It is with great regret and deep sorrow that I have to report the demise of my close friend and health addict, Arthur Higginbottom. Arthur was a young man, well, younger than me, and he took great care of the well-being of his body. He undertook long walks in the countryside, regularly swam in the local swimming pool, never went out with strange women and was always tucked up in bed by 10 p.m. having watched the national news while completing The Times crossword in less than ten minutes.
He also paid close attention to the food he consumed. Being a creature of habit, he ate and drank the same foods every day, foods he had researched for their beneficial qualities. His daily intake consisted of the following menu.
Two months ago, Arthur took a day off work to research the potential health risks of his daily solid and liquid intake. Here is what he found.
Arthur discovered that the coffee he drank on wake up incurred a risk of osteoporosis and high cholesterol leading to heart disease [1, 2]. He stopped drinking coffee.
When it came to his breakfast items, he learnt that the high fructose levels in orange juice could cause alterations to his body’s fat levels. It could also cause weight gain, metabolic disorder, and cardiovascular issues [3, 4]. He stopped drinking orange juice.
Soft-boiled eggs contain salmonella. He was not sure if he was susceptible to the salmonella bacterium but he knew it could cause food poisoning , so he stopped eating soft-boiled eggs just in case. He had already given up on breakfast cereals because of the high sugar and salt content which could cause heart problems, and on bacon sandwiches, fully loaded with harmful fats . When he investigated the health risks of wholemeal bread, used as soldiers for the eggs (a throwback to his happy bucolic childhood), he discovered a raft of potential problems. The gluten content could cause digestion problems such as stomach pain, anaemia, bloating, stool inconsistency, and tiredness and possibly develop into coeliac disease (a digestive unpleasantness caused by an adverse reaction to gluten). The glucose content in the bread could cause spikes in blood sugar, what’s sometimes called a blood sugar roller coaster, leading to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, glycation (look it up; it’s not good) and even cancer. Phytic acid in the wheat could react with the body’s natural minerals such as calcium, zinc, iron and magnesium preventing the minerals from being absorbed and resulting in mineral-deficiency issues. And it had been claimed that wheat consumption had caused schizophrenia, autism, cerebellar ataxia (inflammation of the part of the brain that controls walking gait and muscle coordination) and epilepsy brought on by a combination of coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity . Nasty stuff!
Arthur stopped eating wholemeal bread in soldier format or otherwise.
When Arthur investigated his lunch ingredients, he was horrified to discover that cottage cheese, long touted as a healthy alternative to the more tasty fat-laden cheddar he loved, could contribute to kidney problems because of an overload of protein; could trigger allergic reactions such as hives and itching, facial swelling, breathing trouble and anaphylaxis (an extreme reaction to an antigen); could cause gastrointestinal distress if he was lactose intolerant (which he was) triggering diarrhoea, bloating, cramps, flatulence and an upset stomach (none of which should ever occur while at the local swimming pool); or could elevate his blood pressure with the associated risk of a heart attack [8, 9].
He further discovered that rye-based crispbread contained a toxic substance called acrylamide which was known to cause cancer in rodents .
“Oh rats,” he thought. “I’d better stop eating cottage cheese on rye-based crispbreads.”
Turning to cucumbers, he discovered they contained a compound called cucurbitacin which provoked indigestion in some people—gassiness causing excess burping, a highly undesirable form of behaviour in certain social environments. He read that people who were allergic to ragweed pollen may also be allergic to cucumber and suffer swelling or hives around the mouth, throat and tongue, and an itchy skin . He had a confirmed allergy to ragweed and had expunged all ragweed plants from his garden by introducing the controversial leaf-eating beetle Ophraella communa.
Cherry tomatoes were no better. He found out cherry tomatoes could contain a high level of pesticide residue which, if not removed by vigorous skin scrubbing using a wire brush, could cause a host of health problems in humans including but not limited to memory loss, loss of coordination, reduced speed of response to stimuli, reduced visual ability, altered or uncontrollable mood swings, reduced motor skills, asthma, allergies, and hypersensitivity. Pesticide exposure had also been linked with cancer, hormone disruption, and problems with reproduction and foetal development , although he had no immediate plans to either become pregnant or impregnate someone else.
Tomatoes contained potassium, he discovered, which could cause kidney problems as well as heartburn and regurgitation. And that’s not all. Tomatoes also contained alkaloids (also found in cocaine, caffeine, nicotine and codeine, none of which he ingested or injected), which could impact joint, digestive and nerve-muscle functions in hypersensitive individuals [13, 14].
He stopped eating cucumber and tomatoes. Too much risk.
Arthur did not buy bottled water in plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. He was already aware of the dangers of PET containers: cancer and disruption of the functioning of the body’s endocrine hormone-secretion system. Nor did he buy water in bisphenol-A (BPA) plastic containers, another endocrine disruptor with links to prostate cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, liver disease, brain disorders, obesity, diabetes, and learning problems. Whoa!
Arthur was both wise and cautious. He bought his bottled water in glass containers (always carefully recycled when empty) but a deeper study of the water in the glass bottle revealed that either it was just re-bottled tap water or it contained harmful chemicals such as phthalates, mould, microbes, benzene, trihalomethanes, and even arsenic [15,16].
