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Australian lawyer David Gillespie in his very readable and witty book “Big fat Lies” believes that the polyunsaturated vegetable oil commonly used in the west is bad for you and that saturated animal fats are OK. This is a new paradigm, and many doctors would disagree. As part of his evidence he looks at the diet of Israeli Jews and compares their health with non-Jews living in the same country.
Israeli Jews live on what would have been considered the ideal diet under the earlier paradigm: low in animal food and high in vegetable food. This is totally in keeping with Kosher food rules, and provides scientists with an unintentional trial of mass feeding with high doses of polyunsaturated fats. With 12% of the energy in their food coming from polyunsaturated oils (in 1996) the Israeli Jews are the world’s largest consumers. In Australia in the same period the amount was 5%.
What are the consequences of eating a perfect Kosher diet like this? (Remembering, as with all epidemiological ‘evidence’, the connection could be coincidental rather than causal).
Israeli Jews have the highest heart disease rates in the world;
Non Jews living in Israel have rates 1.5 times lower.
Israeli Jews have extremely high rates of type 2 diabetes;
Non Jews living in Israel have a rate 2.3 times lower.
Israeli Jews have high cancer rates;
Non Jews living in Israel have rates 3.4 times lower.
This was called the ‘Israeli paradox’ because under the earlier paradigm they should have had lower rates of all these diseases. It was meant to be saturated animal fats that clogged your arteries and gave you coronary heart disease.
I remember in the mid 1980s when this came into the biology syllabus I was teaching, and I dutifully taught my classes to stop smoking, to get more exercise and to switch from animal fats to polyunsaturates. Am I responsible for lowering their life expectancies?
(The flip side of this is the so-called ‘French paradox’ where a diet high in saturated fats like butter and cream produced a population of slim people with better health than the rest of us!)
I hope that a more up to date survey would show that the situation in Israel has changed considerably since 1996.
I’d like to make it clear that in the nine cases I’ve listed so far I’m not saying only religion can harm your health. Whenever you find people with shared customs and diets you can expect certain shared health parameters. For instance the Adventists of Linda Loma in California have a better diet and a healthier lifestyle than their neighbours, because their religion sets them sensible guidelines. (When I want soya milk in Trinidad I buy it at the Adventist book store.) Likewise the Aboriginal peoples of Australia’s Northern Territories have the world’s highest per capita consumption of Coca Cola. The fructose in this is turned into uric acid in the body, and this in turn results in very high rates of kidney disease in adults, gout, diabetes and coronary heart disease. Nothing to do with religion.
Gillespie, David “Big Fat Lies. How the diet industry is making us sick fat and poor.” Penguin Books