— William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra (1606)
My good friend Dave (“The Cock”) Cochrane, from across the pond, was kind enough to send me this article, which recently appeared in the Daily Mail Online:
With great fanfare, it was reported last week that the current health advice about eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day is outdated, and that scientists now believe that eight portions is more beneficial.
While many people grumbled about how on earth they would manage those extra portions, I allowed myself a wry smile.
For more than two years I’ve known that the ‘five-a-day’ mantra we’re all so familiar with is nothing but a fairytale.
Of course, they are tasty, colourful additions to any meal. But in terms of health and nutrition, fruit and veg have little to offer, and telling us to eat eight portions a day is compounding one of the worst health fallacies in recent history.
Surprised? Many people will be, and no doubt some dieticians and nutritionists will reject my arguments. But science backs me up.
The latest findings come from a European study into diet and health looking at 300,000 people in eight countries.
It found that people who ate eight or more portions of fresh food a day had a 22 per cent lower chance of dying from heart disease. Yet just 1,636 participants died during the study from heart disease, which is about half of one per cent.
Out of that very small proportion, fewer people died from the group that ate more fruit and veg.
However, the researchers cautioned that these people may have healthier lifestyles generally. They may be less likely to smoke; they may eat less processed food; they may be more active.
What we should not do is to make the usual bad science leap from association to causation and say ‘eating more fruit and veg lowers the risk of dying from heart disease’.
This survey comes not long after another large study, which examined half a million people over eight years, reported that fruit and veg offer no protection against breast, prostate, bowel, lung or any other kind of tumour. Those eating the most fruit and veg showed no difference in cancer risk compared with those eating the least.
So how have we been duped for so long?
You might assume our five-a-day fixation is based on firm evidence. But you’d be wrong.
It started as a marketing campaign dreamt up by around 20 fruit and veg companies and the U.S. National Cancer Institute at a meeting in California in 1991. And it’s been remarkably successful.
People in 25 countries, across three continents, have been urged to eat more greens, and have done so in their millions, believing it was good for them.
No doubt it was set up with the best intentions — to improve the health of the nation and reduce the incidence of cancer. But there was no evidence that it was doing us any good at all.
And remember: It’s an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers.