‘Scientific’ untruths!

The recent controversy surrounding Nestle’s Maggi noodles exposes how science can be misused to arrive at conclusions one likes. For one thing, the tests for lead were done at a non-accredited laboratory meaning that the tests were conducted by unqualified chemists who did not follow test protocol. Secondly, the seasoning was also tested in addition to noodles. As per the protocol the mixture of seasoning and noodles need to be tested. There may be several other discrepancies in the mode of testing which the public may not be even aware of. And the result? The food was banned resulting in crores of rupees loss. It may take several months before the company fights court battles and recoups. This is a classic case of how science can be misused to propagate an untruth.

Not that I have any soft corner for these MNCs in the food business, I’m only saying that Maggi was banned for the wrong reasons. Maggi, like several other brands, deserves to be banned on grounds of promoting junk food. Coke, Pepsi, potato fries, bhujia, Maggi – all fall into the same category and deserve to be thrown out. In fact every packaged food including the simple looking Yoghurt is bad. Packaged Yoghurt, especially low-fat variety, contains plenty of sugar. There is a strong case for banning all packaged ready-to-eat foods. But, for God’s sake do not stigmatize them for the wrong reasons. For, if they bounce back in the future rubbishing government’s false claims, it will appear to be a moral victory and likely to win back the hearts of the gullible consumers. The price we pay, as a nation would be high health care costs for the young who are already facing the threat of life-style diseases such as diabetes and hypertension at an early age.

The Maggi episode reminds me of a web site DHMO.org, which came up with a spoof on how media can affect public perception. It lists a number of dangers of a chemical, DHMO, used widely. it says:
– Dihydrogen monoxide, DHMO, causes death due to accidental inhalation
– Prolonged exposure can cause tissue damage
– DHMO is a major component of acid rain
– Gaseous DHM O can cause severe burns
– Contamination of electrical systems can cause shock and short-circuit
– Associated with killer cyclones

As some people might have guessed, dihydrogen monoxide is nothing but H2O without which life on earth is impossible! Yet, no one can dispute any of the statements made by the web site. This spoof exposes what really happens in the real world of advertisements to mislead people. The food industry particularly excels in this. For instance, a low-fat claim on the labels of packed foods does not mention the fact of high sugar content in the food which is used to compensate for the loss of taste due to low-fat. Likewise, low carb labelled foods contain high fats and that goes unnoticed by the gullible consumers.

As someone said: Be very very careful what you put into that head because you will never ever get it out!

Consider another case of misleading media reporting: Cancer rates drop for second year: robust pipeline of medicines offer even more hope.
A second press release in the same month in 2007 says: National cancer institute predicts doubling of cancer patients.
These two press releases appeared in the same month in 2007 in the US. Can you believe that both statements are true? You will, if only the difference between rate and number is understood. Rate is the number of patients relative to a given population size, whereas, the absolute number depends upon the size of population.

Here is yet another gimmick used by the food industry: Food label on a packaged food says – This contains all natural ingredients, as if natural is always 100% safe. Likewise claims stating that a product is chemical-free has no meaning since all foods are chemicals. But these are all ploys to promote marketing of packaged foods.

Published in: on July 26, 2015 at 4:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Multivitamins Are a Waste of Money…?

Yes, this is the title of an editorial of a reputed scientific journal(New Scientist). The article while insisting that it’s a waste of money, further adds that it can even cause harm! This is what led me to have a discussion with my doctor to figure out the right picture. As it turns out, like many media stories, this one is also meant to excite people. One has to be an excellent fine print reader or a professional in the field to get the right picture. My doctor pointed out what’s in fine print in the article and what else the news hides behind the sensational reporting. Here is what my doctor has to say: The findings are okay for those who eat nutritious food and do not have any vitamin deficiency. The studies also do not apply for pregnant women who need supplements. The article also ignores the importance of vitamin supplements for eye sight, preventing 40% of autism and 60% of childhood cancers,18% reduction in non-prostrate cancers for men over 70.

These days sensationalism sells. But I didn’t expect this from a reputed scientific magazine.

