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 elixirs and special diets from alchemists, apothecaries and hucksters, it seemed 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 evolved, 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 may be the cause of heart disease whereas iron has been used as the cure for blood disorders that lead to heart disease.
Of course more theories appeared and critics published evidence refuting the theory of the Finnish scientists. It is conflicting theories like this that are confusing and disheartening to optimists like me. If a nutrient like iron can be listed as taboo, what shall we say about cholesterol, fat and antioxidants? Will there ever be an indisputable scientific diet or will there always be studies contradicting studies with no final resolution?
Human beings, in general, are nourished by dreams of perfection; we need and want answers to things that we don't understand. The scientists on the other hand are extremely cautious. They don't give any clear-cut answers or guarantees when they publish the results of their findings. They hedge their bets and counsel prudence without offering anything decisive or conclusive. Yet, because we seek answers, not the theories they offer us, we fling open the door to wild exaggerations and media hyperbole and when these are proved wrong, we blame the scientists.
To pay little or no attention to the miraculous studies that have been done during this century could be foolish; yet to believe every word from every expert is equally foolish.
We need to use common sense to adjust our diet and lifestyle to the best- recommendations of the researchers. That is why I eat the food I like when I am hungry and consume a glass of Pepsi to quench my thirst.
Moderation and balance are the best prescriptions for any diet. Or is it that we are blinded by the scientific recommendations we have been following all the time?
Last week, on a flight from Riyadh to Jeddah, I happened to read of the death of Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Madi, the former Amir of Al-Khobar. I felt sad and sorry but also guilty.
Sad and sorry because the country was deprived of such a wonderful character. Guilty because over the past few weeks I had wanted to visit him but, somehow or other, never found the time.
My relationship with Sheikh Abdul Aziz began over 25 years ago when I was standing, perspiring in the sticky Al-Khobar heat and humidity, waiting for a taxi. A gentleman beckoned to me and invited me inside and offered me a bottle of Pepsi. The sun is too hot, he said. (If my memory serves me right there was a Volkswagen showroom in the building.) He introduced himself. At that time I was Manager (Sales) for Saudia in the Western region. We talked a lot about various subjects and I was impressed by his grasp of business, marketing and international affairs.
Quite some time passed and I met him again and we continued our discussions on various topics. I always made it a point to visit him whenever I was in Al-Khobar. To me he was the epitome of humor and respectability.
In 1982, when I became editor-in-chief of this daily I went to him for advice: "Speak the truth" he said, adding that we are all judged by God on how we spend our God-given positions on earth.
During the Gulf crisis, I moved to the Eastern Province and met him more often. He was very concerned at the turn of events and offered his views, many of which conflicted with mine. Still, he was a good listener and he allowed me to talk, a twinkle coming into his eyes at certain of my remarks. On one occasion he came himself to the Meridien Hotel and took me to his house where I was given a sumptuous meal. His concern and compassion for the less fortunate was deeply moving and in the best Islamic tradition.
On another occasion a foreigner came to me with a problem which I, in turn, burdened Sheikh Abdul Aziz with. The next morning he went to the concerned authorities and resolved the case.
At times I detected sadness in his eyes. He would talk about the past, his visions for the future and of our country. I was tempted sometimes to ask him more about himself and his family and his sons of whom he was proud.
Never in all the meetings over the years did he focus on any topic that was not useful. His kindness to me in terms of his words left such a mark that on one occasion in Al-Khobar with my sons I took them to his house to meet him; unfortunately he was not in.
I always believe that in this life we meet two kinds of people - those who, after some time, become a speck in the distance and fade away. And others who leave an imprint in your mind and heart. Sheikh Abdul Aziz belonged to the latter group. I can vouch for this because that chance meeting with him on that hot and humid afternoon in Al-Khobar greatly enriched my life.
Almighty God have mercy on his soul and give all his family and loved ones strength to bear his departure.
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