Gloria Hunniford and Chris Bavin investigate claims that oily fish may not be the wonder food it is often said to be after reports state it could even be dangerous.
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Hello. Today we're talking about the scary headlines that might make you think that
some of the food you eat every single day could be really dangerous.
But sometimes what you read isn't the full story.
It might even be wrong, and that can have some serious implications
for your health.
Every day we're bombarded with conflicting information
about our favourite foods.
One minute we're told something's good for us,
the next it's not,
and we're left feeling guilty about what we're eating.
Well, we've been wading through the confusion to separate
the scare stories from the truth,
so you can choose your food with confidence.
Hello and welcome to Food - Truth Or Scare,
the programme that unpicks what's behind some of those headlines
we all read in the papers or online,
so you'll know which ones are really worth paying attention to
and which you can safely ignore.
It's really, really easy to see a news story that makes you totally
rethink what you should be eating to avoid some serious health problems.
But if the story you're reading is barking up the wrong tree,
you could end up making completely the wrong decision.
So, today we'll be bringing some much-needed clarity to stories that,
if you really did swallow what they say,
could have serious implications for your health.
Coming up... Oily fish has long been called a miracle food,
but now some reports claim it could actually be dangerous.
So, what's the truth?
It's actually really worrying because consumers, like yourself,
are so confused about what they should do.
And Chris is as confused as anyone when it comes to whether it's safe
to eat steaks and burgers rare.
So, we'll clear up which meats you can eat pink.
I wouldn't eat a burger like that.
With the beef I'm fine, but with the burger
I'm maybe a little bit more apprehensive.
You know, Chris, it never fails to amaze me how many headlines
there are, and stories, about food.
Every single day - and I get the papers every morning -
and there it is, another headline -
another food, another warning.
But, sometimes there's a headline that sort of turns convention
on its head, like oily fish.
Now, since I was a kid at school,
my mum was sticking that sort of cod-liver oil in my mouth,
every day going to school. And, you know,
we've been told that, in relation to oily fish,
that the omega-3 fatty acids inside
are really, really good for you.
Yeah, well, we're told it's brain food,
it's good for our heart, and we should eat it every week.
-And do you?
-I try to, actually. Yeah, I do.
Now, problem is, last autumn there was a flurry of stories
like this one. And it was a French study,
actually, and they were telling us that oily fish
was actually bad for us.
So, I wanted to find out if those of us who were eating it every week,
as we've been told to do for years,
could in fact have been putting our health at risk.
And where better to start than by the sea?
Every year, we spend over £1.5 billion on fresh fish,
and our favourite by a long stretch just happens to be
one of the healthiest around - salmon.
Now, we've long been told that salmon
and other oily fish, like tuna and mackerel,
is so wonderfully good for us, and we should eat plenty of it.
But then suddenly last year, some of the papers performed
an abrupt about-turn, instead saying that
too much oily fish was bad,
and could even lead us to an early grave.
Now, those headlines are the exact opposite of everything I've always
thought about it and indeed believed in -
that fish is really good for you and you should eat it every week,
especially if it's oily fish.
Now, I must admit, I've always tried to follow that advice,
and like millions of other people I even back up the fish I eat
with fish oil supplements, as well.
So those headlines really had me worried.
I now wonder whether the foods I've been eating
to try and keep me healthy
might actually be doing me more harm than good.
But first off, I have to confess to not being really sure which fish
are classed as oily and which aren't.
I'm hoping that fishmonger Kieran Hammond can help me out.
Well, Kieran, I have to admire your display, it's fantastic.
So, which ones, as far as you're concerned as the expert here,
-are the best oily fish?
-You've got the sprats here, they're very good.
A classic thing to do with that is lightly flour it and fry it,
-it's a very easy meal.
We've got the sardines here, they're great on the barbecue.
-Because they're so oily, they just crisp up.
-Just put them straight on.
-Crisp up and they're lovely.
And we've got the herrings, there, and the tuna.
It turns out there are a lot more oily fish than I realised -
12, in fact. As well as those mackerel, sprats,
sardines and herring,
there are also pilchards, trout, anchovies,
whitebait and salmon, and a couple of fish we eat less often here -
carp and jack.
Then, of course, there's tuna,
although, perhaps surprisingly, that's only considered an oily fish
when it's fresh, not when it's in cans,
because, unlike with other types of oily fish,
the canning process removes a lot of the beneficial oils
that makes them so good for us.
The oils are fatty acids called omega-3s,
and these fish store higher levels of those fatty acids in their flesh,
which of course we then eat.
