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The Health Delusion

Glen Matten and Aidan Goggins

In the 21st century we're faced with a baffling paradox: the more we advance as a society, the unhealthier we become. Despite advances in modern medicine, and the constant exposure to 'healthy living' tips, chronic illness thrives. But what if the conventional advice we accept as truth, instead of promoting our health only detracts from it? Our new book, The Health Delusion, exposes how the food, diet, supplement and pharmaceutical industries, along with passive health authorities, ensure that the public are kept in the dark about the information they need for good health. Here are ten health facts that will transform advice as you know it.

1. Eating less is causing the population to gain weight

The Problem The golden arches of McDonald's and the cursive script of Coca-Cola are emblematic of an obese nation. But what if you had renounced these long ago, instead embracing low-calorie foods and en-vogue diets, yet remained overweight? Despite the claims, the testimonies and even the initial period of success, the weight just does not shift. You are not alone: of the quarter of a billion Europeans who will diet this year, 1 per cent will achieve permanent weight loss.

The Answer Hard evidence shows that dieting (regardless of the type) is fundamentally flawed. After six to 12 months there is a re-emergence of weight gain. To compound the misery, weight gain is faster than ever, with studies showing that dieting lowers metabolism. The only way to overcome this is to keep your metabolism up, and burn more calories by being active. The difference between activity levels 50 years ago and today is the equivalent of running a marathon a week. With that comes an incredible amount of calories we are no longer burning.

2. Overweight people can be healthier than thin people

The Problem You've lived by the two keystones of health: good diet and staying active. But the merciless bathroom scales still proclaim you as 'overweight', placing your health in jeopardy. But is overweight really synonymous with ill health?

The Answer We've confused the 'ideal body weight' with the 'ideal body'. Rather than the amount of fat we carry, it is where we store it that dictates the true risk to our health. It's the fat packed around our organs (visceral fat) that predisposes us to obesity-related diseases. Unseen to the naked eye, a visibly 'thin' person can have higher levels of visceral fat than an “overweight” person. To take an extreme example: sumo wrestlers can be metabolically healthier than models.

3. Antioxidant supplements don't reduce disease, if anything they increase it

The Problem Heralded as the 20th-century apex of good health, we are urged to take antioxidant vitamins to stave off diseases such as cancer, heart disease and the ageing process itself. But rather than get them from fruits and vegetables, we are sold the idea of high-dose supplements. However, recent studies are unequivocal: not only is no benefit conferred, they could actually increase disease risk.

The Answer Antioxidant supplements are a sorry ersatz for fruits and vegetables which contain a synergy of hundreds of nutrients working in harmony to protect our health. Worse still, high-dose supplements disrupt the body's nutritional balance, rendering them counterproductive to health. We need the bounty of phytonutrients found in plant-based foods. Black to green tea, milk to dark chocolate, and white to red wine are simple changes that all add to our phytonutrient intake.

4. Saturated fat doesn't cause heart disease, but what we've replaced it with does

The Problem The cliched 'If you care about your heart health, cut down on the saturated fat', is regarded as a truism, such is the conviction with which it is decreed. What you won't hear the hallowed health advisory bodies reveal is the mounting evidence that debunks this myth.

The Answer Saturated fat has received an unfair rap, and the crusade to make it a dietary scapegoat for our heart disease woes has floundered. Ironically, under the guise of caring for our health, the food industry has replaced saturated fat with more sugars and refined carbohydrates to maintain taste, yet these have been proved to be detrimental to our heart health.

5. Recommendations to avoid the sun have increased our rates of disease

The Problem With skin cancer increasing at an alarming rate, the message to shield ourselves from the sun is hitting home. Alas, in our campaign to block the sun we have lost our number one source of vitamin D, catapulting more than half the UK into a state of deficiency and with it an increasing burden of osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer.

The Answer Safe sun doesn't mean no sun. In the summer it's fine to go out in the sun for a few minutes without sun block, and that is all you need to make appreciable amounts of vitamin D. In the winter, an appropriately dosed vitamin D supplement (1100IU/day) is imperative.

6. Taking a selenium supplement is vital for your health

The Problem Selenium is a trace mineral of extraordinary importance to health, critical for protecting against common thyroid problems, boosting fertility, controlling inflammation, and most impressively, protecting against cancer. It all went wrong 30 years ago when we stopped importing selenium-rich wheat from North America, plunging the UK population into a state of selenium deficiency.

The Answer To reap these benefits, the answer is to take a daily selenium supplement of 50-60mcg for women and 100mcg for men.

7. Shunning fish jeopardises your heart health and mental wellbeing

The Problem Three quarters of the population shun oily fish, resulting in low intakes of two vital omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA, crucial for both our cardiovascular and brain health. And what do we see all around us? More than one in three people have cardiovascular disease, at least 30 million Europeans are affected by depression, and within the next decade, a million Brits will suffer with dementia.

The Answer Two portions of fish per week, with an emphasis on oily fish, will slash the risk of heart disease and diminish the chance of becoming depressed and developing dementia.

8. Red meat causes cancer... unless you know the right ways to cook it

The Problem Worldwide, experts agree that red meat is an undisputed cause of bowel cancer and recommend limiting intake to less than 500g per week. But all that will do is contain the risk, not make it go away.

The Answer With a bit of culinary know-how you can diminish this risk. Compared with frying, grilling or barbecuing, lower temperature cooking (think casseroles) dramatically cuts the cancer-causing chemicals created. The same effect can be achieved by marinating meat, including ingredients such as virgin olive oil, herbs and spices, or even beer. Incorporating calcium-rich products such as milk or yoghurt at the meal, along with flavonoid-rich offerings such as onions, green tea, red wine, or dark chocolate, will further neutralise harmful effects.

9. The lifelong health of your child depends on what you eat in pregnancy

The Problem The time spent in the womb could be the most critical of all in “programming” the future health and disease susceptibility of the next generation. Worryingly, dietary advice for pregnancy is mediocre, usually limited to iron and folic acid. Many pregnant women are left missing out on key nutrients for the development of their offspring. One example is iodine, which is critical for a baby's mental development, yet more than half of all mothers-to-be fall short.

The Answer Women planning pregnancy require more sophisticated nutritional support. Supplements of iodine (150mcg per day), Vitamin D (see point 5), selenium (see point 6), and the omega-3 fat DHA (300mg per day) are all critical pieces of the jigsaw needed for a healthy pregnancy.

10. Our reliance on prescription drugs is creating more disease

The Problem Alzheimer's disease, blood pressure problems, cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, diabetes are rife, and that's just up to the letter D! We turn to medicines, with their litany of side-effects, for the answer. The current goal is to cram as many drugs as possible into a pill, and to con more people into taking them. Yet, all this growing drug dependence does is detract from the real causes of our modern-day health problems.

The Answer When it comes to chronic disease prevention, there is only one 'prescription' needed. It involves obtaining the full spectrum of nutrients through the right diet and supplements in conjunction with suitable physical activity, which will reap benefits from infancy to old age.

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