Reaping what we sow (pages 18-19)written by Irakli Loladze (Google Scholar), a professor of junk food science at a college I've never heard of. He told us that he wanted to get lots of money and Barack Obama (whose relationship to science is accurately described by his being a painful footnote in the curved constitutional space) finally gave Loladze some big bucks for the excellent "research" that Loladze already wanted to do in 2002.
What is the result of the research? It's a simple combination of the pseudosciences about the "evil junk food" and about the "evil CO2". It says that CO2 turns out food into junk food. I kid you not. The one-page article in Nude Socialist contains basically nothing beyond the previous sentence written in the bold face.
This "new interdisciplinary pseudoscience" is quite a hybrid because the pseudosciences about the "junk food" and about the "evil CO2" are probably two worst examples of pseudosciences in the contemporary era, two examples featuring the most arrogant pseudo-experts as well as the largest number of ordinary people who have been brainwashed by these junk sciences.
Let's start with these two things separately. The would-be scientific memes about the "junk food" are what a sensible left-wing blogger called the pseudoscience of McDonald's hate. The term "junk food" is meant to denote a food with a lot of sugar, fat, and perhaps salt; and the deficit of all other things – proteins, fibers, minerals, and vitamins. Almost by definition, we're supposed to think that it's "what we get at McDonald's" and other fast food chains; and it's "bad".
Except that none of these statements is defensible.
First, it is not true that the fast food chains significantly differ from other restaurants and homes in the percentage of the nutrients. In fact, you can get lots of salads with assorted vegetables in McDonald's and many people actually eat these things – which trump the "healthy food" image of the things you can eat elsewhere. A majority of the people still eat the traditional things that contain beef or chicken and carbohydrates and fat, e.g. the buns and French fries. But the substance of this food doesn't really differ from what you eat in non-chain restaurants with hamburgers, or any other restaurants, for that matter.
Feynman mentioned the pseudoscience on healthy food as an example of the pseudosciences encouraged by the success of the actual science. Just try to appreciate how much these things have grown since the times when Feynman recorded the program above.
People self-evidently single out the hamburger chains because of their intense anti-corporate bigotry and dishonesty. As the guy whom I just linked to has said, there is no evidence that McDonald's contains special addictive chemicals or something entirely different than other places to eat; and its containing some chemicals is a tautology because all of our bodies and life are composed of numerous chemicals and all organisms are giant chemical factories.
Because Ray Kroc who turned McDonald's into a big company was a Czech American (his father was born 10 km from my home), I could also argue that the attacks on McDonald's are manifestations of nationalist or racist prejudices against my nation. Long before I knew about Ray Kroc, I considered McDonald's to be one of the symbols of the advanced civilization and when I learned about the founder, my pride about my nation's contributions to the civilization went up. But be sure, it doesn't influence my honest attitude. I have exactly the same opinions about the Burger King and Wendy's.
Second, it's not true that "sugars and fats and salt are bad". Sugars and fats are clearly the most important compounds that our bodies look for in the food; they're the essence and the main reasons why we eat at all. Other things are "cherries on a pie" in comparison. We mainly need energy – which may be quantified in calories – and when it comes to food, it is stored almost entirely in carbohydrates and fats.
Animals and humans have always looked for plants that were rich in sugars; and they loved to grow animals that had enough fat. It's no coincidence that civilized nations (except for Jews) eat lots of pork and pigs are fat before they are killed. It's really the point that they have the fat plus some proteins that are found in every meat.
You can always eat lots of things – fruits, vegetables, roots – that contain almost no calories but they have lots of all the other things. But people just don't need so much of the other things (although you need to refill several of them sort of regularly). People and animals primarily need some daily intake of food that has calories in it – this food is the essential part of food.
And what about salt? Even if it were right that McDonald's gives one more salt than other restaurants or food prepared by your wife, there is simply no problem with salt. Junk food evangelists keep on brainwashing most of the mankind by fairy-tales about the scientific evidence for the increased cardiovascular problems caused by excess salt. The actual truth is that science produces no evidence of this sort – and it has produced some so far weak evidence in the opposite direction. You surely need some salt and more than the minimum amount of salt seems to be good for you, especially if cardiovascular problems put you at risk.
So far the largest study of the influence of salt on the mortality was done in 2011,
Reduced dietary salt for the prevention of cardiovascular disease: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (Cochrane review, PDF full text),by Rod Taylor and four collaborators. As the main link shows, the paper has 217 citations so far. See a review, Now Salt Is Safe To Eat, in the Express (2011). They found that the increased salt intake has led to
- the increased salt in urine which is hardly surprising LOL
- the increased blood pressure which is not surprising either because a higher blood pressure allows the body to get rid of the salt more quickly, but the increased pressure means nothing because there were:
- no hints of benefits or a change of all-cause mortality
- salt restrictions have actually increased all-cause mortality in those with heart failure!
According to the actual scientific research, the effects of salt seem too weak to be clearly discernible and if you think that by removing a gram of salt from a food, you are significantly helping your health, you are absolutely fooling yourself – just like if you believe the horoscope on the same page of your favorite newspapers as the "healthy food science". Some hints that extra salt could be good for you exists; but this influence isn't extremely strong, either. It just doesn't matter how much salt you eat if you have at least the minimum amount.
