The Low Down on Fad Diets

by Les Saidel - September, 2012

Running a bakery that places health at the top of the list makes you prone to endless enquiries regarding media reports, medical research etc. that supposedly "prove" that certain things are "healthy", "unhealthy" etc. For example I recently received an email with a link to a study done that maintains that cows milk and grains/breads are not intrinsic "human" foods and have caused a general decline in health of the species.

When approaching such matters I usually rely on certain basic guidelines -

* Take science with a pinch of salt
* Trust in G-d
* Do not believe the media/marketing
* Everything has been tampered with
* Use your common sense

I'll elaborate briefly on the above.

I am a scientist myself. In my prior life (the one before I became a professional baker) I was a software engineer, so when I say that science should be viewed with skepticism, it is coming from someone "within the fold" and not from an outsider trying to de-legitimize science. I am not knocking science as such, science definitely has its place. I will not refute scientific evidence based on observation and corroboration. What I will try do however, is put science into perspective by realizing its limitations.

Science is like a magnifying glass. It allows us to understand more about our physical world by closely examining various features and processes. Even the most advanced scientist will tell you however, that our range of vision is limited by the extent of the "magnifying glass" at our disposal. This means we are only beginning to scratch the surface on a system as complex as the human body for example. It is safe to say that the majority of knowledge regarding human body functioning is yet to be uncovered.

Whilst scientific discoveries of new vitamins, their roles in the digestive process, the interactions of proteins, fats and carbohydrates etc. are all amazing and even ground breaking, we still lack the overall understanding of the system.

This does not dispel scientific discoveries made to date, but we must realize that they are limited in scope and cannot be relied on exclusively to formulate modus operandi of what to do and what not to do.

Unfortunately, deliberate (or even misguided) misuse of such scientific research has led to what have become known as "fads". They last for a number of years and are then dispelled by further research, which will then be dispelled by even further research etc. etc. As our technology advances, our "magnifying glass" becomes more precise and of increased scope and so our understanding.

What we are lacking more than anything in the scientific community is a higher degree of humility and admittance that we are very far from understanding the intricacies of our universe. Instead we have arrogance and a sense of superiority permeating the academia, with people proclaiming themselves "experts", when they have in fact less than 1% of the absolute knowledge necessary to understand the subject they claim to be experts in.

For this reason, when someone presents something to me that has been formulated by an "expert", I take it with a grain of salt (excuse the pun and the fact that too much salt is not necessarily healthy).

Next - I trust in G-d. Who would you believe? A scientist who has devoted his life to studying a specific subject and may be the world's leading "expert" in the field, but in terms of absolute knowledge, is less than 10% there? Would you believe an "amateur scientist" who has tried something themselves for a decade or more and it has worked for him/her (but not necessarily for someone else)? Would you trust a scholar/physician, such as the Rambam, who has based his findings on personal experience (to some extent like our scientist above, with perhaps the added advantage of having the Jewish/Torah factor)? If I had my choice of the three above only, I would probably opt for the latter.

Fortunately for us, we have a much better option. We have G-d Himself. While I would not trust a scientist, an "amateur scientist", or a scholar 100%, I WOULD trust the Creator of the Universe - who actually designed and created us. If G-d says that something is OK to eat, He has absolute knowledge of the workings of His creation and He knows it is OK. If something is harmful to us, He will not allow us to eat it. This pertains to physical harm and also spiritual harm. Kashrut guidelines are a combination of the above perspectives, steering us away from foods that are either harmful physically, spiritually or both.

If G-d says it is permissible to eat meat, with certain restrictions, then you can be sure that it is physically beneficial and nutritionally beneficial to eat meat. When G-d allows us to eat bread (right at the beginning, with Adam, G-d said "you shall eat bread by the sweat of your brow"), then bread (and grains) must be OK too. There would not be kashrut laws for the 5 types of grains and the blessing one should recite on them alone, or processed into bread etc. if G-d knew they were harmful to the body. That is a given. If G-d allows us to eat it in the Torah, then it is beneficial for the human body and good nutrition. I will believe that a million times before believing any scientific discovery that is limited in its scope. If you want to find the best nutrition almanac, you need look no further than the Torah.

