Joe Mercola is an osteopath who runs a popular health website on which he offers all sorts of advice, mostly questionable. He also sells a huge variety of products ranging from an array of supplements to Himalayan salt, organic clothing and tanning beds. These products, like most of Mercola’s advice, are sold based on a mixture of truths, fallacies and outright absurdities, with the latter category dominating. Mercola himself is scientifically negligible, but as they say, even a blind squirrel sometimes finds an acorn. Recently he produced a manifesto highlighting “the nine foods you should never eat,” namely canned tomatoes, processed meats, margarine, vegetable oils, microwave popcorn, non-organic potatoes, table salt, soy protein isolates and artificial sweeteners. Let’s start with idea that, the whole concept of foods that “you should never eat” is flawed. It is always a question of how much. There is no doubt that a diet heavy in processed meats is undesirable, but eating a hot dog once in a while (preferably with an exciting baseball or hockey game in front of it) is not a death sentence.
Mercola’s allegations about the danger of methanol as released from aspartame are senseless; methanol occurs in higher amounts naturally in many foods and beverages. Equally absurd is his push for Himalayan salt, and his claim that trace minerals found in it make it preferable over regular salt. Salt is salt and should be limited. Mercola’s notion that soy products are risky because they contain genetically modified components is scientifically unsupportable. While there may be some environmental issues, foods that contain ingredients derived from gm plants do not differ chemically from conventional varieties. Mercola makes a number of factual errors. Microwave popcorn is to be avoided because it contains the contaminants PFOA and PFOS which according to Mercola are used to keep microwave packaging grease free. Not so. Compounds in the family of fluorinated alcohols are used. Margarine does not contain free radicals, these reactive species only have a cursory existence and are not found in foods. The insinuation that pesticide residues in potatoes present a danger is unsubstantiated. Such residues are carefully regulated and are found in trace amounts. The assertion that cooking with vegetable oils introduces oxidized cholesterol into the system is wrong. Cholesterol is not found in any vegetable product. Promoting coconut oil, a saturated fat, as the healthiest cooking oil is unfounded. The amount of bisphenol A introduced as a result of eating canned tomatoes is a minute component of the diet and is outweighed by the benefits of eating tomatoes. By and large, I would of course agree that a diet based on fresh, unprocessed foods is desirable. Our emphasis should be on consuming 7 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Whether local or organic I don’t think makes much difference, but when a choice exists, and there is no big financial burden, might as well go for the organic. If there is something you should never swallow, I would say it is Mercola’s foolish rants about anything he doesn’t sell.