lay,
which is a division of PepsiCo and sells a huge range of snack
foods. These all sound faintly disgusting to my ear, with
names such as Baken-Ets pork rinds, Funyuns Onion Rings,
and Munchos; five of the company’s products each generate
over a billion dollars in sales each year, so evidently some
people are dumb enough to eat this rubbish. The Frito-Lay
executive stated firmly that, because of their tendency to
oxidise (i.e. go bad) ‘omega-3s cannot be used in processed
foods.’
49

You could not hope to have a clearer statement of how Big


Food operates.

7.5 Should we be outraged?

All of which leads us to a question which (I suppose) has to


be faced sooner or later. Is what Big Food is doing immoral?
And should it, perhaps, be made illegal?
My own attitude to this may perhaps surprise you.
I take the view that different types of institutions exist for
different purposes. For example, universities exist to provide
higher forms of education, monasteries exist to worship God,
and charities exist to do good works. Limited companies,
however, exist to make a profit. That is what they are for.
They have a responsibility to their shareholders, and to those
who are known as stakeholders. It seems to me
unreasonable, therefore, to complain when a large company
does exactly what it is set up to do.
Ah yes, you say, but these people are doing harm. They
must be monsters.
Hmm. I doubt it. If you were get to know, let us say, the
manager of a supermarket, or the regional manager of a big
flour-milling firm, or someone who maintains a vast factory-
farm of chickens, you would probably discover that they are
perfectly ordinary middle-class people, decent enough for
you to like them as neighbours and friends. If you were to
suggest to them that their products were damaging public
health, they would probably deny, rather vehemently, that
they are doing any such thing.
That having been said, we could ask another question. Let
us suppose that the Big Food firms were universally staffed
by psychopaths and sociopaths. Would those firms be doing
anything worse than what they are doing today? I suspect
not. Big Food firms maximise their profits by getting as close
to the edge of the law as possible, and they design their
products to occupy a space just short of the point at which a
50

firm could be successfully sued by, say, the obese or the


diabetic.
In any event, I’m afraid we are stuck with the world the
way it is, and we lack any means to change it fast or
significantly. As always, the principle of caveat emptor
applies.
If you have read this far you can be in no doubt about the
nature of the modern Western diet. And you just have to
decide whether you care to go on eating it in all its glory, or
not.
51

Part Two

CONCLUSIONS
52

8
Is it really safe to eat breakfast?
8.1 Here’s the answer (and about time too)

You’re probably thinking that it’s about time this essay came
to an end. Well, we agree on that. In fact, I think it is high
time my forty-year search for a healthy diet came to an end.
What I would really, really like to do is settle on a few simple
rules for eating which would (a) give me a fighting chance of
achieving my maximum potential for longevity and good
health, and (b) serve me for the rest of my days so that I don’t
have to bother about this problem any longer.
So, let’s go back to my original question. Is it safe to eat
breakfast?
Hell, no.
Don’t be silly.
It’s bloody dangerous.
Let us just suppose, for the sake of illustrating my point,
that you have accepted the argument of Barry Groves and
others that you should go for a low-carb, high-fat diet. And
you cook yourself a traditional English breakfast of bacon
and eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, and maybe a sausage.
Sounds OK in principle. But if you take my question about
food safety seriously then you are immediately faced with
another question, one which Adelle Davis raised all those
years ago. Which apricot? she asked. Grown where? What
did they do to it on the tree? And what did they do to it after
it left the tree?
These questions could be, and in theory should be, asked
about every constituent part of what is prima facie a healthy
breakfast.
Who grew the mushrooms and the tomatoes in our
traditional English breakfast? Did they use fertilisers and
53