Regarding the media/marketing - society has always been dominated by the powerful and the greedy and our modern civilization is no different. Today the powerful and the greedy are the huge corporations, food, drug, tobacco, armaments etc. who control governments, the media and our daily lives down to the smallest degree, so much it is sickening. Our society has become brainwashed by what they want us to believe. They invest billions in media and marketing brainwashing campaigns to convince us that what actually is best for them is best for us, when it is really not.

Therefore every packaging with the picture of a heart on, or a "healthy" icon on the label, means nothing. Buzzwords mean nothing, even much publicized scientific findings mean nothing - because you do not know really which conglomerate funded the study and how biased or narrow in scope it may be. My general rule is - if you hear something in the media, or read something on a box, you should believe exactly the opposite of what you hear or read.

Another important guideline to know is that EVERYTHING and I repeat EVERYTHING we eat has been tampered with. It does not matter what diet you support, whether it is a vegan diet, an organic diet, a vegetarian diet, a no-grains diet, a no-dairy diet - whatever you DO eat and what you think IS an acceptable form of food for humans - it has all been tampered with.

Even the best, most natural, organic plant produce has been tampered with by virtue of the water it is irrigated with containing trace pollutants. The animals and living creatures we get our protein from have been tampered with by playing with animal feeds, and again water which contains trace pollutants, (think of high levels of mercury in fish due to contamination of the world's oceans).

We are no longer a society of hunters who bring home the catch of the day for dinner. We are a society that relies on mass produced food. It began at the dawn of time when agriculture became state run - that was the first mass produced food. Instead of every individual growing their own nuts and tomatoes, centralized farms supplied the population (think of Josef in Egypt). In our modern society this direction has been amplified exponentially where the mass food industry controls what we eat.

When you take the production of food away from the individual and entrust it to a communal body - that is where the problems start.

The only way to reverse that is for a person to start his own farm, grow his own fruits, vegetables and livestock, purify his own water and not rely on any centralized organization for anything that enters his mouth. I'm not saying it is impossible, I am saying that in 99.9% of the cases it is not practical and it is not going to happen specifically because the large industries will not relinquish control. With their powerful lobbies they will pass legislation and impose restrictions to make such a notion untenable, even for the stout minded. It is a simple case of greed and power robbing the masses of their health.

It is in every respect a tyranny! We like to glorify the values of the West - democracy, freedom of expression etc. but in fact even the most advanced societies are living under dictatorships. We like to delude ourselves that this is not so and invoke our superiority over "lesser" cultures such as communism, the third world etc. when in fact we are no better, we just delude ourselves that we are. Greed and power exist in every culture and political system. Democracy is just a "pretty face" for what really goes on in the seats of power in the so called democratic countries. The masses are brainwashed - they received their entertainment and distractions - Hollywood, the Superbowl, baseball, football - just like in ancient Rome, while those in power wield that power with dictatorial tyranny. And we thought civilization has advanced.

So what can little you and me do? The truth is very little. We have no clout as individuals. We are fighting against forces which exceed our power and influence beyond imagination. Unless you are lucky enough to win the lottery and have enough money to support your family without having to work so you can establish your own little farm - your own little bubble, making healthy food. That is not going to happen if, in addition to the farm, you and your spouse need to work 9-5 just to cover the bills. It's called reality. We would like to be healthy, we would like to eat only healthy foods. Unfortunately the healthy foods are also generally the most expensive - meats, poultry, fish, nuts, fruit and vegetables. What is cheap are the unhealthy processed foods that make the mass food industry more money (are we beginning to see a pattern here?) I know very few families who can afford high protein diets every day of the week, numerous times a day. Many families struggle to have high protein even on Shabbat.

The truth is that there is very little we can do except - use our common sense, learn to spot the lies and try our best to get back to the source in whatever we eat - as close to the source as is humanly possible.

The only thing that will ultimately change anything is the balance of nature itself. The universe has a certain equilibrium, that when tampered with or perverted, has its own way of restoring balance. Unfortunately this usually results in a large loss of human life. However, if mankind is so small minded and greedy that it can only take and not give back, that will be our destiny. Maybe not in this generation, or the next, but eventually it will happen.

It's a pretty bleak outlook, but that is the reality unfortunately. All we can do is our best. Trust in G-d, use our common sense, learn to identify the lies and keep as close to the source. It's not much but it's all there is.

Les Saidel


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