The British Nutrition Foundation has announced the death of a 26-year-old man who had been drinking half a gallon of full fat milk every day for the last 12 years. Tests revealed the man died of a heart attack when his arteries became clogged from the build-up of fat contained in the milk.
According to the British press, the man's mother said she never imagined that drinking milk could kill her son and that she had encouraged him to drink it, thinking it contained several vitamins. Well, it does but ...
Not long after this century began, there was a period of super optimism about science and diet when the secrets of vitamins and metabolism were unfolding and a clear idea of what a person should consume seemed at hand. After centuries of special diets from alchemists, apothecaries and hucksters, it seemed at last that scientists might give us the answers we were so desperately looking for. And indeed, once the scientists got busy, there was tremendous progress, and there did evolve, by the 1970s, a justification for a low-fat, high fiber, plant-rich diet.
Yet evidence for a scientifically-valid diet has never been quite as clear-cut as we should like. Over the years, the evidence has pointed one way, and then another. Many will remember the front page news in 1992 about a study in Finland that suggested that iron was implicated in the causing of heart disease. Iron! The very cure for tired blood! Of course, more studies came and the critics published evidence refuting the whole theory.
But it is these forks along the path that are disheartening for old-time optimists like me. If a nutrient like iron can find itself in the scientific doghouse, can we believe what we hear about cholesterol, fat and antioxidants? Will there ever be an indisputable scientific diet or will there always be studies contradicting studies, with no resolution?
The human race, in general, is nourished by dreams of perfection; we need and want answers to things that we don't fully understand. Scientists, on the other hand are extremely cautious. They hedge their bets, counsel prudence and guarantee nothing when they offer us their findings. Yet because we seek answers, not the theories they hand us, we fling open the door to wild exaggerations and media hyperbole and when those are proved wrong, we blame the scientists.
To pay little or no attention to the miraculous studies that have been done during our century would be foolish, yet to accept every word from every expert like a brainwashed cult member is equally foolish. We need to use our common sense to adjust our diet and lifestyle to the best-guess recommendations of researchers.
Perhaps the most tragic irony for the poor man who died from drinking too much milk is the fact that his mother was a retired nurse. She, if anyone, should have known the results of his long-term over-consumption of a full fat product. No scientific study has ever disputed the fact that dietary fat is heavily linked to coronary heart disease.
Professor Brian Wharton of the British Nutrition Foundation says "Milk should be part of a good mixed diet but never in this quantity. We think a pint a day is probably a bit too much these days." Moderation is important. Are we so badly informed that he needs to tell us this, or have we simply been blinded by science for too long?
Now, the craze for fast food has reached amazing heights. In the United States, a survey revealed that 68% of all Americans visit fast food restaurants. President Bill Clinton is among them. The craze for hamburgers is on the increase and the survey revealed that 70% of all fast food stops are at hamburger outlets. McDonalds is the leader and I read a sign recently on a McDonalds outlet in a small American town that said that over 99 billion hamburgers had been sold by them.
The American survey said that 53% of all Americans go to fast food joints three to ten times a month and that men prefer hamburgers while women go for Mexican food or chicken. People making the equivalent of SAR.60,000 a year average six visits while those making SAR.250,000 a year average eight. Some trade marks have become generic names like Coke for soft drinks and McDonalds for hamburgers.
However, the fast food industry has been attacked by health enthusiasts who say the greasy food could lead to medical problems. The fast food industry countered by expanding its choices to include low-fat foods. Hence, its latest advertisements focus on a healthy diet.
In the Gulf, fast food joints have sprung up like mushrooms. A changing life style, large numbers of expatriates, teenagers going for a quick meal, etc. have helped make these outlets financially viable. I am personally neither for nor against fast foods. What I would like to see is our young people running and managing them as is being done by young people in America.
This would serve two purposes. It will feed the rising number of hungry consumers and will also help fashion new social attitudes to work.