And the customers here in Whitstable have definitely bought into
the message that oily fish is good for us.
Well, I've heard that it can help
slow down dementia and stuff like that.
Are you aware very much of, like, oily fish?
To try to get omega-3 for health?
Yes, we are. Statistics show that it's supposed to be beneficial,
particularly for MS, so...
And Michael takes it because I think it's good for him.
So, Michael, do you get it as an insurance policy as well?
-It's good for your knees.
It doesn't improve his hearing, Gloria, but it's good for the knees!
But do you ever read the headlines, you know,
in the daily papers, that will say,
"Too much oily fish is bad for you"?
How do you regard those headlines when you see them?
We take no notice, because there are so many of them.
Well, they might not take much notice of those scary headlines,
but I have to say I do, so I've asked dietician Linia Patel
to help me navigate the choppy waters
of those conflicting news reports.
-Look at this marvellous array of fish.
'And whether they're recommending oily fish or warning against it,
'what all those reports have in common is that they say
'it's the omega-3 that makes it good or bad for us.
'But Linia most definitely comes down on one side of the argument.'
Originally, when they started looking at the benefits of omega-3,
they looked at the Inuits in Greenland,
and they saw that Inuits had really low levels of heart disease,
and that was correlated with their intake of fish.
So, we know, and there's lots of evidence to show,
that omega-3 has a good impact on preventing heart disease and treating it.
But since then, they've found omega-3 has a whole host of benefits.
Researchers are also interested in the effect that oily fish might have
on dementia, and it's hard not to be impressed by claims
that it can stave it off.
But for me, there was one negative headline that really hit home,
and it's this one, saying that eating oily fish increases your risk
of developing diabetes.
Now, I was diagnosed as being pre-diabetic a few years ago,
and I'm determined to try and make sure that I don't develop
full-blown Type 2 diabetes,
so I'm pretty careful about what I eat.
This one says, "Diabetes risk soars by a quarter...",
which is very high,
"..if you eat oily fish like salmon or mackerel every day."
Well, I wouldn't eat it every day but, I mean,
that is a scaremongering headline.
It is, and we've always got to remember
there's a lot of media hype in terms of nutrition.
But when Linia looked at the original study behind that headline,
she discovered that the link with diabetes
actually had more to do with meat than with fish.
When you actually look at this study in a little bit more detail,
we find that actually it's not quite as straightforward
as linking your intake of oily fish to diabetes.
When the researchers were making the completion of the study,
they were linking it more to the intake of essential fats
that were found in meat, versus oily fish.
Well, I must say it's a relief to hear Linia say
that particular headline wasn't right,
even if it did unnecessarily worry not just me,
but, I'm sure, many of us as well.
Next, though, I'm keen to hear Linia's take on another
that's even more concerning.
"Eating too much oily fish could increase your risk
"of premature death."
Very dramatic, and again when you drill down into the research,
it's not quite as straightforward as this.
'A number of newspapers ran this story,
'but some headlines oversimplified the study's findings
'and reported a link to oily fish that simply wasn't there.'
Now, the story said,
"Right, we know that oily fish actually increases your risk
"of good cholesterol, so that must make a link between oily fish
"and premature death", but it's not quite that straightforward.
So, really this headline is all about cholesterol...
-..and not really about oily fish at all.
'In this case, the researchers found that people who had kidney disease
'and high levels of good cholesterol in their blood
'were at risk of dying prematurely,
'but that's not what the headline suggested.'
What do you make of that, then, as an expert,
-does this not infuriate you?
So, so frustrating. And it's actually really worrying,
because consumers, like yourself, are so confused
about what they should do, and I spend my life trying to debunk myths
that the media have created.
Well, thank goodness we can all rest easy and not worry about
those two headlines.
There is, however, still one group of people for whom things
may not be quite as clear-cut, and that's pregnant women.
Rachel Hudson lives not too far away from Whitstable harbour,
and she's expecting her second child.
But when one headline suggests that eating fish
could make her baby obese, and the next says
that oily fish could protect it against allergies
or boost its brainpower,
it's no wonder that she doesn't know who or what to believe.
I don't think it's easy for pregnant women to get the right message
on food or oily fish.
There is a little bit advice given on nutrition,
but not much, as far as I'm concerned,
so it is up to you to, just, you know,
look on the internet and ask other people. And sometimes, you know,
Not only has Rachel been put off by some of those headlines,
but GPs and health visitors also tell pregnant women
they should steer clear of eating too much oily fish
because it can contain pollutants
that might be dangerous for the baby.
