Read this article and save $200,000!!

Oh, that’s an eye-catching headline! How many times have you read such an attention-grabber, only to be disappointed by the contents of the article? This may be one of those times. Or, perhaps the article sounded good or horrifying, until you read rebuttal comments after it which changed your perspective? Happens to me a lot.

Often it seems like articles do not live up to their headlines; or things are said in a way that is… not outright lying, necessarily, but perhaps deceptive. I won’t accuse anyone of deliberate deception – it may be that a person is so blind to his own biases that he doesn’t even see that he is being deceptive. And quite a few articles may present only one side of a story. For instance, I could write an article about owning a cat. It could be completely truthful, but not necessarily “the whole truth.” For instance, I could talk about how nice it is to have a companion, how that petting an animal lowers blood pressure, and that it is calming to have a cat jump up into your lap and start purring. All totally true. But I may leave out things like hairballs and smelly cat litter. Oftentimes, the one-sided-ness is made necessary by time or space constraints; or because a person only wants to look at one aspect, and is not intending for it to read like an encyclopedia or doctoral thesis.

Several months ago, I read an article that suggested that a multi-vitamin with folic acid could lead to a higher incidence of cancer. [My own research into that suggested that the link was not strong, and that folic acid is a necessary and beneficial part of the diet (or a multi-vitamin) and while it may increase some types of cancer, it may reduce other types, as well as have other health benefits. Of course, folic acid is now well-known to play a role in dramatically lowering the risk of your baby developing anencephaly or spina bifida or other neural tube defects, so on balance I’d say, “bring me the multi-vitamins!”] Anyway, on this particular article, the author had a list of foods and the amount of folic acid they contained, based on 100 calorie quantities, in decreasing amounts of folic acid. Several common items were high on the list, like lettuce and celery. Quite frankly, the article made it sound deceptively easy for a person to get the RDA of folic acid. After all, 100 calories is not very much! Or is it? It turns out that “100 calories” of lettuce was about 8 cups of lettuce; while it was something like 7 cups of celery. Certainly people do not commonly eat that much of those items. Nor do people try to get all their daily folic acid (or any other vitamin or nutrient, I daresay) from a single source. However, the overall tone of the article and impression from the article was that supplementation was not necessary since it was so easy to get all you need from dietary sources. But when you dig a little deeper, you find that that is not exactly the case. It would have been less deceptive to have the amounts of folic acid listed in a typical serving size or a typical amount eaten — say a couple of stalks of celery — rather than a standard “100 calories.”

Speaking of serving sizes, that’s another thing that can be deceptive, unless you read the fine print. I remember being surprised the first time I found out that a single 12-oz. can of Coke had 2.5 servings in it. That means that one serving is about 1/2 cup. If all a person drinks is half a cup of a soft drink per day, then they’ll probably be just fine; but how many people drink a whole can (or an even larger bottle!), thinking that they’ve only consumed the amount of calories and sugar in a single serving?

I recently watched the documentary Super Size Me for the second time. Among the other interesting things was a couple who drank 4 or 5 two-liter bottles of Diet Coke per day. The man had a half-gallon jug which he would drink two of on a regular basis, and sometimes more. I don’t care if it is “diet” and doesn’t have any calories, that can’t possibly be healthy for you! [Not to mention the possibility of aspartame causing cancer or otherwise being a dangerous additive.] I’m aware of the drawbacks of the documentary — it is possible to eat only at McDonald’s and to consume less than 5,000 calories per day, although that was his average daily intake. I wonder how many times Morgan Spurlock (the guy who did the experiment on himself) got only a hamburger for a meal. Sure, it was funny (but gross) to see him literally get sick after eating an entire super-sized meal, but it didn’t have to happen that way. The “rules” of his experiment was that he would only eat from McDonald’s (including water), that he had to order everything on the menu at least once, and if he was asked (but only if he was asked), he would super-size a meal. Very early into the experiment, he got a super-sized meal and his stomach couldn’t handle all that food, because he wasn’t used to it. I wonder how much of his food choices was for dramatic effect. He could have slowly worked his way up to eating a super-size meal, and he could have gotten water instead of soft drinks almost every time (getting soft drinks only once apiece), and he could have eaten mostly salads without dressing rather than a hamburger meal, and he could have gotten the desserts only one time apiece, but I daresay that he had several milkshakes throughout that month and had soft drinks more often than not. However, since he didn’t disclose his actual food diary for that month, we can’t know what he ate. Still a great documentary that makes you think about the role of food, sugar, and junk food in health and overall well-being, but if you “read the fine print” — if you dig a little deeper — if you listen to alternative and/or opposing views, it might change your perspective on it.

Here is a similar article, from the New York Times titled, “Why a Big Mac Costs Less than a Salad.” The article is about the federal government subsidizing various aspects of the food industry, and the claim is made that they subsidize most the foods we’re supposed to eat the least of — meat and dairy. There are many rebuttal comments below — several drawing attention to the disproportionate way these percentages are represented — they are the correct height but not the correct volume, so the “base” of the pyramid (meat and dairy) looks much larger than it should be. Other comments include questions of bias for the particular group that came up with this “subsidy pyramid,” and how they arrived at their figures; while some just decried the ideas of subsidies at all. One astute person commented that for the price of a Big Mac (about $4 in NYC), you could buy all the ingredients necessary to make a very nice salad (or several very nice salads). Another person said that based on the figures, federal meat subsidies may have lowered the price of a Big Mac by six cents at the most. One thing that was not said, which may or may not make any difference, is that dairy and meat farms may have higher “production costs” than vegetable farms. With big tractors and other farm implements, one man can take care of a whole lot of plants, but there may be a limit to how many cows one man could take care of. It may not be, but that was a possibility that sprang to mind.

So, I’m telling myself as much as you — read critically, even if (perhaps especially if) you like what the person has to say. They may be telling only part of the story.

Oh, how to save $200,000? Don’t buy a Rolls Royce.🙂

2 Responses

  1. Have you seen “Fat Head”? It’s a documentary in response to Super Size Me. It’s very good, and quite entertaining (for a documentary).


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