bug-killers? If so, what kind? What chemicals did those


treatments contain? How often were the damn things
squirted? What effects do said chemicals have on a human
body?
What about the eggs? Whose chicken, which farm? What
conditions did the birds live in? What were they fed on? And
what was done to the chicken feed before it was eaten?
It just so happens that I cooked this very breakfast for
myself and my wife on the day that I first drafted this chapter
of my essay. And I had a look at the label on the bacon packet
– bacon which I bought, incidentally, at the local farmers’
market, in the pathetic hope that it might be better quality
than that obtainable from the supermarket. Under English
law this label has to describe the contents: pork 87 per cent;
water; salt; and two preservatives, E250 and E301.
Damned if I know, frankly, why anyone has to add water
to bacon, unless it’s to make it weigh more and increase the
profit margin. And am I being unfair if I suspect that the
‘preservatives’ are added solely for the benefit of the
wholesaler and retailer? So that the stuff can sit on the shelf
longer without going off?
The E numbers identify these ‘preservatives’ as food
additives which have been approved for use within the
European Union. No lay person has any idea what they are.
You can look them up, of course, and I just did. Wikipedia
has a list. I find that E250 is sodium nitrate, and E301 is
sodium ascorbate. Am I any the wiser? No.
So I look up sodium nitrate, again on Wikipedia. And it
gives me a useful quote, just to help me digest the meal a
little better. ‘This would be at the top of my list of additives to
cut from my diet,’ says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, MPH, RD,
LDN, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
‘Under certain high-temperature cooking conditions such as
grilling, it transforms into a reactive compound that has been
shown to promote cancer.’
54

Wonderful. So now, as part of my never-ending search for


a healthy diet, I’ve just eaten something which was cooked
under precisely the right conditions to ensure that it gives me
and my wife cancer. I don’t think I’m going to bother looking
up E301, sodium ascorbate. It might tell me my dick is going
to drop off.
Bacon, by the way, is classified as a processed meat by the
World Cancer Research Fund, i.e. something to be avoided;
and I’m beginning to see why.
Most people of my acquaintance are vaguely aware that
food additives might be a problem. But while the 396
additives which are sanctioned by the EU do have to be listed
on the packet, there is no requirement to list the enzymes,
catalysts, and any other chemicals used in the processing of
the product. Big Food says they are safe. And we believe
everything they say, naturally.

8.2 Make your mind up time

So you see, he says with a deep sigh, the nature of the


problem. And the question is, where do we go from here?
Well, I think there are at least three rational strategies
which the poor bewildered eating person can adopt, plus one
strategy born of blissful ignorance. Let’s start with the latter.

8.2.1 Ignorance

It seems obvious to me, if I look at people walking down the


street, and if I peek into their supermarket trolleys, that a
large number of individuals live in sublime ignorance of even
the simplest concept of nutrition. It’s not their fault. These
are people who have passed through the UK’s educational
system without even touching the sides. The experience has
left no mark upon them. They have trouble reading a
newspaper, and are incapable of absorbing any of the books
listed in this essay. All they have to go on is rumour, hearsay,
55

and gossip – what they are told by friends, the television, and
their grannies.
I would like to have a magic wand to transform their lives,
but I don’t. I feel very sorry for those who, often through no
fault of their own, are imprisoned in a mountain of fat. But, if
you are fortunate enough to have had an education, then
living your life on the basis of ignorance is not, in my
opinion, a helpful way to proceed. You need to find a few
facts – if you can.

8.2.2 Panic

Orthorexia (orthorexia nervosa, in full) is a relatively new


term, coined in 1997, to describe an excessive and obsessive
concern with healthy food. An example of a sufferer of this
condition is a young lady who was reportedly found in floods
of tears outside a motorway service station because she could
find absolutely nothing within that was fit to put into the
holy temple of her body.
Well, yes. And then again, no.
I understand her concern. But there are times, I feel, when
you just have to buy a hot dog and live dangerously. After all,
who knows – three miles down the road you might get
crushed by a big truck. So you may was well die with a full
stomach as an empty one.
Endless obsessing about healthy food is not the mark of a
well balanced person, as Dr Hay pointed out all those years
ago. It is a condition to be avoided.