So, I've invited Rachel and fellow pregnant mum Louise
to meet Linia, whom I hope will, once again,
make sense of some of those mixed messages.
So, girls, when it comes to oily fish, do you buy that?
Well, I buy salmon more. Salmon and the canned tuna is what I have.
So, what do you rate as being oily fish?
When I hear oily, I think of, like, smoked mackerel.
I heard canned tuna come up there. So, how does that sound?
Well, canned tuna actually doesn't have that much omega-3.
Fresh tuna has more omega-3.
Both Louise and Rachel admit that they're unsure
which fish is safe to eat when pregnant,
perhaps confused by those headlines
suggesting that too much oily fish might be bad for the baby.
But then, are the headlines right?
You know, omega-3's really important in pregnancy, cos it helps
in brain development, visual development, nervous system etc.
But Linia says the presence of pollutants like mercury
means that pregnant women should have no more than
two portions of oily fish a week.
Can you set out, then, what the girls should not have?
Firstly, you should not be having things like shark,
marlin and swordfish at all, because they're the fish
that have the highest levels of mercury.
What you can have is maximum two portions of oily fish -
salmon, fresh tuna, mackerel -
and then you can have white fish - so cod, your plaice,
your sea bass - you can have that as much as you like.
While the NHS advises pregnant women to have no more than two portions
of oily fish a week because of that slight pollutant risk,
Linia recommends that they boost their omega-3 intake further
with a small supplement.
We know, particularly in the third trimester, that's when
the brain develops, so potentially you could be looking
to have a higher dose of omega-3 intake then.
But there's a word of caution, as well.
Linia says pregnant women should take a supplement
that's clearly labelled "fish oil", rather than "cod-liver oil",
because cod-liver oil contains high levels of vitamin A,
which might just be harmful to the baby.
It's the clear advice that Rachel and Louise have been looking for.
You always want to better, like,
your health and your baby's health, and anything that I can do
to make that better, then I'm going to do it.
And especially entering the third trimester, now,
I will be upping my fish intake
and taking an omega-3 supplement, so...
But if oily fish contains pollutants,
and as a result pregnant women are told to limit their intake,
does that mean the rest of us should watch how much we have, as well?
If you're not pregnant, Linia says up to four portions a week
would be fine.
But I have to say that when Linia recommended those supplements,
it was music to my ears,
because I've been taking fish oil for decades, and I'm not alone.
15% of all the supplements we buy are fish oils.
At King's College in London,
Professor Tom Sanders has studied the powers of omega-3
from both fish and in supplements.
His research suggests that the millions of us who take
fish oil supplements every year really needn't bother...
although he's going to have a real job convincing me
that I shouldn't be taking mine.
This is my fatty acid one.
-Oh, there we go.
-A few of them.
-They look more like suppositories.
-GLORIA LAUGHS I assure you, they're not!
'Now, I take a relatively high-dose supplement, daily,
'but as far as the professor is concerned,
'he says my whole week of pills is just about the same
'as one piece of oily fish.'
Well, a typical tablet, like that, would provide about half a gram,
so if you took one of those every day,
about three and half grams a day,
which is roughly about the same as eating
one piece of salmon,
or probably two bits of mackerel, a week.
You see, I have an argument,
maybe I'm just trying to validate why I take so many vitamins...
Because...if I had a proper diet all the time,
I would accept a doctor's advice that says you don't need vitamins,
but the thing is that we all don't have a proper diet these days.
-Now, I know that you're sceptical, but I like the theory of taking them.
One of the problems I have, generally, about supplements
is that people are under the illusion
that the food we are eating now is inferior
to the food we have eaten in the past.
You know, maybe, actually, the food people ate in Victorian times
was great. It wasn't. It was dreadful!
They were all undersized, they didn't live long, you know,
survival was bad.
We are better nourished now than we have ever been,
and that's why people are living much longer.
Even if I didn't eat any oily fish, the professor would still prefer me
to look for other natural sources of omega-3,
which he says will give me the benefits that supplements might not.
If you don't like oily fish, and you're a vegetarian,
then make sure you use rapeseed oil and eat nuts.
Like, walnuts are a very good source,
and eggs are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
But I'm not sure I'm ready to break the habit of a lifetime yet.
The jury is still out.
Now, I'm going to argue the point for this.
I think I'm going to keep on taking them
because I know I'm not getting, probably, in the average week,
the right amount of oily fish.
I don't see any harm in taking a fish oil supplement
as an insurance policy but I can't say I can promise you
it's going to deliver any benefit.
Do you think it does you some good?
