Sunday, May 26, 2013

Myths and Legends

"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic." - John F. Kennedy

"The next time a scientist introduces you to his significant other, all it means is that he's 95% sure he's not dating her by accident." - Tom Naughton


If you thought this mythic fiction author was going to write about ancient mythology under the title "Myths and Legends," you're going to be disappointed.  Sorry.  It's a good, fun topic, granted, but I've something a little more recent on my mind, related to the myths and (urban) legends of today.

For example: how many out there know that the reason we eat margarine instead of butter is that the saturated fats in butter are bad for us?

Once upon a time I'd've raised my hand at that one.  We were taught, back when I was growing up, that butter, tasty as it was, was bad for you.  My family dutifully made the transition from butter to margarine, and I'll never forget the first time a young Stevie glopped a pat of margarine into his mouth thinking it would taste the same.  Blech!

Eggs are bad for you, too, right?  Too much cholesterol, tch tch.  But they're tasty, especially when sprinkled with salt, which has its own extreme health risk associated with anything more than the lightest of sprinkles.

And who's heard of the study that tells us that animal proteins can actually cause cancer, but plant proteins do not?  It's called the China Study, and a doctor once told me to go read it and follow its plant-protein-centric (e.g., vegan) diet.  This came the day after my own doctor told me to quit eating carbs and instead to eat--what?  C'mon, guess.  Yes, if you said that it was that nasty cancer-causing lean animal protein that my doctor told me to eat, you were absolutely correct-o! 

So which is truth?  What do I eat?

And now--you know that, the hot dog being one of my all-time favorite foods, I've gotta bring this example to the table--I'm hearing that hot dogs cause "butt cancer."  Hey, if you're on an anti-hot-dog campaign and you need something snappy as a punchline, butt cancer sounds a whole lot worse to contract than colorectal cancer, right?  And who better than the American Cancer Society themselves to back the claim up

At least the relevant page at tells it like it is: "Dozens of studies have looked at the connection between meat in the diet and colon cancer risk.  The picture they paint is somewhat complicated." Complicated, indeed.  For every yes, there seems to be a no.  In fact, apparently a study from Columbia University actually showed that vegetarians were at greater risk of butt cancer than the hot dog shovelers.

So what in the heck should we believe? And--should I eat animal proteins or not?

I checked into the China Study a little bit further.  It turns out that most of their data is based on observations of the Chinese (hey, look, they don't eat much red meat, and they get less cancer, so the lack of red meat in their diet must reduce the rate of cancer!  Can't be anything else like healthier lifestyle) and studies on lab mice in which they fed half of the mice the vegetable proteins the species commonly had in its diet, while the other mice (a creature that is, by nature, vegetarian) were fed a nice healthy red meat diet that would've done a rancher proud.  The mice with the changed diet were generally unhealthier, and they developed cancer at a significantly greater rate.  So therefore, instead of concluding as I would have that "changing a vegetarian into a carnivore is bad for its health," they decided to blame it on red meat.

Poor, maligned red meat.

But back to my previous question--what/who should we believe?

That answer is, unfortunately, too long for this blog.  However, there's a great video posted online of a speech by Tom Naughton, a blogger who delves into the food-related study results which blast into our headlines.  Yes, it's 46 minutes long, but since he's also a stand-up comedian it doesn't feel like it.  It's worth watching, and it'll likely make you doubt everything you thought you knew about food science.

And now, it looks like eggs and butter are back on Stevie's breakfast menu.


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