Salt superstitions are just a particular example. We're bombarded by hundreds of similar things and most of us don't have the time – and mostly even expertise – needed to find the actual answers in the scientific literature to the question whether these memes are right or wrong. But you're invited to look at the paper above and search for other papers and decide whether you still believe that the scientific research justifies the idea that it's good for your health to halve the intake of NaCl. There's no evidence for such a claim. It's really easy for the body to get rid of the extra salt and if the body increases the blood pressure to do so quickly, it doesn't signify any immediate problem. The very meme that "a higher blood pressure equals a problem" is another myth, too. There is a correlation between cardiovascular problems and a higher blood pressure (be sure that a low pressure may also reduce the quality of people's lives) but it's simply not true that the blood pressure always ruins the body or shows a problem – the blood pressure may get increased by the body's mechanisms safely and for sensible reasons, too.
On the other hand, spasms may be caused by shortage of salt. If you experience such things, you surely need to add more salt to your food.
Loladze, the junk food "scholar" who wrote the article in Nude Socialist that I started with, claims that CO2 is a "similar kind of junk food" for the plants as carbohydrates and fats are for humans. Right, I totally agree with this analogy. The only problem is that his "junk food" claims are equally idiotic in both cases. CO2 is the "main food" of plants in the exactly analogous way in which sugars and fats are the main food for us (proteins come third). Organisms just can't survive without this main part of the food! And they naturally look for the food that has a high percentage of these compounds. This strategy is in no way suicidal; it has been a strategy to survive in the previous billions of years (in the case of plants) or hundreds of millions of years (in the case of animals). In the developed world, we have enough food in calories and some people eat a lot of them and despite lots of superstitions about some mysterious detailed other reasons, that's the main reason why they may get fat. But that's just like children who are spoiled because their parents are too rich. Being rich in money or fats or sugar is primarily a good thing. Every good thing may turn into a bad thing in some situations but it's still true that people promoting a primarily good thing as a bad thing are liars and scammers.
Lolardze did this "research" – and it was paid – with an obvious purpose. To try to counter the fact that a higher concentration of CO2 is good for plants. Some of them may afford to have fewer pores (the holes through which get CO2) because fewer pores are enough to get the same CO2 if its concentration is higher. But it's good for the plants because water vapor is evaporating from the pores. So the "modern, high-CO2-using" plant with fewer pores is a much better water manager. It doesn't lose too much water which is why it can grow in less humid environments, and why it can grow larger, too. Serious articles showing the beneficial effect of CO2 on plants appear every other day. Yesterday, Nature published another one about the global greening of the Earth 70% of which was attributed to higher CO2.
Will Happer of Princeton knows much more about the processes involving CO2 in the plants etc. and he sort of wanted me to learn most of these details as well but I am simply not interested in too many details of this science. I feel confident that I know more than enough to be certain that a higher CO2 concentration in the air may be said to be good for plants.
Now, a question is what are the changes of the concentration of various nutrients in plants induced by the changed concentration of CO2. Quite generally, one may expect the increase of the compounds with lots of carbon – because carbon became more accessible. At the same moment, the change probably won't be too big. DNA still needs some – the same amount – of phosphorus and other things, the conditions for the "optimum material from which the leaves and other parts of the plant" should be composed are basically unchanged.
So I think that the actual answer is that the percentages of other nutrients don't change much but it may be expected that some relative concentration of non-carbon nutrients (and perhaps some organic nutrients as well) will go down. But that doesn't mean that people get unhealthy from the food grown in a higher CO2. If the food has too much sugar or fat in it, people will feel that the taste is boring or bland and they will add more vegetables on it, or spices, or eat more fruits and nuts and other things, whatever. They will do so because they feel that they're missing something.
Just like the plants try to manage their nutrients and resources optimally, people are trying to do the same thing. The shortage of CO2 for plants and fats+sugars for humans is clearly a problem causing starvation. The increase of their availability makes starvation much less likely and it basically leads to positive consequences only – and no negative ones. Well, you may say that if you have too much money, it's also bad. But the point is that you may always ignore it. If you know that it's bad for you to spend too much money, you can leave the funds in the safebox. In the same way, people may just leave the sugar in the McDonald's or Wendy's restaurants. Plants may leave the CO2 in the air. In all cases, people and plants generally try to get fats, sugars, CO2, and money because they believe it's good for them and in a vast majority of cases, they're obviously right.
I think that people like Loladze know very well that they're just dishonest corrupt aßholes. They must know that the higher CO2 is making the life of plants better and, as a consequence of our dependence on plants, it's making our lives better as well. They know that according to all objective criteria that people knew before CO2 was politicized, it may be shown that a higher CO2 concentration increases the quality of wine and pretty much every other thing related to food and beverages. But they just construct convoluted pseudoscientific theories and memes suggesting the opposite because they get paid for this deception.
These junk scientists are immoral and if there's no God to do the job of sending a lightning upon their heads, they have to be punished otherwise.