So, whether it is better you get it from a supplement or,
as the professor says, from oily fish itself -
which is where he and I actually agree to disagree -
it's clear that, however you take it, omega-3 does have real benefits,
and those headlines suggesting that it doesn't just aren't true.
For a host of quick and easy ideas for cooking oily fish
like salmon, mackerel and sardines,
all you have to do is go to...
..where you'll also find plenty of other recipes
for some of the topics we're covering in this series.
Now, as important as what we eat, is how we cook it,
and that's especially true with our meat.
Tony's a local butcher here.
Tony, can you tell me a little bit more about what we've got?
Yeah, we've got prime cuts of steak,
sirloin, fillet, ribeye, steak bone, frying.
And when you are serving your customers,
do they ask you how do they cook it?
Yes, they do, yes. How long to cook it for.
A steak, people like it cooked well-done, medium, rare,
so I give them the times that they want.
So, purely a preference, as far as you are concerned?
It's got nothing to do with food safety?
No, none at all. It is how you prefer your meat.
OK. And what about other meats? Would you say it is true of those?
Lamb can be served pink or well-done,
but with chicken and pork, I would say cook it through.
Well, we are not all lucky enough to have a good friendly local butcher
on hand to tell us whether the meat we're eating is safe,
so we have enlisted the help of two thoroughly different meat eaters
to put their different preferred cooking types to the test.
Every day, in restaurants all over the country,
countless waiters ask the same question...
"How would you like your meat cooked?"
And we've all got our own particular response.
I wouldn't eat pink pork. Erm...
Pink beef, lamb, yes, but I'd be very particular
about where I bought it from.
Meat, I like medium,
I like it a bit red in the middle, but not too red
where the blood's dripping all over the place.
I just like to be always on the safe side with it.
I know a lot of people like it nearly rare
but it's not for me, that.
I used to like the blood running,
when you cut it and the blood follows the knife,
I used to like the beef like that.
For me, a great steak is medium,
and any other meats just have to be cooked through.
But it appears that advice, from newspapers to restaurants,
and even the people who set the rules, all seem to be different.
So, while one paper will warn that a rare gourmet beefburger
might be harbouring dangerous bugs,
another will declare it's apparently safe to eat,
but only in restaurants and not at home.
So, with an increasing number of restaurants revelling
in serving red meat pink,
I want to find out what's safe and what's not.
And as I can't rely on the papers to give me a clear answer,
I'm recruiting two enthusiastic carnivores
with very different approaches to cooking
to settle this quandary once and for all.
First, there's Sarah Neild from Cheshire,
who takes her love of rare meat to the extremes.
I think pork, beef and lamb
are safe to eat down to raw
because people eat them that way across the world.
So, I think that's safe.
Well, she's certainly braver than me.
Next up is someone who couldn't disagree with Sarah more,
Nomsa Masamvi from Salford.
It has been about five minutes, but it's got a little bit longer to go
because it's still quite undercooked in the middle.
She simply hates the sight of blood in her meat.
Nomsa's worried that unless she cooks it for a long time,
she won't kill off the harmful bacteria
that she fears could give her food poisoning.
And you can understand her concerns, especially after newspaper reports
saying that some meats and meat products contain dangerous bacteria
that can only be killed off when the meat's thoroughly cooked through...
which is exactly the way Nomsa does it.
Because it's still undercooked, I still think that there is still
some bacteria in the meat, and that might cause me
to have food poisoning or get ill in some way.
It is pretty clear that Sarah and Nomsa are polar opposites
when it comes to how they like their meat cooked.
But is either of them right?
I've asked them to help me investigate which meats
it's safe to eat pink and which might leave them
with a nasty bout of food poisoning.
I hope you don't mind, but I've taken the liberty
of ordering some food for you.
'So, let's see how pink these two are prepared to go.'
So, we've got a lamb chop, a nice piece of steak and a burger.
So, if we start with the steak.
Reasonably rare. Maybe sort of medium-rare, I would say, actually.
How does that look to you? Appetising, or is that...?
No, terrible. When you look at the blood, you think,
"Oh, is this safe enough for me to eat?" You know?
So, that's kind of off-putting for me.
Even if you were really hungry?
No! Maybe I'll eat the veg but not the meat.
So it's a no from Nomsa,
and, perhaps unsurprisingly, a resounding yes from Sarah.
I would expect it a little bit bloodier than that.
-I'd eat that, and it looks very appetising...
..but that's probably a tad over where I would want it.
To see how rare Nomsa will go,
I have ordered the lamb chop only slightly pink.
OK, I mean, that's... I think that's...
