Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Spinach or maybe pills

One of the constants of human society is that some people choose to live the life of the ascetic.  One of the other constants is that those who become ascetics often want you to join them.  While 1000 years ago it was the birch twig and vinegar brigade who promised you salvation, these days the same bunch often find the title "nutrionist" serves the same purpose. The birch twigs become "5 a day" or "no cholesterol".  Now I'm happy for them to personally follow whatever lifestyle floats their boat. The problem is they just can't keep their lifestyles to themselves and as a result they get into bed with the Statists. Statists love nutritionists as they provide justification to interfere with one of the most fundamental liberties we possess, what we can take into our bodies.  So clearly I enjoyed this story which I can't help feel shows them all up somewhat.

Let me go back a bit. There are two issues I have with the "eat more fruit and vegetables" campaign.  One is no-one actually has proof of why eating more of this stuff is good for you even though there is epidemiological evidence that it is.  The second issue is the constant refrain that you can never get the same benefits from taking some sort of pill.  This is universally stressed by nutrionists because the prospect of that would disturb their ascetic mindset immensely. No need for hectoring, no need for restraint. No sacrifice. No denial.  Much the same way that the discovery of cheap fusion power would send greens and activist climate scientists into paroxysms. But if we could actually show what combination of substances is giving us the benefit from vegetables, it is entirely possible that would could extract them or make them in a lab and then put them in a pill, or indeed some sort of delicious synthetic vegetable drink. Which would be great for most people, except those who would find it a little too, well, easy.

Which takes me back to the article which I enjoyed for two reasons. Firstly, it postulates the beneficial substance in spinach is nitrate, a substance usually considered to be rather dicey. The EU has forced us to spend billions taking it out of drinking water as a result.  So on one level it shows we still really don't know the full scientific picture and maybe spending billions before we do isn't a great idea (ring any bells?).  Secondly, nitrate is very cheap and if it is of benefit it would be simple to make a supplement containing the equivalent nitrate content of a portion of spinach.  Combine that with the other components of spinach which makes it good for you (my own guess is calcium, folic acid and the stuff that makes it green), and there you go.  Magic synthetic spinach replacement which in my ideal world would probably take the form of those cola flavoured chewy things you get at cinemas. And that would piss the nutritionists off no end.

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