Eat to live

Lubna Abdel-Aziz
Tuesday 20 Jun 2023


At the dawn of humanity man discovered that in order to survive, he needed food.

From trees and bushes, plants, animals, he soon learned to pick what is palatable and tasty, what causes sickness or death. Through trial and error he discovered how to prepare food and how to store it. Storage methods were necessary to preserve nutrients and avoid oxidation or decay.

Kudos to man’s ingenuity and inventiveness. His species survived for centuries without modern science, physicians, dieticians, or medications.

Food and nutrients have been studied for centuries. The Father of Food, Nutrition, and Chemistry, as he is called, is Antoine Lauren de Lavoisier, who discovered the concept of metabololism in 1770; that is the transfer of heat and water in the body.

However, it was not until the 1950s that the science of nutrition was instigated by professor John Ludkin of the University of London, who established a Bachelor and Master in Nutrition Sciencw. This is when the trouble started.

Confusion set in regarding what to eat and what not to eat to live a healthy life.

A flood of studies, research, papers, experiments, articles, books, and theories about food descended upon us and are endless as well as contradictory.

Under the umbrella of nutrition science, we have consumed and avoided the same foods, according to the dictates of science.

Admittedly, nutrition science is a young science and not an easy one. Although its knowledge has the same basic classics as other sciences, physics, bio-chemistry and the like, it is elusive and unreliable. It depends mostly on human memory, re-actions, habits, credibility, and behaviour which are unreliable and interchangeable.

How can you rely on what is neither evidence nor fact, as is required in science?

Should we then drop it? It would be at our own peril. Physicians cannot help their patients efficiently without understanding and dealing with their nutritional habits. How can they initiate the appropriate assessments and intervention?

Vitamins were first discovered in 1911 by Casimir Funk who isolated a concentrate that cured polyneuritis in pigeons and called it vitamine, because it probably was an amine and vita is life. Other substances were discovered later and the name stuck, without the “e”.

How would a physician know if the patient has a B12 deficiency? Why B12? Such a deficiency would accelerate the cognitive decline of the elderly patient in the early stages before Alzheimer’s and its companions set in.

Many more complex items can be determined by nutrition science. How can we afford to eliminate it?

Dealing with a dietary regimen can be most useful in dealing with disease, prevention and cure. Even the general public knows that. The potential for better health through nutrition and lifestyle has never been greater.

“Nonsense”, declares Dr Edward Archer of the Mayo Clinic and his co-authors in the research published in the Frontiers of Nutrition. He goes so far as to call nutrition science “mostly junk” even “scientific fraud” based on “implausible data, that creates fear and uncertainty”.

Food for thought: We must remember that many of the researches are funded by food companies, hoping that results will lean their way.

One day, coffee causes cancer, the next day, eight cups are recommended. Which is it?

In fact, most or many of the foods we consume are a yes, no, or maybe.

It has been a tortuous battle for the lowly egg. Not too long ago, it was a no-no, causing the clogging of heart arteries. It has gone from good for so many centuries to bad for so many decades. Now cheer up egg-lovers, it’s thumbs up for eggs nowadays. Enjoy your healthy breakfast.

Nuts received a somewhat similar fate until a long study proved that people who ate nuts lived longer and were not fatter than those who did not. Go nuts, if you so please.

How is it that science can edit human DNA but cannot determine for certain whether basic foods are good or bad for you?

Many other foods whose value is still being considered are grains and legumes. Nutrition advice is so confusing — it is mind-boggling.

Now, sugar is under the microscope and the verdict is a triple no. The sugar industry is at its wit’s end; that is the scientific conflict of nutrition science.

Food is “Big Business”. Its fingerprints are on almost every research. Money precedes health. Have you followed the social network lately? There are a zillion commentaries by physicians on what to eat or avoid to live longer, to have beautiful skin, to improve eyesight, and on and on.

Trouble signs for the pop-soda industry had them reeling.

A Stanford study by Kimber Stanhope claims that even half a soda’s worth of high fructose corn syrup with each meal was enough to substantially increase cardiovascular risk factor in young adults. Drop that can immediately.

Nutrition science appears to be at a crisis because of the sources and resources, yet it cannot be abolished. Give it time. It will mature into a full-fledged science, and must we be reminded that other full-fledged sciences are victims to the same temptations?

There is always olive oil to rely on. The ancient Greeks called it “the elixir of youth and health”.

Dribble olive oil wherever and whenever you can. Eat lightly. Eat well.

By all means avoid sugar, for now.


“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

* A version of this article appears in print in the 22 June, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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