That's not particularly pink, is it, for lamb?
-No. You would eat that one?
-I would eat that, yeah.
-You'd eat...? Oh.
-Yeah, that one's not as bad.
-Not as bad.
-High praise indeed(!)
'Next up is the dish that keeps headline writers busy - the burger.
'Is it or is it not safe to eat pink?
'Well, I, for one, am a bit nervous about blood in my burger.'
I wouldn't eat a burger like that.
With the beef I'm fine, but with the burger I'm maybe a little bit more
apprehensive - what about you?
How would you get on with that?
-With this one, it definitely needs a little more cooking.
Well, I'd eat it. It's actually pinker than I thought it would be.
-But, yeah, I'd eat it.
While Nomsa's worries are all to do with the bugs and bacteria
that might be in the meat,
Sarah thinks that if you are confident about where it comes from,
there's no need to worry.
-I buy from our local butcher...
-..and their food is all traceable...
..so, I would cook their mince into a burger
and have it pink at home without any qualms.
But I wouldn't do that with a lot of...
Certainly not with a pre-made supermarket burger.
And Sarah's confidence even extends to the one wildcard dish
I've kept for the end - pork.
While the Food Standards Agency says it's a meat
that absolutely must be cooked through,
restaurants all over the country are now serving it pink too,
and leading food magazines are even suggesting
it can be eaten pink at home.
No prizes for guessing Nomsa isn't convinced,
but Sarah does eat pink pork.
-Why is that?
-Because it'll be moister.
-I just think pork goes dry so quickly...
..that I'd rather err on the side of it being juicier.
But for me,
undercooked or pink pork would...
Would scare the pants off of me, I think.
-So, let's have a look at this.
Prepare to be scared, then, I think.
-Would you eat that?
-Would you eat it?
-You're hesitant, aren't you?
Do you know what? I think I probably would.
But that would be the...
-That would be your limit.
-Would you have it any less cooked than that?
Well, I probably would.
Pork is not a meat I eat an awful lot.
I'd certainly be happy to eat that, and it looks lovely.
'But while Sarah's confident about the pork sold by her local butcher,
'she wouldn't be quite so gung ho buying from a supermarket
'where she doesn't know where the meat came from.
'Last summer, the MRSA superbug was found in pork on sale
'in two British supermarkets,
'and while it was only found in very small amounts,
'it certainly made me think about how to make sure
'all the meat I eat is actually safe.'
I, for one, would very much like to
go and seek more advice from an expert.
-Would you like to come along?
-Yes, we would.
-Yes, that would be great.
Brilliant. Let's go.
'Even though the three of us all have different ideas about
'what's safe to eat, our concerns are all based on the same thing -
'the question of whether bugs or bacteria in the meat
'are killed when we cook it.'
A week ago, I asked Dr Chloe James from the University of Salford
to test out just that.
She lathered three steaks with high levels of listeria and E. coli
to see whether cooking the meat would kill enough bacteria
to protect us from the nasty effects of eating them.
If that particular type of E. coli
was on the beef, for example, it produces a highly potent toxin.
It causes a lot of haemorrhage, a lot of damage in the kidneys.
Listeria can lead to fever, diarrhoea,
vomiting, muscle aches.
One of the steaks was cooked until it was well done,
one was cooked in the style usually called blue,
for about 90 seconds on each side,
and the third was left completely raw, so not cooked at all.
Next, she sampled the surface of the meat,
and left those samples to grow cultures.
Now, the vast majority of meat bought in butchers and supermarkets
isn't contaminated with anything like the amount of bacteria
Chloe laced our steaks with.
So, will cooking kill it all off?
-Nice to meet you.
-Hi, Nomsa, nice to meet you.
Sarah, Nomsa and I have come to get the results.
What do the test results show?
I've got some plates that I can show you, here.
Yeah, please, yeah.
'So, this is the plate showing the level of E. coli bacteria
'found on the uncooked steak.
'Unsurprisingly, it's almost completely dark,
'meaning the plate is covered in bacteria.
'But after cooking, even just for 90 seconds on each side,
'a massive proportion of the bacteria was killed.'
So, the blue steak, you can see it's a significant reduction,
from about a quarter of a million cells on the raw steak,
there are about 4,000 cells here,
that is about a 98% reduction in the number of E. coli cells.
So, if cooking the steak for such a short period of time
has killed off most of the E. coli,
no prizes for guessing what Chloe found on the well-done steak.
Absolutely nothing grew whatsoever.
The same goes for listeria.
None at all survived on the surface of the well-done steak,
and only a tiny amount of listeria was left on the rare steak.
