Aug 04 2017

Lectin – The New Food Bogeyman

red-kidney-beans-on-a-wooden-tableDo you want to get rich on the internet? Here is a simple formula. First, purge yourself of any ethics or scruples you may have. Suppress any urge for intellectual honesty.

Next, pretend you are an expert. Actual expertise is not necessary. In fact, you don’t even need a basic 5th grade level of knowledge. There are titles you can grant yourself to easily accomplish this step: life coach, nutritionist, health ranger, food chick, whatever.

Now you are almost there. All you have to do is create a demand for some useless snake oil that you can sell online for a ridiculous markup. At this point you might be thinking – why would anyone buy my useless snake oil? It’s actually a lot easier than you think, and marketers have been using some version of this strategy since the barter system was invented. In a word – fear.

Just make your marks (I mean customers) afraid of something and then sell them the solution. It’s easier than you might think, everything you need is already on the internet. Recently John Oliver showed how Alex Jones uses crazy conspiracy theories to stoke fear and rage in his audience then sell them water filters and supplements as a solution. He is also selling a conspiracy culture and convinces his gullible audience that they need to support him so that he can get the truth out there. Jones can even admit it’s all an act and it doesn’t matter, because he successfully created an environment in which facts and truth are whatever he says they are – a marketer’s dream.

There are also many pre-made narratives you can simply assume in order to sell your useless crap. Just find some fearmongering bandwagon to jump on. Food fears are probably going to be your best bet, especially for a beginner.

Existing health gurus have already prepared the way for you. In their marketing narrative all foods are either horrible toxins or superfoods with magical properties. All you have to do is write an article claiming that some food is making everyone sick, then sell them the solution. This can then be a superfood, a cookbook that tells them how to avoid the toxic food, or some special supplement that will counteract the toxic effects of the evil food that’s making them sick. (They don’t even have to be sick – just tell them it’s making them overweight, lose energy, and have aches and pains. Also, be sure to add that they need to do this for optimum health, that way you will capture everyone.)

Take Lectin, for example.

You have probably already heard about gluten. That was a real coup – health gurus were able to convince vast amounts of people they have gluten sensitivity. Here’s the beauty, this forced scientists to study the question, given it a real sciencey name – non-celiac gluten sensitivity (or NCGS – people love saying they have an illness which is a string of letters). Even better, science is always messy, which means there will be actual published studies you can cite and claim it supports your fearmongering, even when it doesn’t.

You can even make entire categories of food into the bogeyman – carbohydrates, dairy, grains, whatever.

Here is the other convenient bit – everything is a toxin, it all depends upon dose. Just about everything we eat has some toxic potential. All plants make toxins to protect themselves, so you can find toxins everywhere. Most food we eat also has nutritional content, and nutrients are necessary for everything the body does. Therefore you can turn anything into a toxic food by focusing on the potential toxic effects of eating way more of a specific food substance than anyone will ever eat. You can also turn anything into a superfood simply by pointing out how their nutrients are used by the body.

There are many toxins and superfoods you can use, but if you are just getting started you may want to pick an up-and-comer. Lectins, for example, are the latest food bogeyman. Actually, it was a coin flip – gurus could have just as easily promoted lectins as a superfood, but food bogeyman is winning out early so that is the horse to bet on.

Lectins are a class of plant proteins that bind to glucose. They are generally used to stick cells and other things together. They are common in grains and beans. In reality, different lectins have different toxic potential, but that is a complexity you don’t have to get into. Just treat all lectins as if they are the same, it’s easier. Some lectins in high doses can cause gastric problems such as nausea and diarrhea. That’s science – and that much detail is all you need to scare people.

Also add that it simultaneously causes inflammation and suppresses the immune system. Don’t worry, your customers won’t notice the contradiction. Always add the bit about inflammation, because everything seems to activate the immune system in some way. That’s pretty much what the immune system does – react to stuff. You can then claim because some marker of immune activity was shown to increase in the presence of massive amounts of purified lectins in a petri dish, lectins call all disease. Seriously – this will work.

Don’t worry about critics who will point out that cooking destroys almost all lectins in food (you know, because proteins break down with heat). Just ignore this fact. If you tell people that raw kidney beans are high in lectins, that is true. If people ate a lot of raw kidney beans that would likely make them sick. Just don’t mention that actually cooking the beans, which is necessary to eat them, destroys almost all the lectin.

Lectins are also “antinutrients” because they can decrease the absorption of some vitamins and other nutrients. That is also a good tip to keep in mind – liberal use of the “anti” or “pro” prefix. (antioxidant, probiotics, etc.) It is a easy way to signal that something is good or bad – very binary, which is the essence of the narrative you are selling.

You may worry that there is no actual evidence that lectins as consumed in a regular diet are harmful and your snake oil solutions are worthless, but don’t. It takes 10-20 years for the science to work itself out. In the meantime there will be mostly basic science and animal studies. These are a goldmine for the health guru selling snake oil, because these preclinical studies will show all sorts of things. Scientists like to see what happens when you give massive doses to cells or to animals, just as a proof of concept. That’s great, because bad stuff is almost guaranteed to happen, and you can exploit that to promote your fearmongering. You may even want to take a picture of yourself in a white coat as you discuss the latest animal study to reinforce your fake expertise.

It will be 20 years before definitive clinical studies prove that everything you are claiming and selling is bogus nonsense. By then there will already be a thriving market for your snake oil, and the fear you helped create will be deeply embedded in the culture. The science will come too late. If the market starts to wane, however, because people don’t actually benefit from the crap you are selling them, there is sure to be another food fad waiting to take off. There are endless substances to either promote or fearmonger. Also, in a generation, when everyone has forgotten what happened, you can recycle the old food fears or superfoods. It’s an endless cycle, and you will never run out of material.

And again, don’t worry about scientists or skeptics who will point out that everything you are selling is unscientific nonsense. Just call them shills for big-something and your target audience will eat it up. Make some vague reference to a conspiracy if necessary. Remember, the actual science doesn’t matter. You are selling an attractive narrative, and people will buy it.



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