8.2.3 Yoko, meet Lord Strathcona

As we have seen, anyone who puts even a toe into the lake of
information about food soon discovers that there are wildly
conflicting theories and many apparently contradictory
research findings. One week the Daily Mail will tell you that
drinking coffee will kill you, the next that it will extend your
56

life. Not that the Daily Mail is a very reliable source of


information, but you get the point. Even if you go to
reputable web sites and books by eminently qualified
authors, you will find much the same thing.
After a certain amount of reading such material,
scratching your head, and wondering what to make of it all, it
is mighty tempting to throw your hands in the air and say to
hell with it. It sometimes seems as if everything on the
supermarket shelf is poisonous to one degree or another, so
you might just as well eat what you like and leave your fate to
whatever gods may be.
I have christened this the Ono/Strathcona strategy, in
honour of two very different individuals who came to this
kind of conclusion.
The Japanese artist Yoko Ono was married to the pop-star
John Lennon, and together they favoured a macrobiotic diet.
When their son Sean was born, he was brought up to be
extremely careful about what he ate. However, when John
Lennon was shot by a deranged fan, Yoko Ono changed her
mind. She was said to have told her son, ‘From now on, Sean,
eat whatever you like.’
This initial reaction was born of despair. What was the
point of being ultra-careful about what you ate if fate was
going to deliver such unexpected and meaningless blows?
Lord Strathcona also ate exactly what he liked and
nothing else. At a certain point in his life he decided that he
was unhappy about eating five or six courses of stuff that he
didn’t much care for. So he sat down and had a think about
what he did like. It turned out that what he liked was eggs,
milk, and butter. So from then on that’s what he ate, every
day. And nothing else. Whenever he entertained guests for
dinner, they would be served a succession of dishes, as usual,
and at a certain point in the evening he would be served a
bowl of soft-boiled eggs and a separate dish of butter,
together with a jug of milk. He enjoyed good health and died
in 1914 at the age of 93.
57

8.2.4 I’m a man of principle – I always compromise

What little remains of my reasoning powers prompts me to


hope that there might be a fourth strategy in relation to food.
It surely ought to be possible to formulate a set of practical
and realistic working rules, for the day-to-day guidance of
each individual.
Michael Pollan, as we have seen, suggests a seven-word
strategy, and the World Cancer Research Fund has one
sentence. But I’m thinking of something a little more detailed
than that; and my personal take on such a set of rules follows
shortly. But first, a brief discussion of the problems attending
the formulation of such working rules.
58

9
Mr Rumsfeld’s conundrum
9.1 It makes sense if you think about it

You will probably remember that the one-time US Secretary


of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, once caused some amusement
and bemusement with the following statement:

There are known knowns. These are things we know that


we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there
are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are
also unknown unknowns. These are things we do not
know we don’t know.

This statement applies just as much to the question of


healthy eating as it does to any defence issue.
The number of known knowns seems to me to be
remarkably few. One is, that if you don’t eat something you
will eventually die.
The known unknowns are legion. For instance, what is the
true likelihood of the additive E301 (which I found in my
bacon) giving anyone cancer? Has any work been done on its
effect on humans, as opposed to, say, rats? This information
may be known to someone, but it’s not known to me.
Here’s another example. Forty years ago, Adelle Davis
pointed out in one of her books that non-stick pans, if
allowed to overheat, will give off highly toxic sodium fluoride
gas. Do they still do that? Or has the design improved? Has
some new non-stick surface been invented, and if so what
happens to that if you misuse it?
As for the unknown unknowns – well, by definition we
cannot guess at what these might be. Adelle Davis suffered
from one of those during her lifetime. In her recipes she
59

made extensive use of powdered milk, which she later came


to distrust. In fact, she thought it might be involved in the
development of her own cancer. But clearly there were many
years when she thought it was perfectly healthy.
Similarly, she found that sun creams containing para-
aminobenzoic acid (PABA) were wonderfully effective in
preventing burning, but in recent years PABA has come
under suspicion of causing cell damage.