After cooking for a minute and a half each side,
you can see a single listeria cell has survived.
Chloe says that such a tiny amount of listeria is very unlikely
to have any adverse effects if it was eaten.
I would still be happy to eat a steak
that was cooked rare.
I don't think it would pose any particular harm.
So, even though there are still traces of both
listeria and E. coli on the blue sample?
-Not to the level that you think
we should be concerned about eating it.
The reason I am not worried from the results of this experiment
is that we started with an
incredibly high number of E. coli cells
but it's highly unlikely that that number of cells,
particularly the number of E. coli O157 cells, would be present.
And so I don't think that's particular cause for concern.
OK, so, I mean, that must be music to your ears, Nomsa, mustn't it?
-I am smiling all the way.
-So, yours is completely safe.
How do you feel, Sarah? Because you are a big fan of rare steak.
Yeah. When it's infected, clearly there's an issue
if you have got an E. coli infection on the surface of meat,
but that's why it's important to source your meat well.
With steaks, the harmful bacteria is only present
on the surface of the meat.
It doesn't penetrate inside, so is killed when the surface gets hot.
But Chloe says the same isn't true with pork,
so while it may have become fashionable for restaurants
to serve it pink, Chloe really wouldn't advise it.
The pork can be tenderised and be injected with things
-so that anything on the surface...
-Could be pushed in.
-..could be introduced into the pork muscle as well.
So, pork is very important to cook thoroughly as well.
And that advice is echoed by the Food Standards Agency,
the government body responsible for setting guidelines
on how we should cook our food.
It says, "Wherever you buy it from,
"any kind of pork should be cooked through until the juices run clear."
But the FSA's advice on burgers isn't quite so straightforward,
which is what's led to some of those confusing headlines saying
some burgers are OK to eat pink when others aren't.
So, we asked the FSA's Steve Wearne to put the record straight.
When you're cooking burgers at home, you should cook them until they're
done all the way through, there's no pink, the juices run clear,
and that it's piping hot.
The reason is that burgers simply aren't the same as steak.
If you think about a steak, the bugs are on the outside,
so if you sear the steak you kill the bugs.
If you then make a burger from that same piece of steak,
you're mincing it up, so what was on the outside is now on the inside,
and so you need to cook it thoroughly, all the way through.
So, if that's true, how come some restaurants
are able to serve their burgers pink
without giving us all food poisoning?
Well, it depends on how each restaurant makes their burgers,
and if they can prove that it's safe to serve pink.
We know that there are some restaurants
who have controls in their kitchens,
and all the way up the food chain where they source from,
where the slaughterhouses have taken particular precautions,
and we say that eating a burger less than thoroughly cooked
in a restaurant is unacceptable
unless there are those controls all the way through the chain.
But we do also say that children and people who are elderly or vulnerable
shouldn't eat raw burgers or rare burgers anywhere.
If you're uncertain about the restaurant that's serving you
a pink burger, just ask them to explain how they can be sure
it's safe, or ask for it to be a little bit more well-done.
Like beef, lamb is OK to eat rare if it's a whole piece of meat
that's been seared on the outside, but again, if it's been minced
it needs to be cooked through.
Back in Manchester, and time for me to catch up with Sarah and Nomsa
to see if they have changed their minds over how to cook meats.
-So, I thought that was really interesting.
-Yeah, it was really interesting.
What did you think about the pork - did that make you change your mind?
Erm... It's made me think I want to look into it some more.
And the burger, did that make you think?
Ew, I wouldn't be eating any medium-rare burgers.
I will get them well-done,
and if they come served without them asking me, you know,
"How do you like it done?" then...
-It's getting sent back.
So, I suppose the million dollar question is...
how are you going to order your steak?
-Can I have mine well-done, no blood?
So, no change. I'll have mine medium, please.
-Thank you very much.
So, there you have it, it's not just a case of preference after all.
Some meat really is not safe to eat rare,
and that is what today's programme is all about,
finding out the truth behind those very confident headlines
that aren't necessarily quite what they seem.
And while we were given a bum steer by the ones we saw earlier about
oily fish being bad for us, that is nothing compared to the impression
you might get when you read this next headline.
It says, "Beware of cutting back on salt,
"it could even give you a heart attack."
Now that story was reported in lots of the papers
and they all seem to say roughly the same thing,
that while too much salt can lead to conditions like heart disease,
too little might be just as bad for you.
-Yeah, that is really hard to believe.
And when we saw that headline we just had to get to the bottom of it,
so we asked Paralympic gold medallist Danny Crates
Even before I won my medal in the Paralympics, I always loved running.
