Being told he isn’t allowed to deprive New Yorkers of their soda might make Mayor Michael Bloomberg cranky, but he might take solace from a CBS Boston report that claims that comfort food makes you angry or violent or something. And scientific evidence, shmevidence: A reporter interviewed a person who swears that cutting carbs made him feel better and thus the case is “closed.” (Sounds like the evidence from last year’s New York Times-driven holy war against milk — if somebody on the internet says it, it must be true.)
And the story’s quoted doctor, one Dave Ramsey, isn’t particularly credible either. Like other pundit-docs who latch onto a dietary hobby-horse, he possesses a palate for pleasurable popular-press publishing profits. Just look at his forthcoming book’s title — it’s Fifty Shades of Kale (seriously). We might argue that a serious researcher wouldn’t cash in by capitalizing on a bestselling erotic novel.
Left behind in all this is something our Senior Research Analyst addressed in a recent NPR appearance. Rather than looking at elements that really can make a person unhealthy — an imbalance of calories consumed and burned for exercise — too many food and health commentators tout the latest “superfoods” or ideological shill diets (like the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s periodic “What veganism cures today” diet books) that are supposedly a magic cure for everything from allergies to zygomycosis. As he argued, borrowing a term from one of food scold Marion Nestle’s rare periods of sensibility:
But let’s not allow them to become “calorie distracters.” […] when we allow corporations that sell foods marketed as extra healthy for us and they say that this is high in one thing or high in another that are supposedly good for us, we lose sight of the fact that those calorie — that those foods may have just as many calories.
The classic example of this is the claim that certain products are “High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) Free” when in reality the HFCS has simply been replaced by nutritionally equivalent sugar (sucrose). These “new” products have the same number of calories as before — but when consumers see the label they might mistakenly get the impression that the product will affect them differently.
But in the end, there just isn’t an easy way out. There’s no magic law, no magic food, and no magic diet that will bring happiness or cure obesity. Only by building up people’s personal responsibility and guiding it towards the correct — albeit difficult — path can dieters improve their health. Doing that might even make us feel better.