A red herring is something that misleads or distracts from an important issue. Porkies are outright lies. Both let the real culprit go free while resources are wasted and nothing changes.
Preoccupation with red herrings by the media, politicians and leaders in authoritative organizations, who should be better informed, is preventing an improvement in public health. Most of the buzz words driving politicians, industry and consumers towards “healthy choices” are red herrings and make no mention of the overarching role of the glucose--insulin axis in the obesity-inflammation-diabetes story.
Salt, Sugar, and Fat
Take the three legs of the government’s “reformulation of foods strategy” to reduce salt, sugar and fat: the evidence for restricting salt is controversial at best and fat restriction has proved to be a serious error. The only scientifically defensible recommendation is sugar reduction but sugar is only a third of the high glycaemic carbohydrate problem. Meanwhile authorities still recommend 50-55% of calories should come from carbohydrates and you can bet the food industry will take the opportunity to replace sugar with other cheap starches like corn flour and rice and claim a gluten free halo to boot.
The most important but underappreciated issue is carbohydrate driven insulin secretion. Without the fat storage hormone ‘insulin’ there would be no obesity and without chronically high insulin levels there would be no diabetes epidemic. The key issue that no one is talking about is that relatively small amounts (50 gm) of high glycemic carbohydrates trigger huge, 10-15 fold increases in insulin levels irrespective of how much fat goes along with it. Insulin directs transformation of glucose to fat, stops fat use for energy and decreases free fatty acids in the blood stream which the brain hunger centers perceive as an energy deficit stimulating more food consumption, a vicious cycle which continuously syphons energy away into fat storage.
The Myth of Gluten-Free
The most obvious red herring is the almost hysterical flight to gluten free foods for their perceived health benefits and tragic because the food industry has chosen the highest glycaemic starches; potato starch, corn starch and rice powder, among replacers to make gluten free alternatives: a clear case of out of the frying pan into the fire. There is no evidence to link the gluten component of wheat with obesity and diabetes, rather the removal of fibre and the very high glycaemic starch content of white flour contributes to the best explanation for the diabetes epidemic.
Why 'Natural, Organic, Clean Labels' Don't Matter
So many of the marketing buzz words: natural, pure, organic, clean label: are vague and ambiguous, they can equally apply to good foods as to unhealthy ones and are used to market high glycaemic carbs and therefore continue to promote dangerously high consumption of sugar, flour, potatoes, corn flour and rice. For instance, a consultant nutritionist I spoke to advised a client manufacturer to keep using sugar because it’s “natural” rather than a soluble fibre alternative because it is “un-natural”. Whatever the difference between the two, sugar as “natural” is a stretch in view of the complex energy dependent process of sugar manufacturing.
You Can't Outrun a Bad Diet
Another red herring in the treatment of obesity is exercise and despite the numerous social and health benefits of exercise there is not enough time in the day to outrun a bad diet. Rather a bad diet actually decreases voluntary activity levels. High glycemic foods tilt immunity to a pro-inflammatory state as well as increasing gut permeability (leaky gut) a situation compounded by diets lacking fiber that also regulate immunity and gut permeability. Chronic low grade inflammation causes a mild form of “sickness behavior”. Signaling molecules (cytokines) produced from activated immune cells have powerful effects on the brain causing lethargy, tiredness and need to rest, think how you feel when you get the flu.
Everything in Moderation
Is Meaningless when virtually everything available in convenience stores and supermarkets have adverse metabolic consequences (such as high levels of glucose, insulin, inflammation and fat deposition). Which of the foods in the following list could you safely consume in moderation when you realize that just 50g of any of these things will increase insulin levels by 10-15 fold and double blood glucose with 45 minutes.
White flour, bread, pasta, cakes, cookies, biscuits, etc.
Potatoes, white rice, corn flour products, chips, etc.
Sugar, High Fructose Corn syrup, all caloric sweeteners have similar metabolic fate including honey, agave syrup, maple syrup, etc.
Sugar sweetened drinks including Juices, sodas, energy drinks, lucozade, gatorade, powerade, grape juice, cranberry juice, cocktail drink mixes, cordials.
The Real Problem
It is vitally important to avoid harmful foods as well as eating good ones but this is almost impossible for ordinary people facing energy drinks on supermarket shelves, celebrity chefs, nutritional guidlines and food industry advertising promoting red herrings and outdated nutritional dogma. Current nutritional guidelines recommend 55% of our calorie intake be carbohydrates but virtually all commercially available carbohydrates have damaging physiological consequences. Most calories consumed are quickly digested carbohydrates resulting in large increases in blood glucose, huge increases in the body’s production of the hormone insulin and a cascade of subsequent events that locks fat into storage rather than energy production and a rapid return of hunger and progressive weight gain. Long term effects of frequent spikes of high blood sugar are cell damage and inflammation, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, cancers, heart attacks, strokes and dementia.