And I still do.
But short distances are my thing.
So I must confess, what this lot are about to do fills me with dread -
an epic 30-mile ultramarathon.
It's on cold days like this that I am certainly glad I have hung up my
running shoes. I definitely do not envy these athletes behind me.
But the reason I'm here today is,
whilst these competitors will be concerned about strains, sprains,
and whatever else this 30-mile, gruelling course will throw at them,
there may be something else going on in their bodies
and that could be dangerous.
And that is because tough endurance races like this one could see
the levels of sodium in their blood plunge to dangerously low levels.
Our blood sodium is controlled by the amount of salt we eat,
but when these runners stop for a drink en route,
they will dilute their sodium levels
and if they fall too far, it could lead to dizziness, headaches,
nausea and, in extreme cases, it could even be fatal.
Some runners aim to prevent this by eating a little more salt.
Now, normally that is a hugely controversial message
because, for years, we have been told salt is bad for us.
It raises the blood pressure,
which increases your risk of strokes
and heart disease.
So I can't be the only one
to have been amazed to read that
instead of worrying about eating too much salt,
we might actually be harming
our health by eating too little.
So while I try to find out
if I need to take these claims
with a hefty pinch of...well, salt,
Dr Stephen Mears from Loughborough University is going
to run some tests on these runners
to see what impact a gruelling race has on their sodium levels.
Would you expect many of the runners here today to suffer from salt
-We might see some, sort of, maybe 10% in ultra-races,
pushing up towards 20, 30% and they are the ones we need to look at
in case there's any serious problems.
The telltale signs of low sodium levels should be easy
for the runners themselves to spot during the race.
You might start seeing some bloatedness,
you might feel discomfort in your stomach.
You might vomit some water up.
You might start feeling dizzy, nauseous.
And this will gradually increase if you continue
at the same fluid ingestion rate.
You cannot underplay this. People do die.
Yes, there's been several deaths in the last 15-20 years.
But some of the runners I met were prepared.
I usually have a steak.
New potatoes, lots of salt on.
And on a longer run, about 60 miles, people just feed me potatoes,
with salt just sprinkled on.
Others, however, did not seem so worried.
Do you ever put any thought into sodium in your body - like too much,
too little? Do you have any thoughts on that?
I know about losing quite a bit through sweat.
I'm not sure I necessarily think about replacing the salt.
-Five, four, three, two, one, go.
Well, in a few moments, we'll see how a race like this one
can affect the levels of sodium in the runners' bodies.
Good effort. Keep going.
But, of course, not many of us run an ultramarathon in our spare time,
so the idea of not consuming enough salt is probably something
we never even thought could be a problem
until we read it in the papers.
Their story said that just like
eating too much salt,
a diet that is low in it
could cause a heart attack
and one report even declared
salt is healthy.
What is the truth? I'm sure it is not just me
that really needs to know.
But I must confess, ever since I competed in Celebrity MasterChef
in 2015, I have gone to town with salt in my cooking.
Professional chefs do the same and I can see why
because it is a taste I love.
But as a result, I'm fairly sure that I eat too much.
So to see if I am overdoing it,
I'm going to meet nutritional therapist Dee Brereton-Patel.
-Hi, Dee. How are you doing, are you all right?
-I'm good, thanks.
Good to meet you, Danny.
Dee, I love salt, you know? I put it on my food.
How much should I really be putting in my body each day?
The government guidelines say that for adults we should be taking in
no more than 6g of salt per day.
That is equivalent to a teaspoon.
So when you put it like that it doesn't sound like very much.
It is a sum of all our salt,
so it is the salt that is already present in the food we buy,
plus the salt we add to foods at home.
On average, we each eat around 8g of salt a day.
So, if six is the recommended limit,
we're eating a third more than we should.
So, Dee, this teaspoon of salt is roughly 6g.
That is my daily allowance.
-I have to be honest, I would probably put that on one meal.
But even before you have sprinkled on any extra,
there is salt in almost everything you eat.
A small tin of beans will give you about 1.2g of salt.
A chicken breast has 0.2g.
And this bowl of soup alone has 3g,
almost half our daily allowance.
But that's nothing compared to my favourite breakfast.
A bacon butty.
We know there's salt in bacon.
But the bread is all right, OK?
You'd be surprised.
One slice of bread has 0.4g of salt in.
So I would have three.
That is 1.2g of salt already.
That's right. Yeah.
You're getting about 2.25g of salt in those two rashers of bacon.
But I'm not just having two rashers of bacon.
