Superfoods article is a super joke

And the effort to categorise all foods into arbitrary “good” and “evil” groups continues, with this stunning example of a completely useless article, which contains overall less nutritional value than the “superfoods” it recommends (or poo-poos).

The term “superfoods” has come into common usage quickly, and almost silently, and while some foods could certainly be described as pretty good (containing a high nutrient content while also containing little poor nutritional content) the amount of foods now carrying the “super” moniker has gone beyond a joke.

Superfoods is a term that continues to inspire debate among nutrition professionals (e.g. dieticians) as it has become little more than a marketing tool, used to promote foods as having health benefits which are in some case questionable, and in others, entirely fictitious.

Lets take the article linked above as an example of current “superfood” buzz. I particularly enjoyed reading this one, because it ticked not one, but two boxes on the “rubbish” checklist – not only did it contain a list of superfoods, but it actually contained a list of “bad” foods, reasons why they are actually “good”, and the vice-versa for “good” foods.

The article takes a number of “bad” foods, such as cheese, jam, chocolate, coffee, and lists health benefits which make it ok to eat them. Jam will cure cancer, bacon will prevent the artery clogging normally associated with fats, and ice cream and chocolate will cure your depression and solve all your problems from the first nibble.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a superfoods spectacular if they didn’t also include some “good” foods. What I particularly enjoyed here, though, is that they include these “good” foods simply so that they can rubbish them! Yes, that’s right – Tofu will make you sterile, orange juice will give you diabetes, and heaven forbid you should eat wholemeal bread…

I do hope that this is another article that no one will take any notice of, but I feel sure that that’s not likely to happen. Instead, it will be trotted out during discussions as a reason to avoid “good” foods, and indulge in “bad” foods instead.

This article, like others in the same vein, quietly promises that by eating foods you really like, you can be healthy (and that by avoiding foods you maybe don’t like, you’re really doing yourself a favour). I think this is because if anyone actually wrote a useful article about nutrition, it would never be published, because it’s not news.

The simple fact of the matter is that we have known for years how to have a healthy relationship with food, and the key isn’t loading your diet with “superfoods”, eating millions of berries or tomatoes, or kilos of chocolate to prevent cancers and render you superhuman. The key is, as it has always been, balance and moderation.

So, here’s my proposal for a new article, that I’m sure will blow people away with its new and exciting information. The key to living long and prospering is right here – Eat a balanced diet that doesn’t include too much sugar or fat. Eat a diet that includes a variety of foods. Eat when you’re hungry, and learn to stop when you are full. And hey, every now and again, indulge in a bit of vigorous activity.

Now then, where’s my phone – I’m sure it’s about to start ringing off the hook…

Web Design & Development

On being a web developer

While tweeting earlier, I began thinking about my job and my skillset. I have been a web developer professionally for a number of years now, and for many more years as an unpaid amateur. While in college, I did my best to keep up with trends in web design and ensure that I didn’t get left too far behind.

When I left college, I first worked for a web design company, who did websites for a number of different clients. Because the requirements were so varied, I had to keep up with changes. I used several languages and technologies on a day to day basis, because some were better suited to the tasks than others.

Now I’m in a different position. I am a web developer working for a pharmaceutical company. The scope of what I do is huge, and the development list is ever growing. But due to existing frameworks, existing platforms, etc., I find that I’m always developing in the same languages (namely Caché, and Java [J2EE], some jsp). While I continue to boost my skill level in Caché, I have noticed myself that I have less time to experiment with other languages.

In particular, I read about web conferences, and different tweets and blogs about friends and colleagues who are in web development companies (or are freelancing) and I wonder if I’ve made the right decision, or if I’m being left behind.

I’m sure that I could pick up these new languages and frameworks quickly, as I have had no trouble doing so in the past. I had no Caché experience when I started this job and was able to reach a level of proficiency quite quickly. But I do wonder if there will come a point where there is simply too much to catch up on.

And then, of course, we come to a decision I have debated myself a hundred times over – is it better to be a generalist, or a specialist? I could be a Caché specialist, but then, I don’t think there’s a very big market for that. I could be a generalist, but surely there is a point where one is stretched too thin in trying to have a hand in everything?

What do you think? Is it better to be a specialist or a generalist? And is it better to do in-house web design, or to work for a web design company?

Answers on a postcard…


Homeopathy 101

A blog that I quite enjoyed reading can be found here:

I have always been fairly skeptical of homeopathy, and some of my recent reading material (Bad Science, Trick or Treatment, Suckers) has really served to reaffirm my beliefs and to provide me with a wealth of evidence to back them up.

To my mind, it is clear that homeopathy does make some people better, but for different reasons than they would assert. Varying degrees of the placebo affect, the feeling of being more cared for, the comfort of a “diagnosis”, etc., will all, I believe, make a person feel better if they have been suffering from some vague malaise.

In this case, I don’t begrudge them. If you really believe that taking a drop of Rescue Remedy before an exam will help you succeed, then who am I to burst your bubble? Largely, this kind of thing doesn’t harm anyone, and while you are essentially buying into something I don’t believe in, I have seen what positive thought and belief can do to, and for, people.

I have to draw the line, however, when it comes to real, problematic diseases and conditions. There have been far too many cases where people have died of easily preventable and/or treatable conditions because, rather than take medicine, they opted for “natural” medicine, or homeopathy. Once such example particularly offended me recently – the case of Thomas, Manju, and Gloria Sam. This article will give you more details, but in summary – the child (Gloria) suffered from severe eczema, and the parents refused conventional treatments, instead opting to provide homeopathic drops and other remedies. They also flew the child to India to receive further homeopathic treatment. When Gloria was eventually brought home and to a hospital, with an eye infection so severe that her corneas were melting, there was little the professionals could do. Her body was literally worn out from fighting the various infections that her compromised skin could not keep out of her body. She died of septicaemia.

The child in the above story suffered much more pain than she ever should have, simply because her parents refused conventional treatment. When cases like this come up, I think that removing all the homeopathic remedies from the shelf might not be such a bad idea.

I am aware that there are many plants that have important pharmaceutical properties, and that many of the drugs we now use today originally came from plants. However, most of these drugs are not produced from the original sources, because it is too difficult to control – by producing them artificially, dosage, strength, quality all can be controlled. I don’t believe that there is a big conspiracy on the part of the pharmaceutical companies to suppress “natural” remedies – many medical remedies come from “natural” sources. I genuinely believe that if there was a flower out there that could cure cancer, people would already be exploring its properties, cultivating it, and seeing how they could make it most effective, and also safe.

I think that when it comes to making healthcare decisions, you should look to the proof, not the spin, to decide. And to my mind, there is too little proof of efficacy in homeopathic remedies.