Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Seven Deadly Food Sins

The Seven Deadly Food Sins - Or Are They?

Coffee Milk
Salt Eggs
Butter Sugar
White Bread

Patients were always telling me they never drank coffee; never ate eggs; didn’t touch butter; were allergic to milk; and wouldn’t be in the same room as a white loaf.

Are they right? Do the risks outweigh the benefits?

This guide will help you decide between saint and sinner.

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Boiling it releases carcinogenic chemicals, increasing cancer risk and cholesterol. More than five cups a day may cause addiction, with tremors, irritability, insomnia and severe withdrawal headaches when you miss your ’fix’.

It may increase blood pressure, a large strong espresso can raise it 10%.

It aggravates PMS and cyclic breast lumps, and large quantities increase risk of osteoporosis. Three daily cups may reduce fertility, damage sperm, and cause low birth-weight babies and miscarriage.

Caffeine reduces iron and zinc absorption, so no more than two cups in pregnancy. It increases insulin release triggering low blood sugar and fatigue.

The commonest risk is insomnia – when addicts finally drop off, normal sleep patterns are disturbed and they’re unrefreshed.

Smokers eliminate caffeine twice as quickly, so to stay in top gear they need twice as much.


Caffeine is a stimulant and temporary boost when you’re exhausted or pushed beyond normal limits. If you’re bitten by a snake, weaver fish or any other spiteful poisonous creature, lots of coffee can stop you falling into a coma.

It helps asthma, and increases the effectiveness of some pain killers. In spite of being a trigger for many migraine sufferers, caffeine is used medicinally in some migraine pills.

One study shows that five or more cups a day help prevent heart disease, though most of the drinkers were young and affluent, which may explain this unexpected result. Three cups a day can improve short term memory and just inhaling fresh coffee aroma may increase protection against heart disease and cancer.

Michael’s verdict: Unless you are one of the few who react to coffee, a cup or two won’t hurt. Cafetičre or filter coffee contains less caffeine than percolated, and surprisingly the traditional, tiny, strong tasting Italian espresso contains less than a mug of strong instant.

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Too much salt is bad. For salt sensitive people, even modest amounts cause increased blood pressure. For the rest of us, an overall reduction could prevent the gradual rise that comes with age.

High blood pressure means more strokes and heart disease, and halving daily intakes down to 6g from 12g in the UK, could save up to 100,000 lives a year.

Salt increases fluid retention, making swollen breasts, fingers, feet and ankles more uncomfortable around periods.

Women are at risk as high intakes increase calcium loss leading to osteoporosis (brittle bone disease).

Our average daily consumption is 12 grams which should be reduced to 5 – one teaspoonful. But it’s easier said than done. Three quarters is hidden in processed, packaged and manufactured foods, and labels show the amount of sodium, multiply by 2.5 for salt equivalent. It’s a cheap, flavouring, preserving and bulking agent and manufacturers won’t reduce it without a struggle – in spite of all the pressure on food producers, some of the worst breakfast cereal are still saltier than sea water.



Michael’s verdict: We only need a gram a day – Nature puts more in our food then required. The salt cellar is the silent killer on your kitchen table so dump it, read labels and for good health, say no to salt.

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The major risk from factory farmed, battery eggs is salmonella. Though this can be killed by cooking till hard, avoided by not eating real mayonnaise, soft scrambled eggs, or a wonderful runny omelette, the best protection is organic free range eggs.

Eggs contain substantial quantities of cholesterol, a known factor in heart disease, so eat in moderation. They are not nearly as bad as you have been told, as the seriously bad cholesterol is made by the body from animal fats. Most cholesterol in eggs goes in one end and out of the other! The world in general, and Americans in particular, are obsessed with cholesterol, so egg consumption has plummeted.

Eggs are super-rich in protein – just two supply a quarter of women’s needs. A cheap and rich source of nutrients, especially vitamins A, D, E, B12 and zinc.

Also high in vital lecithin, for fat and cholesterol elimination. It prevents gallstones and helps convert fat into energy, as well as being an important brain food helping memory and concentration.

Michael’s verdict: Unless you have an inherited fat metabolism disease, it’s not cholesterol in food which damages the arteries but that made by the body from saturated animal fats. Eggs have had an unfairly bad press – salmonella excepted – and they’re a safe and beneficial addition to most diets. Six a week and another couple used in cooking is perfectly safe.