9.2 It follows, therefore…

Perhaps this is as good a point as any to insert the fact that,


the more I read about modern food, the more depressed I
become. I have tried very hard to make allowances for
ordinary human fallibility, but my conclusion is that the
history of food in the last two hundred years is largely one of
greed, stupidity, ignorance, and deliberate deception;
corruption and a lack of concern for anything but profit often
masquerade as ethical business. Nobody knows what we are
doing to ourselves and our children, and very few people
seem to care. Those that do are often thought of as cranks. I
am not by nature a pessimist, but it seems to me that the
position is, in all likelihood, worse than anyone cares to
contemplate.
Theoretically, science should be our salvation, but science
needs money, and much of the money comes from industry
and commerce. It is not, in my judgement, going too far to
say that the outcome of much food research is determined in
advance, by the firm which commissions it. As a result, you
can’t believe half the results. At least. Maybe 90 per cent.
That leaves us with a big pile of unknown unknowns. And
because of these unknown unknowns, let alone anything else,
I think it would be a serious mistake to assume that any
amount of reading or individual research can establish an
absolutely ideal diet. Even in theory. Finding food which
conformed with the principles of that ideal diet would be
60

another problem. Consequently there is no point in


becoming too rigid about any set of rules. Something or other
is certainly going to finish you off in the end, and all you can
do in the meantime is try to do the best for yourself and your
family.
61

10
A personal strategy, likely to be of little
interest to anyone else
10.1 Introduction

Enough already. More than enough. I’ve looked back at the


books on diet which, out of the numerous ones I have read,
seem to me to be the most interesting and relevant. Now it’s
time for me to try to figure out what I am going to do and not
do for the rest of my life.
I speak here in the first person singular, but since I am a
married man, and we take our meals together, I have to take
my wife’s dietary requirements and preferences into account.
Fortunately we usually seem to agree without too much
difficulty.
Everything that follows is a purely personal set of
conclusions and is not a set of recommendations for anyone
else. Though if you have read this far we must hope that you
do at least learn something from it.

10.2 Let’s put our finger on it

It is always possible that I have misunderstood the scientific


explanations given by the various authorities who are
referred to in this essay. In fact, not even the scientists
understand all of the physiological processes which are
involved. But if you were to ask me to put my finger on the
absolutely central issue in what constitutes a healthy diet, I
would say this: The key to health and well-being – both
short-term and long term – lies in controlling the body’s
blood-sugar level. (Adelle Davis, as usual, got this right.)
62

10.2.1 The benefits of self-control

Making sure that your body has the right blood-sugar level
has numerous benefits. First, you will have adequate energy
to work efficiently and enjoy life. Second, you will be calm
and relatively clear-headed, and thus better able to deal with
the emotional stresses of life. Third, if you avoid the sudden
spikes in blood-sugar level which result from high intakes of
refined carbs, you will not put on weight. And fourth –
perhaps most important of all – by avoiding those high
glucose spikes you will not over-stress your insulin
mechanism and therefore you will reduce your risk of
diabetes.
Diabetes shortens your life by twelve years, on average;
and it involves medical costs (US figures) of $13,000 a year.
Whether this is paid for by the individual, through insurance,
or through the UK’s taxpayer-funded National Health
Service, it’s still a cost which is incurred, and it would be nice
to avoid it.

10.2.2 Cancer, anyone?

Like everyone else, I am anxious to avoid contracting one of


the major killer diseases. But cancer seems to me to strike
randomly, for the most part, and I don’t personally believe
there is any diet which can guarantee to keep you cancer-
free.
Michael Pollan points out, however, that there is evidence
that in countries where people eat a pound or more of fruits
and vegetables a day, the rate of cancer is half what it is in
the USA.

10.2.3 How dicky is the ticker?

My father died of heart disease when he was a little older


than I am now, and my maternal grandfather died from ‘a
63

weak heart’ when he was 54. This background may affect me,
as it seems that there is some genetic component in most
forms of heart disease; but obviously I can do nothing about
that.
Neither can I rewind history and eat a different diet for
the past few decades. So, if there is any genetic or dietary
damage to my heart, that damage is already done; all I can do
to protect my heart now is try to stay fit and healthy in
general terms.