-I'm probably up to four rashers of bacon...
-..to fill my three slices of bread.
So that is 4.5 there, 1.2 there,
you've pretty much reached your daily intake
-without putting any ketchup on.
Well, it's already pretty obvious
that I'm definitely having too much salt,
which makes me wonder what all those headlines about the risks of eating
too little were really going on about.
While it is easy to see how the ultramarathon runners might dilute
the sodium in their blood,
I find it really far-fetched to think the rest of us could
possibly eat so little salt it is bad for us,
as those headlines seem to suggest.
And as it turns out, I'm right to be sceptical
because Professor Franco Cappuccio from the World Health Organization
says that the study the papers are quoting
wasn't quite as simple as the reports made out.
The professor has big concerns about the size and health of the group
measured in the study, which in any case took a different approach
to what constitutes too little salt that most experts would recognise,
including in its sample
people consuming much more than the usual limit of 6g.
The low salt group that we are looking at is
about 7.5g of salt or less, far above the recommended values.
There is no other group studied below that,
so researchers haven't studied the lower levels.
Add to that, a confusion in some reports
between salt and sodium levels
and the professor says it is easy to see how coverage of the study
ended up sending a message very different
to the one we're usually told.
And while most of his criticisms are around the research itself,
he believes the reporters didn't properly understand
or check its conclusions,
which he reckons could have had a dangerous impact.
We are bombarded by contrasting news every day. Every day.
That might have serious consequences.
People could stop taking drugs because they read one thing.
Or questioning the wisdom that has been accepted for quite a long time.
The professor is in no doubt that when it comes to salt,
the accepted wisdom really is unshakeable.
So, outside of all the medical jargon, all the facts and figures,
what you are basically saying is it is common sense, eat less salt,
we will live a healthier lifestyle
and have reduced risk of hypertension, heart disease, stroke.
Absolutely. The evidence relating salt to blood pressure
If you reduce your salt intake, you reduce your blood pressure.
So, it is likely that if you reduce blood pressure,
you reduce a cardiovascular event, there is no argument about that.
And it's robust and probably the strongest possible evidence we have
in medicine and public health in modern times.
So it turns out the headlines were simply wrong
and we really don't need to worry about not getting enough salt
from our food but there's no escaping the fact
that for the runners of the ultramarathon, at least,
what they drink could end up dangerously reducing their sodium
levels during the race.
So I'm back in Yorkshire to check on their results.
I have to admit these athletes are a tough breed.
They've just endured a gruelling 30-mile race.
But I'll be really interested to see what effect it has had on their
The good news is that Stephen's blood tests gave most of the runners
the all clear.
I'm ruined. Everything hurts.
We're just taking a capillary blood sample,
so we can take a small amount of blood
and then we can measure the amount of sodium
that is in the blood.
You've got good numbers, in normal ranges again.
Results were good.
Serum sodium, the blood sodium concentration was
within normal ranges.
In fact, as it was such a cold day,
very few runners here drank excessive amounts of water.
So on this occasion, there were no big falls in blood sodium levels.
Would you have expected to see different sets of results
had the weather been hot?
Yeah, we probably would've seen completely different results
if it was hotter.
People would have thought, "I need to drink more."
So it's that perception of how much they drink.
So thinking, "It's hot today, I need to get more fluids on board."
So, while the dangers of getting too little salt might make
great material for headline writers,
it seems that, in reality, no diet,
and not even this 30-mile endurance race,
can see your sodium levels plummet so low that it might be dangerous.
For this lot, there is something many of them really do need now
and it is not salt.
I have been waiting for a cup of tea for about the last 20 miles.
Now, let's face it, I've been around long enough to know
that we shouldn't believe everything that we read in the papers.
But, you know, those salt headlines really did take me by surprise.
I know. It would have been so easy for people to see them and think
it's safer to eat more salt when the opposite is true,
but I guess the same goes for your oily fish, doesn't it?
It sure does. And by the way, you can find a whole host of delicious
recipes and lots of ideas for cooking with oily fish.
We'll be back to debunk some more headlines very soon.
But for now, though, that is all we have got time for.
-Thanks for joining us. Until next time, goodbye.
Gloria Hunniford and Chris Bavin They investigate claims that oily fish may not be the wonder food it is often said to be after reports state it could even be dangerous.
With more restaurants choosing to serve burgers and even pork rare, when is it safe to eat pink meat? Volunteers with very different preferences discover the truth.
Paralympian Danny Crates gets to the bottom of controversial reports suggesting that rather than eat less salt, we should be eating more.