Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

Don't let media health scares squeeze the joy out of life

A while ago it was eggs, then peanut butter – now delicious, vitamin C-packed orange juice apparently causes cancer

Once a breakfast staple, now a life-threatening indulgence. IFP   . 
Once a breakfast staple, now a life-threatening indulgence. IFP   . 

As Thursday mornings go, this one had not been at all bad. I was up in excellent time but quickly decided that it would be cutting things too fine to squeeze in a visit to the gym – not an uncommon conclusion, I must confess, but one that always leaves me feeling jolly good about life.

Instead, I put the kettle on, poured myself a large glass of orange juice and settled down with the newspaper. Big mistake. Almost immediately, my morning began to unravel, as I was forced to confront my impending and premature demise. I probably shouldn’t say this, given my line of work, but the best advice I can offer is to leave newspapers well alone. They ruin everything. Even orange juice.

Beaming out from the news pages was a report that scientists from the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research have discovered that drinking one glass of orange juice a day may eventually kill you. More than 100,000 people were analysed over a nine-year period for this study, which, though inconclusive (a point we must cling valiantly to), suggests that a daily intake of 100ml of fruit juice could increase the risk of cancer by 12 per cent.

It transpires that fruit juice is actually just as bad for us as fizzy drinks. “When the group of sugary drinks was split into 100 per cent fruit juices and other sugary drinks, the consumption of both beverage types was associated with a higher risk of overall cancer,” the report states.

By now, and despite all that potentially lethal sugar washing about in my glass, each sip was tasting increasingly bitter. I was becoming anxious, as I began to think about the many thousands – or was it tens of thousands? – of glasses of orange juice I must have enjoyed over the years. If only I’d gone to the gym instead, rather than sitting here killing myself, gulp by pulpy gulp.

From somewhere, though, I found new resolve. I pushed on, finished the glass and very nearly poured myself another. It was a petty rebellion, really, witnessed by no-one, but it was a stand I felt I needed to make. Haven’t we all got quite enough to worry about without being made to feel guilty for drinking a glass of orange juice with breakfast?

Haven’t we all got quite enough to worry about without being made to feel guilty for drinking a glass of orange juice with breakfast

As ever, I blame newspapers. This report, no doubt extremely long and complicated, was published in the British Medical Journal, which no one who doesn’t own a stethoscope should be reading. If it wasn’t for over-eager reporters, you know, doing their jobs properly, none of us would have to think about this stuff. But the information is out there now, so think about it we must.

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The first thing to note is that there are reports like this all of the time. The list of things that have been linked to cancer in recent years includes caffeine, chocolate, eggs, mouthwash and peanut butter. In 2013, two US doctors selected at random 50 ingredients from The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book and discovered that 40 of them had been included in studies about cancer risk or prevention. And just to confuse matters further, the UK's National Health Service actually states that a glass of fruit juice counts towards our “five-a-day” intake of fruit and vegetables. So who knows what to believe?

We are being fed far too much information when, surely, the most sensible thing to do is stick to the age-old maxim, “everything in moderation”. Even Dr Mathilde Touvier, the scientist who led the research, agrees: “As usual with nutrition, the idea is not to avoid foods, just to balance the intake.”

Don’t drink two litres of soda every day, then, but, by all means, enjoy a can of Coke at lunch or a glass of orange juice before work, so long as you’re also eating a balanced diet and doing some exercise. The choice is often presented as stark. Is it a diet of McDonald’s for you? Or a diet of purified water and lentils? But there can – and must – be a compromise. The vast majority of us have realised this.

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Studies such as these, though no doubt useful to the scientific community, only complicate what should be straightforward decisions for the public. I don’t want to spend my days obsessively checking ingredients to see if something is good or bad for me. I’d rather get on with the business of enjoying life, sugary drinks and all. As a doctor wrote in a British newspaper last week: “The question is whether we really want to spend every day focusing on ensuring we spend a few extra years in a nursing home at the end of our lives.” I’ll raise a glass of orange juice to that.

Updated: July 16, 2019 12:41 PM

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