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Showing posts from February, 2012

Sugar ~ Pure, White and Misunderstood

Few of the nutrients in food attract a more negative agenda than sugar. I recall early in my career a famous or, in hindsight, an infamous book entitled “Pure, White and Deadly” written by John Yudkin, then Professor of Human Nutrition at the University of London. Not a year has gone by since then, that sugar and its attendant industry, has not been strapped to the whipping post for a thorough reminder of its evil properties. One of the most recent was a ‘Comment’ in Nature which equated sugar with alcohol as a substance of abuse and addiction meriting the guiding hand of Miss Nanny State to help us free ourselves of its dangers, through tax and other regulatory measures. In relating sugar to alcohol, the first parallel is that there is now unfettered access to a high sugar diet, which according to the authors, is a new phenomenon. They write thus: “First, consider unavoidability. Evolution­arily, sugar was available to our ancestors as fruit for only a few months a year (at har­vest …

Female fat and fertility

Female fat and fertility[1]
For most females, fat is a nuisance. Like a bad guest, it arrives apparently uninvited, lingers far too long and is hard to get rid of. There is a certain level of body fat that each woman would like and it is that level of fat that makes her feel and look good. Whereas today we view female fat in terms of style and fashion, in times gone by, female fat dominated the subject of fertility. Most of the ancient symbols of fertility, such as the 30,000BC Venus of Willendorf, were of seriously fat women. The conclusion of a successful pregnancy requires about 50,000 calories over and above normal daily living and exclusive breast feeding, the only option in times gone, by requires about 500 to 1000 additional calories every day. Unless women have some fat reserves to take this task on, bearing in mind that food might become in short supply during pregnancy, then it is not wise to travel down this reproductive road. It isn’t as though women have to make a difficul…

Snakes, astronauts and consumer risk perception

In the Holy Trinity of Risk Analysis, that of Risk Communication is the Cinderella of the three while those of Risk Assessment and Risk Management are supreme. The reason why risk communication is so poorly serviced is that scientists and their supporting regulatory structures think that the mere provision of information to the consumer is all that is needed. The consumer is, apparently, worried for the wrong reason because he or she has simply got the facts wrong or confused. All that needs to be done is to educate them. That was how I thought about things until I read the work of Paul Slovik of the University or Oregon. Now, when teaching my students in this area, I tell them the following story. A group of rocket scientists are holding a meeting in a nice convention center. And just as a former astronaut of multiple space trips is about to speak, there is pandemonium as several snakes are discovered in the room, hissing and generally acting in a distinct anti-social manner. The roc…

Your gut is inside out

Recently, I had dinner with my granddaughter Bella (11+) in our favourite restaurant and in the course of the conversation I asked her if she thought her gut was inside her or outside her. She gave me that “Grand Dad, stop being foolish” look. I then challenged with the fact that when we were children, her Uncle Fintan swallowed a threepenny bit (detour to explain) and that when our mother recovered it from his stool, it was in mint condition after a quick wash. “If it was inside him, how come it came out again” I asked only to be given that same look. Out gut is not inside us. It is simply a hollow tube from mouth to anus and in order to get “inside” us you have to cross the gut wall. Grand Dad’s are not always wrong.
Among the organs of the body, the gut is the least loved. It is always associated with the privacy of toilets and from time to time the terrors of food poisoning with trouble at both ends. In fact the gut is not only a very complex organ but it is a very intelligent orga…