10.2.4 Sugar unblues

On the diabetes front, however, there is a great deal I can do


in whatever years are left to me. In particular, I can avoid
over-stressing my insulin-producing mechanism.
The human body has an intricate system (still imperfectly
understood) by which the hormone insulin regulates the
metabolism of carbohydrates and fats in the body. Carbs,
whether they come from sugar, bread, pasta, muffins,
doughnuts, rice, et cetera, all convert quite quickly to glucose
in the blood stream. Too much glucose is bad for you, so your
pancreas produces insulin to deal with it. Insulin first
converts glucose into glycogen and stores it, and then, when
the glycogen stores are full, the glucose is turned into body
fat. This is how people gain weight. Unfortunately, the
pancreas goes on producing insulin after the blood-sugar
level is back to normal, so we then feel hungry; we grab
something convenient to eat, which is usually a carb-based
sugary bun or some such, and the vicious cycle continues.
If you abuse your body by dumping huge loads of refined
carbs into it, you will certainly survive in the short term. But,
after a few decades of flogging itself to death, the insulin
system rebels and stops working. Then you become diabetic,
with potential consequences which include blindness and
amputations.
64

According to Pollan (US figures), the incidence of type 2


diabetes has risen 5 per cent annually since 1990, going from
4 per cent to 7.7 per cent of the population (which is more
than 20 million Americans). Two thirds of adult Americans
are overweight or obese, and 55 million are prediabetic. So
this isn’t something that just happens to other people who
live a long way off. We all know people who are diabetic.
And by the way, if diabetes really is caused by a virus, as
has been suggested, it seems to be a lot more successful a
virus than the one which causes AIDS. It is estimated that
more than one million people are living with HIV in the USA,
and that more than half a million have died after developing
AIDS. But these are low figures when compared with
diabetes.
All in all, therefore, maintaining a stable blood-sugar level
seems to me to be an objective worth working for.

10.2.5 How’s it to be done?

You don’t need to be an expert in biochemistry to be able to


keep your blood-sugar level within sensible bounds.
I have no idea what the ‘best’ blood-sugar level is, in terms
of milligrams per litre, or whatever; but I do know that both
Adelle Davis and Barry Groves maintain that, in order to
achieve the desired level, you need to start the day with a
good breakfast. It need not be a big meal, but you should take
in at least 20 to 25 grams of protein.
It is interesting that, in coming to this conclusion, both
Davis and Groves refer to the same piece of research which
was carried out at Harvard and the results of which were
published in 1943. So this is scarcely some new revelation, is
it?
After getting a decent breakfast inside you, regular intakes
of food of the right kind during the rest of the day will avoid
the undesirable highs and lows of both energy and mood.
65

Protein (in meat, fish, eggs, and cheese et cetera) reduces


glucose, but also increases insulin. Groves argues that it is
therefore smart to take in fats to replace the carbs which you
have abandoned or reduced. Fat not only prevents violent
fluctuations in blood-sugar but also takes a long time to
digest and prevents you feeling hungry. In addition, fat acts
as a stimulus to the gastrocolic reflex if constipation is a
problem.
That, at least, is my understanding of the facts.
Consequently, the ‘specific intentions’ listed below are all
intended to cater to both the short-term and long-term
management of my blood-sugar level.

10.3 I hereby resolve and declare…

10.3.1 Don’t mention the gym

Since there is clearly (in my mind) an interaction between


exercise and health, I shall continue to follow the Body by
Science exercise routine. I began this six months ago and I
believe it is doing me good.
Apart from the obvious improvement in strength which it
brings, Dr McGuff states that high-intensity exercise also
produces adrenalin, which facilitates fat loss and restores
insulin sensitivity – a sensitivity which in many cases has
been damaged by excess glucose, mainly from carbs.
Those who don’t like exercise, particularly the high-
intensity kind, can take comfort from the fact that Barry
Groves doesn’t think it’s necessary, and McGuff and Little
believe that you can harm your body by too much exercise or
overuse.

10.3.2 Water, water, everywhere…

I shall continue to drink about four (UK) pints of tap water


every day, something I have been doing for a good many
66

years now. (For details of why this is a good thing, see Your
Body’s Many Cries for Water by F. Batmanghelidj.)

10.3.3 If we don’t have a plan we won’t have anything to


change later on

Ever since reading Adelle Davis and books about the Hay diet
I have tried to follow a number of basic rules as regards food,
most of which are endorsed by Michael Pollan. These
include:

• Eat real foods, as opposed to processed. The key


point here is the degree to which the food has been
processed. Most things (milk, for instance) have
been buggered about with to some extent. But is the
tinkering minor, or major?
• Avoid: soft drinks; white rice; packaged cereals (the
package is often more nutritious than the contents);
refined oils and fats; commercial desserts; and
virtually anything which comes from the
supermarket in a shiny packet.
• Prefer: fresh to frozen or canned; unrefined to
refined; anything with dirt on it to the nice and inky-
pinky.

