Junk journalism

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Today in the Daily Mail, the BBC’s Sheila Dillon warns that “Vegan junk food could be a health hazard if it contains unnatural ingredients”. Just what we need, another journalist giving dietary advice in an authoritative manner as if it were based on fact rather than their own personal dietary preference.

Dillon mentions cashew cheese and beetroot burgers – a bit upmarket for junk food! Cashews are highly nutritious, they are a great source of protein, energy, ‘good’ polyunsaturated fats, vitamin E and minerals, particularly magnesium and zinc. I’d bet the beetroot burgers are a lot healthier too compared to a beef burger!  

So what does Dillon mean by unnatural ingredients? Could she be talking about cancer-causing substances like N-nitroso-compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines? Oh wait, they’re all found in meat products. The nitrites added to your pepperoni could be to blame for the link between processed meats and bowel cancer. Or it could be the haem iron. So many nasty substances to choose from!

How about trimethylamine-N-oxide? This one disrupts cholesterol metabolism and leads to the build-up of fatty plaques in the arteries. But again, the gut bacteria that produce it from carnitine in meat are only found in the guts of meat-eaters and not vegans. Then there’s the hormones and growth factors found in meat and dairy, at levels much higher than would naturally be present thanks to selective breeding and intensive farming methods.

Junk foods have been around for decades – burgers, hot dogs and fries… No one thinks they are healthy, vegan or otherwise! These types of junk food tend to contain unhealthy levels of saturated fat and salt. However, at least the vegan versions are not linked to cancer in the same way as the meaty ones!     

Dillon warns us to be be careful as the food industry tries to capitalise on the new vegan wave. The real danger come from the meat and dairy industry, clearly now on the back foot, as they follow closely in the footsteps of the tobacco industry, spending millions on ‘influencing’ journalists, health writers and politicians, challenging health reports and recruiting scientists to produce flawed research. Journalists like Dillion would better-serve their audiences by recognising the real villain, hiding in plain sight.

Healthy food versus junk food – find out how to get the balance right here.

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