Sometimes when you’re scrolling mindlessly through your social media feeds, something jumps out at you that challenges your world view to such a degree that you begin to seriously question everything you thought you knew. While the social media companies do their best to prevent this from happening – working hard to make sure we see our own views reflected back at us in the feeds of our friends and family – it still happens occasionally.
I’m not talking about politics, religion, or how your auntie Bridie voted on the 8th amendment. What people believe on any of those things can never be predicted.
But there are some things most of us believe without question. Common sense things. Things your mother used to say. Things you know incontrovertibly to be true, and that even the most sceptical among us wouldn’t even consider questioning.
Things like Vitamin C being good for a cold. And that it’s very important not to skip breakfast, even when you’re trying to lose weight.
Unfortunately, it turns out that neither of those things is true, even though we all believe them.
I’m not one of these conspiracy theorists. As far as I know the earth is definitely still flat and the moon landings did happen, no matter what I read on Zero Green Frogs Conspiracy dot com.
I don’t agree either that ‘Big Pharma’ is always out to get us – it makes more sense for pharmaceutical companies to want us alive and spending on expensive drugs for longer.
But some industries most definitely are out to get us.
Big Tobacco. Definitely out to get us. We know now that they were aware for years of the damaging effects of smoking but they had done such a good job marketing cigarettes as a cure for coughs and paying off various interests that it took a long time for that information to reach the public.
And we’ve twigged that the drinks companies aren’t on our side either, despite convincing generations that Guinness was good for them and brandy was medicinal.
But it turns out Big Breakfast might just be the most insidious of them all.
Because, apparently, the idea that eating breakfast is an essential part of a weight loss diet is bunkum. Cereal companies made it up. It’s an advertising slogan.
So if you’re reading this with your first meal of the day, a coffee and a cigarette, more power to you. If you’ve always believed that’s what kept your figure in check, well, you might be right. And that time you started eating cornflakes with skim milk religiously because you were on Weightwatchers and put all that weight on… well… it might have been the breakfast.
The myth originated in a 1976 ad for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, in which the authority figure of Tony the Tiger warned kids that they needed to eat his sugary treats for breakfast in order to be healthy.
Results from a British Medical Journal study, which collated data from 13 randomised trials, showed that people who ate breakfast were slightly heavier, and also took in more calories during the day overall. While researchers cautioned that the studies included weren’t of excellent quality, it really does make you wonder if everything you think you know about food and nutrition is a lie, aimed at making you buy something.
As for vitamin C, I hate to break it to you, but that orange juice you down religiously every morning isn’t going to stop you getting sick. It might help with your bowel movements, but the theory that Vitamin C boosts your immune system is absolutely unsupported by evidence.
The Nobel prize winner who invented the theory, Linus Pauling, went to his grave utterly convinced that mega doses of vitamin C could vastly reduce the rate at which people got sick, including from serious illnesses like cancer. Many people still spend a lot of money on the basis that this is true.
All that a mega dose of a water soluble vitamin will give you, however, is really expensive urine, because your body takes what you need, and repels the rest immediately. Studies questioning Pauling’s theories have found that large amounts of Vitamin C may even prevent cancer drugs from working, giving the lie to the idea that complementary therapies are harmless.
A few years ago, fat was the enemy, with eggs off, then on, then off the menu again. More recently, it’s been sugar, although most registered dieticians actually recommend a starchy diet for people recovering from illness.
What next? Calcium isn’t good for your bones? Fresh air is actually bad for you? Is any of the dietary advice we are overloaded with worth following, or would we all just be better off trusting our gut?
The Herald, 06.02.19