Dietitian Debunks the “Nutrobabble”

Tom Sanders is an unashamedly populist academic. He rails against the quack remedies and health scares that feed the late 20th century’s neurotic obsession with diet. The professor-designate of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London is an evangelist: preaching commonsense about eating habits, pouring scorn on the soothsayers with their diet pills and magic potions.

He debunks the Pounds 1 billion diet industry with a battery of research and a tart turn of phrase. One bestselling cure-all is flippantly referred to as the “fib and lie diet”. Those who insist food additives or whatever else is the latest culprit for the nation’s ill health are dismissed as “food terrorists” spouting “nutrobabble”.

But there is method in his use of language that is as entertaining in a tabloid as it is refreshing in the lecture theatre. Given the low public level of scientific literacy, Professor Sanders believes it is imperative to get his message across in terms that are easily understood.

A fit but gently-rounded 44-year-old, Professor Sanders specializes in research into the influence of diet on heart disease. He says the Department of Health’s advice about limiting fat intake, part of its Health of the Nation initiative, is overstated, failing to acknowledge that people need different diets according to their age.

He says government guidelines are tailored to middle-aged men most vulnerable to high cholesterol but inappropriate for the remaining millions. Growing children need fat in their diet to get sufficient calories while women are fairly resistant to fat until the menopause. He says teenage girls following low-fat diets more suitable for their fathers have become unhappy about eating, fueling the rise in disorders such as bulimia and anorexia.

“Fat has become a dirty word, both fat in food and body fat. It is too simplistic to say that all fat is bad: Eskimos have a diet high in omega-three fatty acids and rarely suffer heart disease, while women have more body fat than men and live longer.”

The Duchess and Her Diet Pills

One of the Duchess of York’s advisers, Jack Temple, 78, implied on television that her emotional, domestic and other problems may have stemmed from taking too many diet pills.

The Government, it is reported, is considering banning diet pills. Even without a ban no doctor would recommend that a patient rely on pills alone to lose weight.

The suggestion is that the Duchess might have been treated with either Duromine, which is phentermine, or Ponderax, which is fenfluramine, both of which were supplied for other patients by her New York doctor. Neither is particularly powerful nor strongly addictive, but they do have an amphetamine-type action and taken in excess can have a similar stimulant action to speed or cocaine. These diet drugs have similar side-effects as amphetamines, such as inappropriate behavior or euphoria.

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