Let’s All Eat Maggots

Photo by Jiri Brtnik on Unsplash

“We now eat in two weeks the amount of sugar our ancestors of 200 years ago ate in a whole year”  John Yudkin 1963

All WW2 Far East Prisoners of War were heroes, but in amongst them were some people, largely forgotten, that performed wonders in medicine and surgery, often with the most basic of equipment, even home-made tools, and usually without anaesthetic or the drugs which we nowadays take for granted. Many prisoners survived because of the brilliance and heroic actions of the few military medics, English and Australian, who were themselves prisoners. Hugh de Wardener was a prisoner and discovered Beri Beri was caused by Vitamin B1 deficiency whilst treating patients in Changi, (https://history.rcplondon.ac.uk/inspiring-physicians/hugh-edward-de-wardener)

Why then, “let them eat maggots?”

Firstly because an Aussie medic in Changi prison, with a lot of ingenuity and nutritional knowledge collected Maggots from the latrines, washed them and cooked them into a soup which he fed to his most seriously ill patients. Man cannot live by rice alone, he saved a lot of lives with that protein. Arguably the only case where “Eat the bugs” was the right idea. This link has more information on the medical ingenuity of these Doctors https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36525024/

Secondly,  moving forward 80 years or so, we are almost constantly bombarded with “the right information” by the media on just what to eat, what pills to take and how this is the “final, best diet to keep you healthy.” What Matten and Goggins (in their book “The Health Delusion”) call “the contagion of nutritional nonsense delivered to you courtesy of the Media and self-proclaimed nutrition “experts””

This is usually bad advice, but unfortunately people want to believe what they read and try yet another fad diet or recommended Vitamin overload in the vain hope that their health will miraculously improve. At best it is not very helpful, at its worst it’ll make you ill.

If I persuaded a Sunday Supplement to print an article lauding the health giving properties of a Maggot diet, I could almost guarantee someone who reads it would give it a go, and then tell all their friends just how good it was.

The media (and the latest NUTrition guru) doesn’t fully understand the science and usually misreport it.

Hippocrates got it right over 2000 years ago when he stated “There are, in fact, two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance.”

So why do the media print so many articles about health, is it philanthropic, or is it all about sales?  Well of course it’s the latter, and “never let the science get in the way of a good headline” seems to be the order of the day.

It is all too easy to be taken in by the latest claim about a particular food or diet plan without investigating the science (or lack of it) involved; Hippocrates is still right, in the end only scientific investigation applied correctly can prove whether something is truthful. Evidence gathered over time and rigorously studied does just that.

When we look at films and photographs of ordinary people from the 1950s to the 1970s it is obvious how much thinner they were on average. There were few if any fat children in my school years, contrast this with today, and the question has to be why the change? There could be several reasons for it:

Could it be because we eat more, have a more sedentary lifestyle, or is it because our diet has altered? Or maybe it’s a bit of all 3?

In 1972 a seminal book was published by John Yudkin called “Pure, White and Deadly,” in which he pointed out the link between sugars and poor health. Now Professor Yudkin was at the time Chair of Nutrition at Queen Elizabeth College London yet his peers ignored his statements and the Food Industry came together to ridicule his findings, sugars were fine, and nobody should worry. Some of us read his book and saw sense in what he said, we were a very small minority.

At about the same time over in the USA  Ancel Keys published his paper on Saturated fats which led to the vilification of a High Fat Low Carbohydrate diet, he was funded by the Sugar Lobby, then the CDC got involved, it was all about funding, saturated and trans fats notwithstanding.

Along comes Richard Milhous Nixon looking to be re-elected. Not only was the Vietnam war in full flow but there was a steady increase in food prices across the USA. To win Nixon needed the food prices to drop and for that he needed the farmers on his side. He hired an academic called Earl Butz, an agriculture expert who had a plan.

That plan was to change food production across the USA and it inadvertently changed the shape and health of the American people.

Butz pushed the farmers into industrial production, most particularly of Corn (Maize) which was and still is produced in huge quantities. It fed the cattle which got fatter more quickly. Corn oil became the cooking oil of choice, mainly because it was so cheap to make and was helped along by negative articles about Lard and Tallow. Corn was the driver for massive amounts of cheap food and made for some very happy farmers, and it put Nixon back into the White House.

Corn products were (and still are) put into everything, yet by the mid 1970s there was a surplus of the stuff. Now in his book Yudkin mentioned the dangers of the High Fructose Syrups being produced at the time in Japan from Rice. Butz flew to Japan and investigated the production of HFS and returned to the USA to kick off the massive production of it from Corn.

America started to produce huge quantities of cheap HFCS and it found its way into an amazing variety of foodstuffs from bread to meat and everything in between and this was when America started to get fat.

Dr Phillip James (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) working in the mid 80s, was the first to indicate and write about the then unexplained increase in the number of fat people and that even those who exercised and ate a low fat diet were still putting on weight.

Something else was happening, the more sugar we ate, the more we wanted and the hungrier we became. Lab rats fed rat food grew normally whilst those that ate Supermarket food grew much faster and just would not stop eating.

At the time we were used to the idea that our weight depended on “calories in/calories out” no matter where they came from. That was so wrong.

All calories are not created equal.

In America the figures for people with a BMI of over 30 was just 1.2% for men and 1.8% for women in 1966. Those beach pictures from that time are not doctored. The figures for 1989 were 10.6% for men and 14% for women. Now both are well over 30% and we are also seeing BMI figures of 40 and even 50.

It is obvious to anyone who walks down their local High Street in the UK that this problem has crossed the Atlantic.

The food industry loves to think up names for sugar. Here are just a few, you can perhaps add to the list.

Always remember the food industry’s aim is to make money and that it spends a lot of cash lobbying our elected representatives to minimise anything that might decrease their profits. Some countries have outlawed HFCS, for example India, Ireland, Sweden, Austria, Uruguay and Lithuania, although the UK does not. However, we do give it a nice name, as does Canada, we both call it Glucose-Fructose, ain’t that sweet?

© FJ 2023