I shall continue to observe these basic principles. It does,


however, require constant vigilance; it is easy to slip into
careless ways.
Shall I occasionally have a piece of chocolate cake or an ice
cream? Certainly. It’s just not a good idea to make them
staple parts of one’s diet.

10.3.4 It all comes back to breakfast

Without being obsessive (on this or any other point), I shall


make sure that I bear in mind the time-honoured advice:
67

breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dine like a


pauper.
To repeat: this does not mean that breakfast need be a
large or elaborate meal. It just has to include the right
amount of protein.
Of course, you can make breakfast a major meal if you
wish. Adelle Davis tells us that, if fatigue is a problem, your
solution is to eat four ounces of liver, with some vegetables,
before you leave the house. Plus, of course, a glass of her Pep-
up. I don’t think I’m going to eat liver for breakfast very
often. But I might make some Pep-up. And certainly it is true
that common-or-garden brewers’ yeast, mixed with milk, is
an excellent source of B vitamins.

10.3.5 Not sugar again, surely

I shall continue to eliminate from my diet as much sugar as


possible, in all its various forms. Of course, it is not possible
to eliminate sugar entirely, and you will go mad if you try.
But just avoiding the more obvious forms of sugar-laden
supermarket junk will go a long way towards improving your
health.

10.3.6 High Hay principles

Where practical, I shall continue to observe the Hay


principles of food combining. This is not because I believe
they have any scientific validity (they don’t), but because this
practice seems to suit my digestion. It also, incidentally, has
the effect of reducing carb intake, which I am sure Barry
Groves would approve of.
The other part of the Hay recommendations – to avoid
anything refined and to concentrate on real foods – has
already been mentioned.
68

10.3.7 Fat and loathing

I shall abandon my fear of fat. Not that I ever was ‘afraid’ of


it, but the Party Line for several decades has been to cut
down on fat, for the benefit of one’s heart, and it has become
almost an instinctive move when shopping.
However, as Michael Pollan has shown us, the low-fat diet
recommendation was a major error in public health; and Dr
McGuff states that coronary heart disease is a downstream
effect not of fat consumption but of loss of insulin sensitivity.
And of course Barry Groves has put forward a case for adding
fat when carbs are reduced. Fat, he argues, gives the best
control over blood glucose and insulin levels.
So, I look forward to having a bit more cheese and cream.
If it turns out that I am accumulating unwanted body fat
around the middle, I shall think again.
There are, of course, fats and fats. You would do well to
avoid trans fats if you possibly can; but if you ever eat in a
restaurant I suspect that may be difficult. As for fast food
outlets… well, you need treatment for suicidal tendencies.
Trans fats are not banned in the UK, though they are in
Austria and Denmark, and they are believed to cause 7,000
premature deaths a year.
There is nothing new in thinking that fat, as a food, is a
good thing. You may remember hearing something about the
fatted calf being slaughtered for a celebration. I don’t actually
know how to fatten a calf, but I do know how to fatten a pig,
courtesy of Fred Hahn: you feed it lots of corn and skimmed
milk. Which is, of course, precisely what a lot of people have
for breakfast, together with large amount of sugar,
thoughtfully added by that kind Mr Kellogg.

10.3.8 Milky ways

Ever since getting rid of 30 lbs of fat, a few years ago, I seem
to have got out of the habit of drinking milk. And Groves’s
69

description of the modern ways of processing the stuff


doesn’t do much to encourage consumption. However, St
Adelle, of blessed memory, took the view that if you weren’t
drinking a (US) quart of milk a day, you probably weren’t
getting enough protein. Slightly over the top, perhaps, but
worth thinking about.

