Because I like the occasional glass of wine, I have found myself railing against the expression 'empty calories'. Alcoholic drinks are empty of nutritional value other than calories. As are cakes, biscuits, sweets, ice cream, soft drinks and, less bothersomely, margarine.
But should a food be judged purely on the nutrients it contains within it? Or alternatively, could we have all of these things and somehow say that they have other value? Or is, genuinely, the only value of these foods that they make us feel a certain way. Which is often a good feeling.
And then we get fat.
Something about the expression 'empty calories' feels really patronising to me. It seems like the kind of thing some skinny health maniac might come up with. And I'm not saying that this is the truth, but the man who coined the phrase 'empty calories' is Dr Michael F. Jacobson (I don't know if he calls himself doctor but he's got a PhD so he's having it)
But if I dig a little deeper, I discover that he already has enemies! The 'Center for Consumer Freedom' awarded him 'Nanny of the Year' (beating out Nanny McPhee and Nana from 101 Dalmatians) in a bit of smug made-up awardness. Obviously from the British perspective they might want to check out their terrible American spelling before they criticise other people. Ron Arnold's Left Tracking Library reckons that Michael and his 'Center for Science in the Public Interest seek 'power over the diet of all Americans through a "fat-tax" on hamburgers, french fries and soft drinks.' Ron thinks there is a vast left wing conspiracy. He's written a book about it. I don't link to nutjobs (except to my own blog posts) so if you are interested I'm sure it won't take you long to find him on Google.
Let's see who else hates Michael Jacobson
Activist Facts (again, I know I normally provide links but if you really want to seek out some loonies then Google them, I'm not in the mood for giving you easy access to them) have a little tirade about Michael. They mention the story, that I've seen repeated elsewhere that Michael F Jacobson once tried to remove the office coffee machine (because he hates coffee, or machines, or something) but that he had to back down when one third of his staffers threatened to quit. Frankly this does not sound like the Mikey Jacobson I have come to hate. If he was half as hardline as I think he is, he would have said, 'F*** you, you twenty of my sixty staffers. Twenty people who don't like coffee could do the job just as well as you eejits!' I don't know where Mike comes from but I like the idea that he may throw the occasional 'eejit' into his tirade just to confuse the CIA who are definitely out to get him.
Activist Facts then go on to point out how stupid Michael is. He is always making mistakes. Examples? Just you wait.
In a radio interview in Canada, Mike claimed that acrylamide in the diet causes tens of thousands of cancer deaths. What an idiot! Being worried about the potential that a chemical may cause cancer! I can't find a link to the interview so, for now, I will trust the truth of what Activist Facts say. I am very trusting, to the point of foolish gullibility sometimes. A study in the British Journal of Cancer from 2003 is cited by AF as showing absolutely no link between acrylamide and human cancers. Dammit, I can't find the original journal article on line, but I did find a press release which as we know is always as good a source of information.
In the press release, there is this passage (I am so sorry for going overboard on quoting stuff and the bolded, italicised bits are down to me)
Lead researcher Dr Lorelei Mucci, of the Harvard School of Public Health, says: "The discovery last year that many types of food contained high levels of acrylamide was disturbing, since acrylamide is classified as a probable carcinogen. It's therefore reassuring that the levels of acrylamide that individuals are generally exposed to through food do not appear to increase the risk of these cancers.
"There remain several food items whose acrylamide levels are not known, so there's still a chance that extremely high levels of the chemical could contribute to cancer risk. Plus acrylamide increases the risk of certain neurological conditions and there are currently no data looking at the intake of acrylamide-rich foods and these diseases. Overall, though, this study provides preliminary evidence that there's less to worry about than was thought."
My other example from AF is this. I'm going to quote it because I can't be arsed to paraphrase any more and there's something good about bees on the telly in 6 minutes so I'd better get a shift on.
It’s a similar story for Jacobson’s longstanding war on salt. In a 2005 press release, he claimed that “excess sodium” levels in food have been “good for funeral directors and coffin makers, but it is a disaster for shoppers and restaurant patrons.” And in a March 2007 release announcing a reconstituted CSPI report on Chinese food, he said that “when it comes to sodium, there’s no real safe harbor on the Chinese restaurant menu.”
But many rigorous scientific investigations have found little or no link between salt intake and mortality. One large meta-study published in the prestigious British Medical Journal found: “It is unclear what effects a low sodium diet has on cardiovascular events and mortality.” Another study published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension concluded that “few data link sodium intake to health outcomes, and that which is available is inconsistent.”
High salt intake is associated with significantly increased risk of stroke and total cardiovascular disease.
Oh, hang on, I'm hearing something from the voices in my head. Actually Activist Facts were wrong. Eejits!
And so I end my journey with Mike 'Empty Calories is an idiotic expression created by someone who doesn't like wine, cakes, or eating meat' Jacobson. I used to hate him (about half an hour ago), but now, because all of his enemies are clearly right wing nutjobs in the pay of Siberian Salt Miners and French Fries Makers, I think he's a bloody hero.
Who I wouldn't have round for dinner. There's such a thing as a one-topic conversationalist. And he is bloody it.