On Food, Diet, and Health

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Especially, what we think about it

Update 2021

In the mean time, my classes at the School for Dieticians have continued and the newer stuff can be found in the pages I have created specifically for those classes.

However, as mentioned below, the topics are definitely of general interest. 

There has been a paradigm shift over the last years concerning dietary recommendations, also among medical doctors, at least in the English speaking world. Actually, I would say it is in progress – it has not been completed yet or reached everyone as successfully as the dogmas it is trying to ‘correct’. This might have something to do with what is called the Semmelweis Reflex. The beliefs of the last 40, 50 years, especially the ‘Fat is Bad’ mantra or the idea that calorie restriction diets are the way to lose weight are so ingrained and cemented they seem impossible to have been wrong.

The topic is vast and complex and interesting for many different reasons. I will devote more time trying to capture the many levels on which food, diet and health in Western, industrial and post-industrial societies developed. How what we eat, and how we live was taken over by guidelines and food marketing; little gadgets like fit bits purporting to help us stay healthy by bombarding us with numbers many do not understand, because they cannot be understood. Instead of listening to our bodies, we let others tell us how high our heart rate should be, how much of what we should eat and what super foods are the latest fad. We are told to swallow vitamin D pills, drink so and so many glasses of water, train in a specific way etc.

The latest books I have been reading address many of these health and nutrition related issues. Here especially Dr Jason Fung, Dr Tim Spector and Dr Andrew Jenkinson need to be mentioned (see page Resources and Recommendations for more). These authors share their experiences and the insights they gained through their work as medical practitioners and researchers. They are all concerned with the obesity epidemic of the last decades and look at the dietary advice people have been given.

Andrew Jenkinson in Why We Eat (too) Much explains why for some of his patients a bariatric surgery is their only hope. As a specialist for this kind of surgery, he describes the different kinds there are and why only two of them are sustainably successful. But his main aim is to give advice on how to prevent the necessity for this kind of bodily intervention in the fist place.

Tim Spector in Spoonfed examines many of the claims made about what is and is not healthy, about what we should eat, how much we should drink, how we should exercise or what we should do to lose weight etc. and exposes many of them as not backed by reliable research.

I have written about Dr Jason Fung’s books in the separate pages for my ESP (Dieticians) classes.

With the constant stream of opinions and knowledge available on the internet, it has become more and more difficult, sometimes, to figure out fact from fake, business interests from true pursuit of knowledge etc. We (the community of language users) tend to believe everything that is written in basic statement form, using the two verb structures used for expressing factuality (see Verb Structure Circle). “Why would anything stated as factual be wrong?”, we seem to think, or maybe rather feel, completely aware that statements can also be false. It’s harder to doubt claims written in absolute rhetoric than modal statements meant to invite discussion and caution (‘something is the case’ compared with ‘the authors believe something to be the case’ or ‘something could/might be the case’.)

This might be one reason why most of us (?) tend to believe: it is in our linguistic nature to interpret language in the way it is meant to be interpreted. Which makes intentional lying so hideous.


(Original post from October 18th, 2015)

This post was written for an English course I gave for dieticians at the MHH. I decided to keep it here, as I find the issues discussed to be of general interest.

In this post I have listed some of the internet resources and literature I have read and looked at myself, and can recommend for anybody interested in going into the issues related to food and health more deeply. It is, of course, an incomprehensive list and totally selective.


There are loads of pages specifically interesting for dieticians. One is an American magazine: Today’s Dietician. We read one article from this website that was, admittedly, a little difficult. Nevertheless I would recommend students of nutrition, diet and health to browse through this website, especially the articles archive.

On this blog, in other posts, I have recommended many sites that can be useful for improving or just holding your level of English proficiency. One post is about TED (see post June 8, 2013).

Try the link to a playlist under the title: What’s wrong with our food? Here you can listen to 9 talks by people of different backgrounds from Jamie Oliver (the chef), who gives a very committed talk on the US’s obesity problem (and how to solve it), to Mark Bittmann (a food journalist), who offers an insightful path through the history of eating in the US from the 1960ies to today. Though some talks might be difficult to follow, they have the advantage of not being so long (so you can watch them repeatedly), and TED talks offer subtitles of high quality (different from machine generated subtitles).

Another interesting TED talk is Dr Wahl’s on how she brought her MS into remission by changing her diet and how she was able to walk again after already having had to use a wheelchair. For some unclear reason a disclaimer has been placed by TED and has already been severly criticized by viewers of the talk.

Dr Wahl’s TED Talk

Another medical doctor who share’s his thoughts on the internet is Dr Robert Lustig, presenting his research on the dangers of sugar, especially high fructose corn syrup and why he thinks it is mainly responsible for the obesity epidemic in the US.

