Currently, there is such a concerted campaign against taking too much salt in food that I feel positively suicidal when I sprinkle a little over my porridge every morning. This pressure to avoid salt makes me wonder what my army medical officer was thinking about, when he regularly loaded salt tablets into every soldier in his care when we were abroad. I feel this contradiction typical of the equivocal attitude of the ‘eat it – don’t eat it’ health gurus who bombard us with conflicting advice. Again, on the subject of salt, we are informed that Chinese food is dangerously overloaded with the killer condiment. If that is the case, there surely is one very strange anomaly. How come there are millions of the good folk of China still happily ‘woking’ away all over the world? Strange is it not?
In recent years, we have been baffled by advice not to eat too much diary produce, and especially not to drink too much milk. This, after an avalanche of persistent and enthusiastic advertising, now a part of the folklore of our country telling us to “Drinka-Pinta-Milka-Day!” and “Go To Work On An Egg!” Many nutrionalists have warned us of the dangers of cholesterol, a white, somewhat waxy substance, contained in milk and some other foods. It can build up in the arteries and lead to heart disease. But half a litre of milk contains only about 0.002 ounces of cholesterol, less than a quarter as much as one boiled egg. This tiny amount, even added to the natural cholesterol the body itself manufactures, is unlikely to cause us any harm.
Incidentally, half a litre (just less than a pint at 0.9) can provide us on average, with one sixth of our daily energy requirements, all the calcium, a third of the protein, a quarter of the vitamin A, one fifth of the vitamin B1 and half the vitamin B2! So don’t feel guilty if you prefer a glass of milk with your lunch, rather than the nerve-jangling coffee.
Next, we have had our Health Ministry encouraging us to get stuck into a diet with lots of fish – but oh! Leave the Tuna it could be high in mercury! If you believe the modern mantra “your body is your temple”, you might feel pretty pious glugging down the heavily-hyped fruit juice, until you learn that you should steer clear of grapefruit juice (my favourite) if you are on medication such as Statins.
A contender for top prize in contradictory advice, however, concerns the beloved classic Scottish meal of fish and chips. “Don’t eat fried food” cry the national health lobby “It will kill you” and “It’s a heart attack on a plate!” Strange then that they all chorus, in the next breath “You can’t get better value in an all-round nourishing meal for old folk, than a fish supper!” Now that I stop, for the moment, to think about it though, I feel that it might well be a clever diabolical ply to get rid of the pesky pensioners who, according to the Westminster Government, are committing the heinous crime of living too long and bankrupting the nation.
Of course there is not the same amount of kudos and political mileage in being decent and playing fair with our own elderly, as there is seen to be in shovelling our cash away, by the shedload in foreign aid. A word of caution here, Davie lad, beware the power of the Grey Vote.
In the dim and distant past, we had one glorious summer (that, in Britain, it almost goes without saying is when the sun shines for more than two days in a row, melting the ice). My wife Moira and I were driving home from a wonderful holiday in Wales, when we decided to divert to Accrington, to see her sister Sheila and our brother-in-law Dr John McLaughlin, a GP, hypnotist, photographer, musician, linguist, comedian, qualified pilot, bon viveur, all round hot shot, and good companion. We stayed there for the weekend, enjoying our impromptu visit immensely. On the evening before we left for home we had an excellent dinner at a great Italian restaurant and returned to chill out, reminiscing about the quick and the dead among family and friends, as one does.
Generally putting the world to rights was also on the agenda when Johnny explained his philosophy for leading a fit, healthy and happy life. “Chris”, said he, “It all boils down to one main rule – MODERATION IN ALL THINGS – including what you eat and drink.”
The comical aspect of this statement was that we had already seen off one excellent bottle of Glenfiddich and were busy lubricating our vocal chords with another. The girls meantime had long since given up on us and gone off to bed. As I slowly, very slowly, recovered the next day, while Moira drove us home, I realised that I should have asked the bold Johnny to define “moderate” in terms of food and drink.
Recently, I penned an article on the fascinating subject of myths and legends, in which I could easily have included food and drink; the facts and fallacies of which include many in the ‘weird and wonderful’ bracket. For instance keep on eating apples if you enjoy them but the old saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” is a fallacy when you consider that an orange, the same size, contains five times as much vitamin C (and a Kiwi fruit contains even more). Brown bread, particularly if it is whole meal, is better for your health than white, because it contains much more iron, vitamins and dietary fibre. On the other hand, the difference between brown and white sugar is negligible and the belief that brown is much better for you has no scientific foundation. Buy brown eggs if you think that they look better, but apart from the colour of the shell, they are identical to the white variety and have no additional health value.
In 1870, a misplaced decimal point, in a set of published food tables, made spinach appear to contain ten times as much iron as any other vegetable. This general misconception, allied to the very popular cartoon character “Popeye the sailor man” and his portrayed feats of great strength after eating spinach, caused the sales of this vegetable to rocket for a considerable period of time. The spinach-growing farmers of America made a financial killing and, in gratitude for the bonanza, showed a rare sense of humour by promptly erecting a statue to Popeye, the first ever to a cartoon character.
I fully expect to be taken to task on some of my foregoing comments. Food and drink is a strangely emotive subject. In a perverse way I will take any differences of opinion as confirming my own view that you cannot completely trust all you see and hear on the subject. You have to take it with a pinch of salt – oops! Salt! Maybe not!
Now, a final word of warning to the ladies. If you have had a hard day shopping, and perhaps skipped lunch in the process, do not, when you go home and kick off your shoes, have a large G&T on an empty stomach. Both the gin and the tonic cause adverse reactions when combined in these circumstances. This ultimately reduces the amount of sucrose required to power the brain, which seriously affects your judgement, concentration and mental performance for several hours. By all means have your G&T but make sure that you have something to eat first. On your way home from the shops, why don’t you stop off at your local chippy and treat yourself to a deep-fried Mars bar?