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Lots of calories so overindulgence leads to weight gain. Very high in fat – 12 grams contain 10 grams of fat, a third of your sensible day’s consumption. Six of the 10 grams are the unhealthiest saturated fat which the body converts to cholesterol.

May contain antibiotic and other chemical residues.


Rich in vitamins A, D and E, and contains virtually none of the really bad trans fats present in some margarines other hydrogenated fats in other spreads and food products, that are now knond to be more dangerous than saturated fats.

Michael’s verdict: Unsalted butter without colouring, tastes delicious and used sparingly is infinitely superior to any factory made chemical margarine product. Choose organic to avoid unwanted chemicals.

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Diets high in sugar cause dental decay and high sugar goods push more nutritious foods out of the diet, especially with children.

Sugar provides 20 calories per teaspoonful and absolutely nothing else, and the average consumption per head in the UK is around two pounds a week. Not surprising when 100 grams of sweets contains 18 spoons, a small bar of chocolate 11, a can of cola 7, and a portion of frosted cereals 3 (unless you add more). Even a portion of baked beans has a teaspoonful.

Too much sugar, especially when combined with fats in chocolates, cakes, biscuits and sticky buns, causes weight gain and greatly increased risks of high blood pressure and heart disease.

High sugar consumption increases the excretion of fats from sebaceous glands in the skin causing spots and aggravating acne.

Excessive sugar consumption may be a factor in bad and aggressive behaviour in children and adolescents.

None whatsoever, except to sugar producers and food manufacturers.

Michael’s verdict: Halve the amount of sugar you use in every recipe – it works except for meringues. Reduce consumption of high sugar foods, especially for children. No matter how bad sugar is, the artificial sweeteners are worse, if you can’t do without sweetened drinks then reduce sugar to the minimum level but don’t use sweeteners.

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Whole milk is high in fat, more than half of which is saturated so can be a risk factor for raised cholesterol and heart disease. Cow’s milk can trigger eczema in babies, catarrh and chestiness in children and adults.

Breastfeeding mums drinking lots of cow’s milk tend to have babies more prone to eczema, catarrh and colic. Adults or children may be lactose intolerant (more common in people of Asian and far Eastern origins).

May contain traces if antibiotics and other medicaments given to cattle, and chemical residues from feed and grazing.

Cheap valuable source of essential nutrients, especially calcium, protein, zinc and vitamin B2.
Contains vitamins A, D and E – less in semi skimmed and virtually none in skimmed.

Valuable for the elderly, growing youngsters and pregnancy – one pint provides more than half the calcium and B2 needed during pregnancy or breastfeeding, as well as a day’s dose of B12 and a third of necessary protein.

Michael’s verdict: Milk allergies are the current health fashion, mostly determined by bogus allergy tests. Though humans are the only creatures that continue consuming milk after weaning – and we can do without it – for those who don’t have real intolerance or allergy problems it’s an excellent and cheap nutritional bonus. Organic is best as it avoids unwanted additions.

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White Bread

Contains little fibre so risk of constipation, varicose veins, piles, diverticulitis and other digestive problems. Contains no vitamin E – which protects against heart and circulatory disease.

Compared with wholemeal supplies only one sixth of the B vitamin biotin, less folic acid, quarter of the B6, half the B1 and substantially less of all the minerals including iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc, except calcium which is added to white flour.

Still perceived as fattening and avoided by many women though three good slices is only 230 calories. Lots of commercial bread is high in salt and the cheapest tend to be the worst. The same three slices may provide a quarter of the whole day’s safe total.

Good source of healthy calories, very low in fat, virtually none of which is saturated. Good source of calcium. Also contains potassium, iron, copper, protein and some B vitamins.

Michael’s verdict: Bread is the Staff of Life and should form, a staple part of everyone’s diet – the current vogue for wheat allergy is almost as fashionable as the dairy product allergy and equally unfounded. It’s what you do to the bread that makes the difference, a very thin smear of unsalted butter is one thing, a half inch thick layer another.

Eating white bread is not unhealthy, it’s not eating wholemeal bread that causes the problems, so allow generous helpings of both in your daily diet. For nutritional quality and flavour choose organic unbleached white flours which makes your crusty white loaf even more delicious.


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