I was reading my paper with a side of morning coffee when I encountered this headline: “Go Ahead and Keep Drinking the Coffee,” the article from STAT urged me; “New Studies Show It Doesn’t Cause Cancer After All.”
Whew! I took another sip of Trader Joe’s Ethiopian Shade Grown Fair Trade Organic java and went about my business.
Nothing illustrates the absurd nexus of pseudoscience and nutritional narcissism like the repeated “studies” of coffee, red wine, and chocolate. I could add bread — killer bread! — eggs and sugar — killer sugar! — to that mix, but I think I’ll keep this column recipe simple.
Start with coffee. Google yields up about 61 million results for “coffee bad for your health.” Near the top we find Dr. Mark Hyman’s website, where he is plugging a book the name of which escapes me. Among Hyman’s “Ten Reasons To Quit Your Coffee!” are:
“The caffeine in coffee increases catecholamines, your stress hormones.’’
“Unfiltered coffee ... leaks the most diterpenes into your system. These diterpenes have been linked to higher levels of triglycerides, LDL and VLDL levels.”
OK! I’m quitting now, if not yesterday.
Then I Googled “Coffee good for your health.” One-hundred-thirty-five million hits! The authoritative-sounding website authoritynutrition.com offers seven reasons (only seven? why not 10?) that coffee is good for you, including:
“Coffee Can Make You Smarter’’
“Coffee May Be Extremely Good for Your Liver’’
“Coffee May Decrease Your Risk of Premature Death”
I love the use of the conditional verb “may” here. As in: maybe, maybe not.
We don’t need to repeat this experiment with red wine and chocolate because the results are preordained. Red wine can cause migraines; claret, as the Brits call it, can increase the risks for cancers. Or not.
Red wine can “turn flab into calorie-burning ‘brown fat,’ “ one study insists. But the disinhibiting effects of alcohol contribute to weight gain. Or do they? No wonder I spend my life hopping on and off the alcohol wagon.
I keep a file on Certified Food Nonsense. Tom Brady’s now infamous chef ranks front and center for his reluctance to let Tom Terrific and his family eat tomatoes, because they lack the “anti-inflammatory” properties of, say, blueberries.
But that is an unfair comparison, like comparing Brady with Harvard-educated Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Dumbest Smart Quarterback in football. Blueberries can do anything! They purportedly prevent cancer and heart disease, forestall mental illness, and fight wrinkles. And men, don’t forget that blueberries help with erectile dysfunction, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
A recent New Yorker profile of TMZ gossip czar Harvey Levin reported that “Sumner Redstone told him that one of the secrets of his longevity was that he ate blueberries every day. So then, for months, Harvey was, like, ‘Blueberries!’ all the time.”
Redstone, the chairman emeritus of entertainment conglomerate Viacom, is now 93 and reduced to defending his mental competency in court, but the blueberries have definitely carried him quite a long way.
To conclude: Eat, drink, be merry, and consume as little food and nutrition “journalism” as possible. When some association of publicity-seeking experts decides to blacklist your favorite dish, just be patient.
It will be back on the menu quicker than you can say “flavenoids cure cancer.”
Or do they?
Alex Beam is a columnist for the Boston Globe.