10.3.9 Vegetable soup

There is a large body of opinion that vegetables should form


a substantial part of a healthy diet, though I have never been
tempted to go the whole hog here. I know two people, one
male, one female, who suffer from serious hair loss (as
opposed to ordinary baldness), and they’re both vegetarians.
Well, fair enough. I have no problem with vegetables. The
leafy ones are better than the solid hard ones, apparently. As
usual, however, you find that modern vegetables are less
good than old ones, and there’s less variety. Half the broccoli
grown commercially in America is of the Marathon variety,
the reason being (of course) that it provides a high yield. God
forbid that we should ever grow anything for quality.

10.3.10 Fruit pastilles

Fruit needs some consideration and care.


The paleo guys are much concerned about fructose, which
is the sugar found in fruit. And modern fruit is selectively
‘bred’ to make it as sweet as possible; you don’t have to be
told that, because you can taste it.
Dried fruit in particular seems to have a high glycaemic
index; and, given the desirability of avoiding spikes in the
blood-sugar level, dried dates and apricots (for example) are,
I think, best taken in small quantities.
Fruit juice is disapproved of by some of the paleo guys
(should you care), and small amounts are preferable to large.
70

Just to illustrate, yet again, the constant difficulty of the


‘on the one hand this, and on the other hand that’ dilemma,
Groves says that fructose is transported to the liver and does
not stimulate insulin secretion. On the face of things,
therefore, it’s healthier than, say, pasta. But life ain’t that
simple: fructose, he says, may increase the risk of heart
disease, it may damage the immune system, and so on….
Take your pick. Me, I’m going to eat fruit. The best fruit
and veg are reportedly those with the brightest colours.

10.3.11 The dreaded carbs

Ah yes, the dreaded carbs. What should one do about all the
various carbs, so feared and despised by the paleo guys?
Well, after taking into account all kinds of warnings and
theories, I’m going to carry on as I have for a good many
years now. I shall avoid refined flour and white rice, eat
minimal quantities of pasta and brown rice (which I don’t
much like anyway), and stick to wholemeal bread. Porridge I
can cope with, especially of a winter morning.
If you need any convincing of the connection between
high carb consumption and diabetes, read any account of Sir
Steven Redgrave’s diet as an Olympic athlete, for example
this one.
McGuff and Little believe that a high-intensity training
programme, as outlined in their book, provides the body with
a bit more latitude in coping with carbs; in fact, overall, such
training creates a metabolic environment which favours lean
tissue over body fat. All of which is another good reason for
following such a programme.
McGuff and Little also point out that if we consume
natural foodstuffs (real food, and not edible food-like
substances), then the body can cope with a wide variant of
mixes. They recommend avoiding grain-based carbs, but
with that proviso the carb intake can vary between 0 per cent
and 60 per cent of calorie intake without ill consequences.
71

10.3.12 The meat of the matter

It’s easy to forget, as the years pass, Adelle Davis’s advice to


eat liver and kidney at least once a week in order to maintain
good health. But I shall try to do that in future.
As for other meats, the paleo guys are very keen on
ensuring that their meat comes from animals which have
been grass-fed, rather than factory-farmed and pumped full
of chemical- and antibiotic-laden corn. All of which is
sensible, though one has to ask, as usual, which grass? And
grown where?
Since I live in a small town with a farmers’ market and at
least two old-fashioned butchers, I have at least been able to
find a butcher who sells bacon which has no additives. And
obtaining good quality meat should not be as difficult in my
home town as it is in some places.
Although, come to think of it, I wouldn’t bet on that.
Why? Well, according to Groves, UK law actually forbids
pig farmers, even organic ones, from feeding their pigs with
anything other than denatured pellets made from low-grade
grains and soy. (Got to help the Americans get rid of their 72
million acres of soy somehow, haven’t we?) So the food used
to breed your meat has to be included among the long list of
known unknowns. God only knows what the soy is doing to
the pigs or us.
Although the meat that I buy sometimes comes with the
farmer’s name on it, it would be impossible to trace it back
and identify every chemical that might have entered the
animal’s body at some stage. So you have two choices. Don’t
eat meat or take the risk. I choose the latter.
Should you care about minor differences between the
various advocates of the paleo diet, Arthur de Vany
recommends that you cut the fat off meat.
The average American, by the way, consumes an average
of 200 lbs of meat a year (and industrial meat at that), which
is over half a pound a day. This, says Michael Pollan, is
72

probably not a good idea, especially when you take into


account the strange things that cattle are fed on these days.
But I’ve never been anywhere near that big a meat eater;
haven’t got the teeth for it, for one thing.
Fish isn’t meat, exactly, and most people won’t need any
prompting to eat some; I certainly don’t. But if you buy and
eat any farmed fish, be aware that it’s probably been fed on
grain. And you are – or become – not only what you eat but
also what you eat has eaten.