Vegetable Oil industry is another case in point. Now-a-days one sees aggressive campaigns in India to promote Olive oil by companies based in Spain and Turkey. The advertisements claim this oil to be a great choice imparting superior health benefits for the heart compared to other oils. Here again there is no conclusive evidence regarding its superior benefits for the heart. An oil which has a much lower smoke point compared to other vegetable oils cannot be an ideal choice for deep-frying. This is because at the smoke point the oil is prone to undergo undesirable chemical changes. At best the extra virgin oil may be a great choice for salad dressing and it’s a perfect dip for your piping hot bread. The free acid content in the virgin oil contributes to its strong flavour. I believe tasting and choosing virgin oil is almost akin to tasting wine in the US.

Recently I asked one doctor innocently which oil he would recommend for cooking. He was honest and admitted that he wished he knew the answers. He said: “Unfortunately, with so many confusing claims and counter claims by oil producers, one doesn’t know with any clarity which one to recommend”.
If doctors are so confused, one can imagine the plight of the laymen.

My take on Oils: As long as one consumes oils in moderation, it really doesn’t matter whether one buys Saffola, Sunflower, Ricebran, Groundnut or Olive oil whichever is cheaper. All these oils are rich in the desirable fats.Coconut Oil and Palm oil are exceptions to this rule and should be minimized or avoided.

Published in: on January 5, 2014 at 4:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

And Now the 3Cs for the Consumers to Counter Marketing Gimmicks

The 3 Cs I am talking about are: COLLECTION of Data/ information/knowledge, CAMPAIGN and make a wise CHOICE.

Subsequent to my post on the present day Marketing gimmicks about a couple of weeks back (title: “3Cs of Modern Day Marketing”), I got a feed back saying that I ought to give solutions to the readers instead of simply complaining about Marketeers. While I don’t claim to have all solutions, here are some thoughts based on my understanding:
Vegetable Oils: As I suggested in my post, any oil other than Coconut or palm oil should do. It is better if it is simply a double filtered oil instead of a refined one which is being aggressively promoted in the market. Most importantly, one needs to change cooking habits. As far as possible, vegetable should be either steam cooked or water cooked and oil should be used only towards the end for finishing operations with a few spices, using a low flame. This will limit the temperature and time of exposure of oil to heat, ensuring that the oil is kept in a healthy condition. I believe that in the West they use an oven (operating at no more than 175deg centigrade, as against the direct flame temperature of more than 350 degC used in India. Microwave may be even better than an electric oven)

Shampoos & Moisturizers: These are modern inventions of the cosmetic industry. One is better off minimizing their usage since we don’t know the long term effects of these on the skin. It is important to wash and rinse off shampoos effectively from the scalp immediately after application. The debate among scientists on the side effects of the detergent used in shampoos(sodium lauryl sulfate)and moisturizers is inconclusive. I would rather not present those complex issues here. As far as moisturizers are concerned, I find that application of good old coconut oil before taking bath works equally well. It also gives one a ‘feel good’ experience of having used a natural product. It is also a cheaper alternative.

Hair Dyes: The less I talk about these the better! I have only one question to ask of people who can’t live without hair dyes. Why can’t we accept the natural ageing process and accept ourself as we are? If you must use a hair dye, you have to wait for a genuinely ‘herbal’ or natural dye. I have seen some brands which claim they are ‘natural’ but a close look at the ingredients revealed the presence of harmful chemicals.

Pain Relief tablets: My personal experience is that a head ache is best countered by a strong Tea or Coffee followed by a long walk in fresh air. If it doesn’t subside, only then take a simple Crocin tablet instead of a ‘Crocin Pain Relief’ tablet.
In this post, I limited my discussion to just a few products of immediate interest to me. There is a lot more to know and learn on a variety of consumer products for all of us in order to make wise choices.

Going forward, I think there is a strong case for simplifying life for the humanity. Look at the energy crisis and Global warming threats today. It is caused by human greed which led to excessive consumption of energy and consumer goods for almost 2 centuries. Nature teaches us to be simple. The message from Nature is quite blunt: “Live a simple life without harming Me, or else…….. face the consequences”.

Published in: on February 19, 2012 at 4:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,