As a politician with a broadly libertarian outlook, I’m getting increasingly frustrated by the government’s assumption that it’s entitled to tell us what to eat and drink. I think it’s a fundamental right of all grown-ups in their right mind to decide for themselves what they choose to put into their mouths. By all means let the government offer good advice (if it can’t help itself). But it should stop seeking to persecute those who exercise choices other than those approved by the powers-that-be.
We’ve already seen cigarettes demonised, even though a fifth or more of our fellow citizens choose to smoke. We have revolting pictures of diseased organs on cigarette packets. How long will it be before we go on to mandatory illustrations of diseased livers on bottles of Mateus Rosé? The government’s recommended maximum daily alcohol consumption seems designed by kill-joy puritans and abstainers who might be welcome in Saudi Arabia, but less so in Swadlincote. Moreover there seems to be little science behind their recommendations — it’s just finger-in-the-air stuff, applying the precautionary principle to achieve the lowest possible recommendation just in case there might be a problem.
The government’s advice is undermined by the constant changes in what’s supposed to be good for you. One week, red wine (in moderation) is good for the heart. Next week, it’s not. We’re told that Omega 3 fatty acids are good for joints, good for the heart, good for the brain (fish is “brain-food”, as my old Mother used to say). But now, we’re told that new studies suggest otherwise. Statins are good for you, and we should all take them. No we shouldn’t. For many patients the risk of side effects (they now say) exceeds the potential cardiac benefit. Everyone over forty should take a daily 75mg aspirin to reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack. Or should they? They’re now saying that for patients with no cardiac risk indicators, aspirin may create a risk of haemorrhage that exceeds any potential benefit. Come on, guys. Make your minds up. And get your facts right before you get into mass medication.
When I was a lot younger, carbohydrates caused obesity. Cut out the bread, the potatoes, the pasta, we were told. Then the advice changed. It was fat. Cut out the fat, and all will be well. I don’t think they ever got round to pillorying protein, but it so often comes in association with fat (those well-marbled steaks) that it was guilty by association. First it was all fats. Then it was some fats. Then I lost the will to live (though not the will to eat well-marbled steaks).
Refined sugar (“pure, white and deadly”) has been targeted for many years, and certainly the huge amounts of sugar now found in soft drinks and prepared foods are shocking and unhealthy. Tomato ketchup is virtually custard, and some children’s breakfast “cereals” are more like confectionery. Then there’s confectionery.
But at least fruit is OK, isn’t it? We were told to eat five portions a day (or seven) of fruit and veg. For the whole of my lifetime it’s been an undisputed dietary fact that fruit is good for you. Of course that doesn’t mean that fruit juice and smoothies are necessarily good. It might take you a quarter of an hour to eat a pound of apples. Turn it into purée and you can eat it in five (with custard, if you dare). Squeeze it into juice, and you can knock it back in seconds. You get practically all of the sugar, but none of the healthy pith and fibre. Smoothies, of course, may well contain other bad stuff.
But whole apples and oranges and bananas are good, aren’t they? Suddenly this fundamental tenet of nutrition policy is being turned on its head. If you cherished the notion that refined white sugar — sucrose — is bad, but that fruit sugars — fructose — are less bad, they’re now telling us that each is as bad as the other. To address the current diabetes epidemic, we’re told to stop eating fruit (or at least cut down). I’m sorry. I don’t buy it. I can’t change the habits of a lifetime. Fresh, whole fruit is good, and stays good in my book. At least it’s a healthier dessert than sugar-laden sticky toffee pudding, or a Rocky Road.
So what can we eat? Well bread seems to be OK (so long as you’re not gluten-intolerant). But don’t put butter or margarine on it (that’s fat). Or peanut butter. Don’t put Marmite (salt). Don’t use jam or Cooper’s Oxford marmalade (sugar — and fruit). After that, there’s “non-white vegetables”. I guess they mean spinach and carrots.
I’ve had enough of the nonsense. I’ll leave the veggies (and the bunnies) to over-dose on carrots. For myself, I’ll eat the bunnies.