10.3.13 Oily issues

I shall try not to use the standard supermarket cooking oils


and instead use the cold-pressed variety. Groves says that the
last thing to do with cooking oils is cook with them; and sixty
years ago Adelle Davis was very unkeen on the hydrogenated
versions.
Ideally, cold-pressed oils should be refrigerated.

10.3.14 For those who really need to go

The reduction of trace elements in our diet, which has


resulted from the continual emphasis on quantity rather than
quality, has some minor but troubling side-effects. It turns
out that a shortage of magnesium can play a part in bladder
weakness.
Some gentlemen of a certain age have prostate problems
which require surgery, and this in turn may lead to
difficulties with bladder control. I fall into that group. Some
elderly ladies (and even younger ones, judging by the
television adverts), have similar problems (despite having no
prostate).
In her chapter on magnesium, Adelle Davis points out that
this nutrient can assist with bladder problems, so I googled
to find out the current view. It turns out that magnesium is a
recognised treatment in this department, usually 300
73

milligrams a day, which you can buy in pill form. Adelle


recommended 200 to 500 milligrams, which she said was a
quarter or half teaspoon of Epsom salts. I’ve been trying this
myself, and it is not a miracle cure, but preliminary results
are encouraging.

10.3.15 Don’t worry

Groves makes a good point: relax while eating. Adelle Davis


(inevitably, since she knew everything) says so too. And
Michael Pollan emphasises the pleasures of real food eaten at
actual meals. As opposed, of course, to a ready-made meal
slammed in the microwave and then eaten in front of the
telly.
Says Adelle: ‘…If fatigue is too great, if unpleasantness
occurs during the meal, if worries are carried to the table…
the flow of digestive juices is decreased or inhibited….
Relaxation and graciousness should reach their height before
any meal.’

10.3.16 A motto to live by

For my money, Adelle Davis is the great heroine of the food


business. You may have gathered that by now. The more I
read her, the more brilliant she seems. And I think it is
always worth remembering what she said to an interviewer
from an English newspaper.
When he arrived at her home, the reporter was seated in a
comfortable chair in Adelle’s living room, and she brought in
two cups and a large jug of coffee.
Not unkindly, the reporter challenged her on this. He
reminded her that she said, in her books, that coffee should
be avoided, because it causes the loss of B vitamins through
the urine.
74

‘Well, yes,’ said Adelle with a smile. ‘That’s true. But I like
coffee. And besides, everyone is free to go to hell in their own
sweet way.’

10.3.17 Vale

Good luck, everyone! A long life to you all.


75

11
Spread the word
11.1 Tell your friends

Whenever I write something I hope to find readers... So, if


you find this document useful, please remember that you are
free to send it to a friend, print it out, use it as a teaching aid,
re-publish it in an online magazine – do more or less
whatever you like with it, – provided, please, that you
attribute the work to Michael Allen.
Please be aware that if, for any reason, you want to have a
copy of this essay in booklet form, you can get one by using
Scribd’s high-class printing facility.
If in doubt about what you can and cannot do with this
document, please bear in mind that it is posted on Scribd
under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution licence
3.0. Please click on this licence link for more details.

11.2 If all else fails

For any other information, please contact me, Michael Allen,


via mikel01@globalnet.co.uk.

11.3 About the author

Michael Allen’s principal career was in education, first as a


teacher and then as a university administrator; he has a PhD
in education. Michael is the author of some twenty books,
mostly novels (under his own and several pen-names). His
best known non-fiction works are The Goals of Universities,
The Truth about Writing, and On the Survival of Rats in the
Slush Pile. The latter two works are listed by Nassim
Nicholas Taleb in the bibliography of The Black Swan.