90 min lecture by Robert Lustig (Dr. med):


I always recommend the BBC website as a place to go. See my page Resources and Recommendations. You can also find material on food and health at the homepage of the BBC as well as under the section World Service/Learning English. Under ‘Six Minute English’ for instance’, you can find a little session on food waste.

A very interesting DVD for discussions on the relation between food and health, the attitude of the (US) medical establishment toward the relationship of nutrition and disease, the food and nutrition situation in so called Western diets and many other issues is

FOODMATTERS: You are what you eat. .


For more information on the authors and people in this documentary go to their webpage

Books on food and health I have personally read include:

Bailor, Jonathan. 2014. The Calorie Myth. HarperCollins

Charles, Sam. 2013. 3 – Word Diet. (Kindle book)

Cordain, Loren. 2002, 2011. The Paleo Diet. New Jersey: John Wiley & Son

Davis, William A. 2011. Wheat Belly. Rodale

The book has been translated into German under the unfortunate title ‘Weizenwampe’, which in my opinion does not do the otherwise well translated book and especially the original (written by a cardiologist and not a yellow press journalist) justice. Seems the translator could not withstand the temptation of the alliteration. Too bad. ‘Weizenbauch’ would have sufficed. (I know my mother is not necessarily representative, but she felt totally insulted when I gave her the book, and I would not be surprised if she never touches it.)

There is also a presentation on youtube (58 min) www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWtsHTNhPa4

Jaminet, Paul and Shou-Ching. 2012. Perfect Health Diet. New York: Scribner

Hartwig, Dallas and Melissa. 2012. It Starts With Food. Tuttle Publishing

Kendrick, Malcom. 2007. The Great Cholesterol Con. John Blake Publishing Limited

Lustig, Robert. Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar. London: Foruth Estate

Note: A documentary about the ill effects of artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame, can be watched in full length on you tube.

Sweet Misery

Lutz, Wolfgang. 2007 (16. ed. first published in 1967) Leben ohne Brot. INFORMED.

This is the only German book I have started reading. I was quite shocked to find that Dr. Lutz (an Austrian) already took a critical stance toward grain carbs in 1967. He warned against an overconsumption of grain products and against the demonizing of fat as, he argues, many fats occur naturally in foods and as such are essential to our health and well being (different from industrially processed fat like margarine, transfats, vegetable oil etc.).

Moore, Jimmy (with Eric C. Westman, MD). 2013. Cholesterol Clarity. Victory Belt Publishing Inc.

Nakazawa, Donna J. The Autoimmune Epidemic. 2008. Siman and Schuster, Inc.

Pollan, Michael. 2006. The Omnivores Dilemma. Penguin Press HC

Shanahan, Catherine and Luke. 2008. Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food. Big Box Books

Scrinis, Gyorgy. 2013. Nutritionism: The Science and Politics of Dietary Advice. Allen & Unwin.

Note November 2014 In the mean time I have consulted another German source, though thus far only on the internet. One of the leading proponents of a low(er) carb diet that includes more natural fat and proposes foods low on a glycemic index is

Dr Nicolai Worm.

He refers his concept to the so called LOGI Method developed in Harvard. Check his internet page under the link above.

Further Literature

A book I have specifically ordered for this course is:

Gable, Judy. 2005 (4th reprint). Counselling Skills For Dieticians. Blackwell Publishing.

I have ordered an additional copy for the school to keep, especially in case we run out of time.

The advice on communication matters is sound, but because the book is a little older some of the dietary advice given in the dialogue examples seems a little outdated (e.g. the authors still adhere to the low fat paradigm).

There has been or seems to be a paradigm shift (or several) that is slowly taking on, at least in professional circles (I don’t know about doctors in general, as I keep reading that doctors learn little to nothing about nutrition in their medical studies.)These shifts include a changing attitude towards those mantras that have been preached over the last 40 years, e.g. fat makes you fat, or to lose weight reduce calories (see e.g. Gary Taubes Good Calories, Bad Calories).

From a historical, sociological, epistemological and linguistic point of view the whole issue surrounding what some call the Cholesterol Myth is quite fascinating and would deserve an investigation on its own, regardless which side of the debate is correct.

I have tried to find out where the cholesterol-heart disease link originated, but that is not so easy. Some sources claim it goes back to Ancel Keys, but according to a quote found in Dr Malcolm Kendrick’s book and elsewhere Keys does seem to have been the first to connect saturated fats with heart disease. Keys does not, however, claim a link between dietary cholesterol and cardiological problems. (I also find it fair to note that Ancel Keys died age 100).

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