Consequently, Arthur stopped drinking bottled water. He’d long ago stopped drinking water straight from the tap. He grew thirsty.
Moving on to Arthur’s afternoon tea, his research revealed a woman who’d developed brittle bones and lost all her teeth through drinking tea. That rattled him. The same study also revealed that drinking tea raised the risk of prostate cancer and, if served piping hot, oesophageal cancer . Additionally, the caffeine in tea could lead to anxiety, restlessness, periodic urination and difficulty in sleeping .
He valued his eight hours sleep every night and so stopped drinking tea.
As for the two dunking digestives, they were abandoned when he unearthed the hidden high salt level that could put him at risk of dental cavities, obesity, diabetes and hypertension leading to a heart attack . The delightful delicious dunkers were dismissed.
In desperation, Arthur turned his attention to his evening meal, his dinner. Digging into the perils of chicken, he was alarmed to discover that cholesterol in cooked chicken could induce clogged arteries and heart disease; that 2-Amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo(4,5-b)pyridine, a well-known type of heterocyclic amine, could occur in grilled chicken and had been linked to certain types of cancer; that arsenic in the chicken feed could cause dementia, neurological problems, and other ailments; that high levels of campylobacter, salmonella or E. coli bacterium could cause food poisoning; and that the Avian flu virus could be the start of pneumonia, multiple organ failure and even death . All this from the most popular white meat on the planet!
Fish was no better. Mercury contaminants could damage nerves in adults and disrupt the development of the brain and nervous system in a foetus or young child whereas other contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and highly-toxic dioxins had been linked to subtle changes in the development of the nervous system and identified as a possible cause of cardiovascular disease .
Arthur stopped eating chicken and fish.
As for the small side salad based just on dressing-free romaine lettuce (no cucumber and tomatoes after the lunch exposé), Arthur was shocked to find out that those innocent looking well-washed leaves could still harbour pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella and may have absorbed toxic heavy metals from the soil in which the lettuce was grown [22, 23].
The romaine lettuce side salad was binned.
Turning to the vegetables, Arthur unearthed that the carbohydrates in potatoes could have a high glycaemic load causing surges in blood sugar and insulin thus aggravating diabetes and creating hunger pangs leading to obesity induced by over-eating . Eating cabbage could have negative side effects, such as flatulence (caused by raffinose, an indigestible sugar), diarrhoea (caused by the high fibre content of cabbage), medication interactions (such as vitamin K, a blood-clotting agent, interfering with blood thinning medications) and hypothyroidism (caused by the cabbage’s natural sulphur and nitrogen glucosinolate compounds interfering with the production of the thyroid hormone, as they do) .
Carrots were not so dangerous but he ascertained they contained the beta carotene pigment and could cause yellowing of the skin (carotenemia), an anaemic permatan colouring similar to Tony Blair’s strange post-ministerial skin colouring. The fibre in carrots could also lead to changes in bowel movement such as constipation . Was Tony Blair constipated, he wondered.
Arthur’s research revealed that some people are sensitive to the parsnip plant and suffer hypersensitive reactions such as dermatitis, oral allergy syndrome (an itching or burning sensation in the lips, mouth, and throat, swelling of the lips and tongue), redness in eyes, and breathing difficulties .
Onions could slow blood clotting, might lower blood sugar, and always made Arthur cry .
Brussel sprouts could counteract the effect of prescribed anticoagulants (blood-thinning medicines) .
Armed with all these facts, Arthur gave up on all his favourite vegetables. He didn’t dare look at alternatives such as cauliflower, broccoli, leeks, swede, peas or soya beans. He went veggie-free.
Then came the final straw: wine. It used to be said that drinking a glass of wine a day was okay. This was the official position of the UK government. Now, the new guidelines cautioned against even one glass a day on a regular basis [30, 31] and Arthur’s will to live finally collapsed. He died peacefully yesterday afternoon. He did not die of cancer, food poisoning, diabetes, liver collapse, an asthmatic attack, flatulence, coeliac disease, cerebellar ataxia, epilepsy, anaphylaxis, heart attack… or any of the other fates that awaited him had he continued with his normal diet.
He died of malnutrition.
Footnote. In case you didn’t spot it, this blog is a spoof, a parody, of articles that appear every week purporting to boost or destroy a popular food: a new super food or a new health disaster waiting to happen. The references I quote are real and do contain the claims I’ve made but, in some cases, the health risk only occurs if you eat or drink vast amounts of the food or the risk is statistically very unlikely and, of course, the health benefits usually far outweigh the risks. We do have to eat and drink to survive and the menu I’ve presented is actually quite heathy apart from the digestive biscuits perhaps but who can resist a digestive biscuit, especially if covered with dark chocolate? But, I do get fed up with the constant barrage of conflicting advice from so-called nutrition experts and, as I said at the start, this particular blog was triggered by the new alcohol consumption guidelines . As always, I will ignore these nanny-state guidelines and carry on enjoying the food and drink I usually consume in the quantities that sustain my body and make me happy!