Will Raspberries and Seaweed Provide a Miracle?
People around the world are desperate to lose weight. So desperate they do—and say—desperate and crazy things.
If the goal is healthier people—and a population with greater physical, social, and mental wellbeing—the World Health Organization’s definition of health—what we’re doing is bizarre. It might be funny—if it weren’t so harmful.
Let’s illustrate with two “amazing” stories: the “power” of raspberry ketones, and the “limitless” potential of seaweed.
In 2013 many people opened their email to find that “Raspberry Ultra Drops” were a fantastic product full of “fat-burning ingredients” (by what—spontaneous combustion?). Raspberry Ultra Drops also promised to detoxify your body. They came with “endorsements” by Dr. Oz—even a positive story from Fox News.
As Snopes.com noted, it was mostly lies. The news investigations were, yes, fakes of Fox (what would Jon Stewart think?) Dr. Oz had made some positive noises about raspberry ketones, but had very clearly not endorsed this particular product.
Then people ordering raspberry ultra drops never got them. Others had their credit cards charged for multiple, unrequested products.
The company soon disappeared. Another internet diet scam.
But what’s perhaps more interesting were some “reviews” of Raspberry Ultra Drops. One vigorous denunciation of the fraud came from the Diet Management Association of America. The DMAA claim they are an impartial source of information, allowing the “best professional” scientists and nutritionists to post—without editing—their findings. They tout the many different trusted websources they highlight—like the Mayo Clinic and CNN.
But who is the DMAA? Who runs it? There’s no information at all on their website. And they themselves sponsor diet products. The stuff they sponsor includes green coffee extracts, “superfruit” supplements, and our great Italian friend, Garcinia Cambogia. The DMAA claim that all these products work. Their claims is buttressed by, yes, the “endorsement” of Dr. Oz.
So which shadowy source are we to believe? The scammers? Or the reviewers of the scammers?
That’s life on the Net. But what’s up with the BBC?
There’s More than Coal In Newcastle
A recent headline on BBC News was endearingly eye-catching. It declared “Seaweed May Be Key to Weight Loss.”
British sea kelp, that is.
The story? “Scientists at Newcastle University said a compound found in common seaweed would stop the body absorbing fat.”
The “miracle” ingredient—alginate. An extract of sea kelp.
What were the exciting results? First, alginate was added to bread. According to Professor Jeff Pearson, the “initial taste tests have been extremely encouraging.”
Alginate bread—even in “small amounts” reduced people’s fat “intake” by a third. Now clinical trials are planned.
And the trials might work. But drugs that decrease fat absorption—like xenical—are already on the market. They have produced much diarrhea—and relatively few miracles.
Plus, we should consider the “fat as enemy” public health advice of the 1970s and beyond. Americans were told “low fat” diets were the way to weight loss—and health.
So Americans ate more sugar. And got fatter—while becoming more unhealthy. And let us not forget than presently supported “healthy” diets like the Mediterranean one are filled with vegetable fats. Most nutritional epidemiologists think diets containing many vegetable fats are a good deal for the body.
So when will sanity reign?
Weight Versus Health
In the nineteenth century the great actor Kean reportedly said “dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”
He was talking about acting, not life. But we have to recognize that for us dieting is easy—weight control and health are hard.
It’s time for another public health “Come to Jesus” moment. We have to stop seeing weight as the prime health issue.
Health is the prime health issue.
And health—like diet—is controlled by many, many factors (see my “Why Diets Don’t Work” in this space.) Many of these elements—like safe walking districts; food subsidies that make junk food cheaper than other stuff; jobs that ensconce people into mollusk-like behaviors before computer monitors—are often not under individual control. Next come variables like gut bacterial populations and viral infections which we know affect weight—but not how.
What is known is that healthier populations have better weight control. That’s the real direction of the equation: get populations healthy and weight control improves. Dieting and dieting and dieting doesn’t seem to have done much for the physical health of most people—if you use survival as a measure. Lots of yo-yo weight loss and gain may shorten, not prolong, existence.
And what about the social, economic, and psychological costs of a world where “diet miracles” and “simple effort” promise that everyone who wants to will lose weight?
It doesn’t work that way. Meanwhile we impoverish millions with weight loss scams. And make them feel like failures when they don’t work.
Making for great individual sadness—and a more desperate population. Including desperation for the next great diet treatment.
Health is a collective issue. How people work, move, eat and rest has huge impacts on our economy and our joy in life.
It’s time we started thinking that way—and learned to ignore the next promise of a diet miracle.