Food, Drink And Health: Constant Confusion
November 19, 2013

Food, Drink And Health: Constant Confusion

It is pretty well known that messages about what is good or bad for us, or degrees of benefits and risks, change every week, especially when it comes to food and drink. But recently, I was reminded of just how constant that bewildering background noise of theory and information is when I read, in quick succession, that coffee is good for us and fresh orange juice is bad for us.

The theory about coffee being good for us (or at least having some health benefits) was on redOrbit in an article about how coffee consumption can reduce the risk of cancer of the liver. The article was based on research from the American Gastroenterological Association, which said that drinking three cups a day could reduce somebody’s chances of getting liver cancer by up to 50 percent. I also read a redOrbit blog that mentioned coffee reducing the risk of strokes.

The blog also alluded to something I read elsewhere (an interesting point) about how previous studies about ‘coffee drinkers’ and ‘poor health’ failed to take into account that coffee drinkers are more likely to indulge in the consumption of other things that are unhealthy. For example, coffee drinking and smoking go hand in hand for many people. Studies of coffee, which take account of these secondary factors, have recently found coffee itself to be healthier than we thought.

Good news, unless we’ve stressed ourselves out with guilt over the years for our decadent coffee drinking.

Now, I read that fresh, 100 percent pure orange juice is bad for us. It contains amounts of sugar so high that our livers are put under strain, and amounts so high that they often outdo even fizzy soda drinks such as Coke and Pepsi. According to The Guardian: “…these middle-class healthy drinks may be higher in sugar than the Ribena my mother was fooled into giving us children for our health. And that, too, had more sugar in it than Coke. Sugar is sugar – a simple chemical, and it makes little difference whether it’s crushed from an organic, hand-picked fruit or fracked in a factory out of corn and beet.”

Am I complaining about being given, what is most likely, very helpful and important information, even if it does contradict assumptions I held before? Well, a bit. I guess it is better to be in possession of as many up-to-date facts and theories as possible, but my complaint really is with the extent to which, and the vigorousness with, almost all things that are popularly consumed are assessed and labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Of course, we should be mindful of these factors, but I think a lot of it is overblown, for two main reasons.

The first is that it makes a good news story: ‘THAT THING YOU DO EVERY DAY MAY KILL YOU.’ Everybody is going to read that. Or in the case of good news, ‘read our story in order to be healthy and superior.’ That idea of superiority is the second problem I have. Knowing about and then choosing healthy food and drink, and basking in the glow of perfect skin and teeth and inner body workings, is a way for us to feel better about ourselves. I suspect some of us would hate it if there turned out not to be an obesity epidemic, and irresponsible consumers of junk food saw the error of their ways. Who could we judge ourselves against?

The information is good, but the way it is both presented and consumed needs to be responsible and moderate, instead of ideas swinging sensationally in one direction or another causing something other than a moderate response in people.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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John is a freelance writer from the UK, currently living in Japan and thoroughly enjoying their food and whiskey. His first novel, Three Little Boys, and his travel book, Following Football, are currently available on

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