Great column in today’s Montreal Gazette by humorist Josh Freed. I wish I could have said it so well…or so comically. Worth a read:

Apparently, health studies can be bad for … your health

By JOSH FREED, Freelance May 8, 2010

There’s been bad news lately from the Institute of They Say – the experts who are always telling us what’s good and bad for our health.

In a study by the Institute of Somewhere Or Other, they say eating your vegetables doesn’t help prevent cancer – after years of telling us it does. They also say that exercise alone doesn’t cause us to lose weight like we thought it did – when we were jogging 5,000 kilometres – because they said it did.

Frankly, it’s hard to keep up with “they,” whoever they are, because they keep changing their minds.

For years they said chocolate was sweet and fattening and bad for you, but lately it’s become good for you. According to the University of I’m Not Sure Where, they say that one small square of dark chocolate a day can decrease your risk of heart problems by nearly 40 per cent. However, before you start sprinkling it on your cereal, they also say that eating large amounts of chocolate may lead to weight gain, which can increase your risk of heart problems.

So maybe you should switch to coffee instead – it’s practically a health food, according to recent studies from the University of More Studies. They say that caffeine may help prevent Parkinson’s, gallstones, colon cancer and memory loss – and it may even reduce drowsiness.

But according to the Institute of Equal and Opposite Studies, caffeine can also cause nausea and high blood pressure in mice who’ve ingested 30 cups of double espresso a day since birth.

Part of the problem with studies is that we are a studious society. No sooner does one study find out something is good for you than 147 researchers apply for grants to do more studies and the next thing you know, it’s bad for you – or at least way more complicated than you thought.

That’s why my own philosophy is to enjoy what you can while they say it’s good for you – because you never know how soon it will be bad for you. For instance, I enjoyed many happy years on the wine diet when they said moderate drinking was healthy.

But after 3,593 more studies by the Institute of There’s No Way Drinking Is Healthy, they now say wine isn’t really so good. There’s a heated transatlantic debate between fun-loving European wine researchers who define moderate drinking as three to four drinks a day – and sober North American ones who say it’s half a drink to one.

So it all depends where you do your drinking – and sadly I do mine in North America, so I have to cut back.

I’ve also started using vitamin D, the miracle “sunshine drug” that reportedly may help prevent everything from heart disease and multiple sclerosis to arthritis, asthma, cancer and death. But I’ve abandoned vitamin E, which used to be good for you but was recently declared bad, when subjects who took vitamin E in a study someplace or other died younger than people who didn’t take any. Or maybe it was vice versa – I forget.

I’m even back on eggs after years when they said that they were the cigarettes of the breakfast table – with cartons that should be labelled “death by cholesterol.” Now eggs may be good for you again. That’s because the Institute to Promote the Egg Industry has funded studies of their own that show – surprise! – eggs are good in moderation, whatever that is.

Meanwhile, the latest Great Satan is salt, the anthrax of the food world that’s triggered more public safety alerts than airport security. In health-conscious New York, a salt shaker in public will soon be classified as a weapon – and pointing it at someone’s plate will be a criminal act unless you are licensed to salt.

So I’m cutting back for now, until The Institute to Rehabilitate Salt sponsors new studies that show salt is healthy because it makes you thirsty so you crave more water, which is good for you.

I haven’t abandoned my veggies either since they’re still good for your health even if they don’t prevent cancer. But with so many studies being done on the health effects of vegetables, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a future headline saying: SALADS CAUSE CANCER.

The truth is that food is way more complex than we think and no individual food is likely to save you or kill you. So enjoy your chocolate, caffeine, salmon, eggs and veggies while the studies say it’s okay. But keep an eye open for sudden reversals. Lately I hear that swimming after lunch is totally safe, but taking a walk after dinner isn’t.

So I’ve started swimming after dinner.

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