Gnomicon 283

If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.

Gnomicon  283
Saturday 6 April 2013
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We’ve put more effort into helping folks reach old age than into helping them enjoy it.
Frank Howard Clark (1888 – 19 Jan 1962)

When I was in grammar school some years ago I was, as I distinctly recall, taught in one of the interstices of the morning hours all about good nutrition, to wit, that every day should, optimally, begin with a glass of whole milk, orange juice, toast and butter with jam, eggs, and bacon.  Ah, if they had only known!  Today of course most of this food is all but criminalized, much less recommended as a healthful way to a healthy life.

Let’s see: whole milk and butter and bacon – fat and cholesterol; orange juice and jam – sugar; eggs – more cholesterol.  Shame, double shame on those misinformed morons of the forties and fifties!  Then came the whole cigarette things in the mid-sixties, and the nutritional floodgates were flung wide open.  Then it was recantation time on the eggs and all that cholesterol … until recantations of the recantations came into fashion.  For, new “studies” revealed, there was actually something yclept “good cholesterol” that somewhat de-demonized the erstwhile cholesterol-bashing of eggs.

Butter was next.  The devil’s invention itself!  Say no to butter, yes to margarine … until it was demonstrated – again, of course — by new “studies” that margarine was in some ways (“high in trans-fatty acids” – and we all know about those traumatizing ‘trans-fats’:  here is the famous Mayo Clinic take on that one!) actually worse for you than butter, or at least six of one and half a dozen of the other.  Back to butter?  Yeaaa?  Not so fast.  What we really should do is delete both butter and margarine for good heart-health.  Or did I get that right?  Is it a little of one and more of the other or more of one and little of the other or just stop eating either one or use both ‘in moderation’ – whatever that precise advice means.  It’s all so confusing, you see.

But hark!

Now (Wall Street Journal 11 March 2013 p. A6), under a headlining ‘Telltale Finding On Heart Disease’, we read that ancient mummies from “four cultures, spanning 4,000 years” show an alarming incidence of just those factors that lead to cardiac collapse in us moderns: atherosclerosis and calcification of arteries.  Whether of ancient Peruvians or even older Egyptians or others, findings about the unfortunate former inhabitants as it were of the mummies studied suggest that “all levels of society were at risk, regardless of diet.”  While this glum conclusion as well as our own experience with what I think of as a kind of medical terrorism about what’s “good and bad” for you do not, as one researcher said, “challenge the need for a healthy diet”, at the same time, “regardless of diet and culture, we’re all at risk for atherosclerosis.”  OK.

If I may momentarily revert to Platonic dialog mode … “So, tell me, Phaedo, what then is ‘a healthy diet’, and what difference does it make anyway if I follow it since “regardless of diet and culture, we’re all at risk for atherosclerosis”?  And while I’m pseudo-Platonizing, I wish Phaedo could tell me something about that curious medicalization of the vocabulary of ethics: ‘good’ cholesterol (aka HDL) and ‘bad’ cholesterol (aka LDL)?  Is this a putatively subtle way to moralize our dietary choices, make us avoid the bad and pursue – in the Platonic sense — the ‘idea’ of the good?

And – can you top this? – on Saturday 16 March the Wall Street Journal runs a piece called “Let Them Eat” in which, among other shattered shibboleths of the modern foodistas, fat now “can actually be good for you” – apparently supporting the recently debunked anathema that being overweight is probably not all that morally and medically disgusting!

Well, as if all that were not enough, consider the 18 March 2013 edition of The Weekly Standard  and a review (pages 36f.) of the book Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti-Scientific Left by Alex B. Berezov and Hank Campbell.  True, their beef is not with medical research on – but with “unscientific ideology” about (in part) — food and what’s “good and bad” when it comes to certain comestibles – I bring the review up because it offers yet one more source for the vast and unending confusions that exist among the public about “good and bad” food and eating.

I have my own (perhaps perverse) view of why the medical/scientific establishment seems wedded to the model of ‘studies’ and ‘findings’ and then ‘more-research-is-needed’ and ‘new findings reveal’ – a model that seems to allow for the latest new findings to contradict the old findings, and so on.  I am neither scientist nor doctor, but I do know with an unshakable certainty that the human body is a cruel and relentless counter of calories, and acting appropriately on that knowledge will presumably help take you a long way towards longevity … if that is your wish (but do be careful what you wish for!).

Of course, what a bankrupt society with fewer and fewer young people like ours is planning to do with its growing numbers of these long-lived (and perforce increasingly needy) individuals is a question of a very different order.

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One Response to Gnomicon 283

  1. Al Cram says:

    Aha! You have it. There are more minor variables than we can ever get fully sorted and calibrated, but every calorie from whatever source must either be used for activity that day, or it WILL be stored for future needs. The rest is tedious and murky nuance, fodder for research and popular books that always propose a new breakthrough, until the next research team finds a crack in the hypothesis.

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