Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Breathing vs raw food. Should we be getting our oxygen from our diet?

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Does everyone remember when that Australian “health coach” told everyone that cancer is actually good for you (see above)? And then everyone piled on and she relented and removed the post and made a sort-of apology video. I was thinking about that recently after reading this article about a naturopath in Montreal who espoused similar views in her blog. I decided to see what Olivia was up to these days on her Instagram.

Her most recent post was extolling the benefits of an “oxygen-rich diet”. According to her post, people who are oxygen deficient, “are nervous, stubborn, hypersensitive, and have an increased amount of bacterial and fungal infections, as well as disease. Low oxygen creates decreased brain function, congestion, bleeding, and a decrease in sexuality.” At this point you’re probably wondering if you’re oxygen deficient and how you can boost your oxygen levels through an oxygen–rich diet. I mean, nobody wants to be a diseased stubborn dim-wit. Fortunately, Olivia has the answer:

Raw foods are full of oxygen, especially dark green leafy vegetables which contain an abundance of chlorophyll. The chemical structure of chlorophyll is almost identical to the haemoglobin in our red blood cells. The only difference is that the haemoglobin molecule has iron in its nucleus and the chlorophyll molecule has magnesium. The bloodstream then delivers this oxygen to every cell in your body. When you eat greens in blended form, such as a smoothie, this process is even more efficient.

Naturally, this tome is accompanied by a sweet doe-eyed photo of Olivia holding a massive bowl of lettuce. Sadly, contrary to popular opinion, being young and pretty are not qualifications for providing nutrition advice.

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The subtext being that you too can become a more glowing, more vital, blonder bluer-eyed version of yourself if you follow her advice. Of course, none of it’s true.

Let’s start with oxygen deficiency. What is oxygen deficiency? Could we all be silently suffering from insufficient oxygen in our blood? Oxygen deficiency is when your body doesn’t get enough oxygen. This can be caused by health conditions such as asthma, COPD and other lung diseases, and anemia. Most of these are treated with medications and/or supplemental oxygen. Of these, only anemia can be related to diet (more on that later). It’s important to note that when your body doesn’t get enough oxygen you may experience hypoxemia (low blood oxygen) which can quickly lead to hypoxia (low tissue oxygen) which can result in symptoms such as changes in skin colour, coughing, wheezing, confusion, and shortness of breath. It’s important to seek immediate medical attention if this should occur as organ damage can occur within minutes of the onset of symptoms. In other words, a salad is not the recommended course of treatment.

Okay, back to anemia. While there are many forms of anemia with many causes, anemia is when your body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to your organs. Among the many causes of anemia are iron deficiency and vitamin deficiency (B12 or folate). Generally, if you have reached the point of anemia you’ll need supplements to adequately increase your levels (as always, this blog is not to be taken as medical advice and if you think you may be experiencing anemia you should consult with your doctor). To obtain sufficient quantities of these nutrients it’s important to include food sources of them in your diet. Iron-rich foods include: meat, fish, poultry, legumes, eggs, tofu, spinach, and marmite. The form of iron found in plant-based foods is not as readily absorbed by the body as that found in animal foods. Consuming these foods with vitamin C rich foods can help to increase the absorption. Natural sources of vitamin B12 are only found in animal foods (and nutritional yeast). These include: yoghurt, meat, fish, eggs, and cheese. So far, most of these foods are very different from those Olivia is recommending. Finally, folate is found in dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, and fortified flour (in Canada). These foods may help to increase your blood oxygen levels if your red blood cells are low by increasing the hemoglobin in your blood. There is no direct relationship between consumption of “oxygen-rich” foods and oxygen levels in your blood. The metabolic process is not that simple and the quantity of oxygen that you would consume from food is minuscule in comparison to the quantity of oxygen you obtain from breathing.

This all to say, eating a variety of foods including many plant-based foods can form the basis of a healthy diet but that has nothing to do with the amount of oxygen in said foods.

I’ll leave you with the one sensible comment on the post:

danielparasiliti I think you are getting confused… someone who is oxygen deficient Is not stubborn… but more than likely unconscious or dead…


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Top 10 food and medicine myths brought to you by Big Food and Big Pharma

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Image by publik15 on flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

I know that everyone was rejoicing recently because Natural News was blacklisted from Google search results. However, it seems that such jubilation was a tad premature. Natural News wasn’t disappeared because of its propensity for propagating fake news and it’s right back in Google searches less than a month later. So, I feel that it’s worthwhile to respond to some of the nonsense that they’re spouting.

This article on the Top 10 Food and Medicine Myths You Probably Fell for at Some Point  particularly amused me due to the suggestion that “Big Food” and “Big Pharma” are in bed together. As if somehow there’s a conspiracy in which farmers, food manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies have some sort of stone-cutters type secret society. At their top secret meetings they’re supposedly conspiring to make us all sick while cramming more of our hard earned dollars into their overflowing deep pockets.

Let’s take a look at each of the ten myths…

  1. Milk… It does a body good. According to Natural News, drinking milk is bad because we’re the only species to drink it past infancy, and from (gasp) another animal; it’s just “not natural”. The truth: I think I’ve made this point before, but it bears repeating that we’re the only species to do a LOT of things: cook our food, wear clothes, watch tv, etc.
  2. Red meat is worse for your body than chicken, turkey, or pig. Their argument being that ALL meat is bad for us. The truth: Plant-based diets may be healthier, but not all meats are created equal. Processed and red meat are linked with slightly higher cancer rates than is poultry. Not all meat is raised and slaughtered under inhumane conditions. This is just fear mongering. If you’re concerned about the origins of your meat, know your farmer.
  3. Organic canola is a healthy choice. I’ll concede that they make a good point here by saying that “everything is organic is not healthy”. However, the arguments canola comes from “toxic” rapeseed and canola contains trans-fat from processing don’t hold weight. The truth: Canola is bred to be low in erucic acid (the toxic component of rapeseed). It’s also high in mono- and poly-unsaturated fats (1). Liquid oils do not contain trans-fat.
  4. Organic soy (that’s unfermented) is good for you. The arguments here are so out-to-lunch that I’m not even sure how to address them. Supposedly, big food and big pharma are pushing organic soy products on us for some undisclosed nefarious reason. Supposedly soy contributes to a whole host of health problems. The truth: Unless you have a soy allergy, or are on thyroid medication, there’s no reason to worry about soy. Despite the prevalent belief that soy causes breast cancer, the evidence shows that soy consumption is actually more likely to decrease risk, than to increase it (2).
  5. Vaccines no longer contain mercury (thimerosal), and the CDC even says so. The truth: Thimerosal is still used in flu vaccines, but no routine childhood vaccines. It’s outside my scope as a dietitian to provide advice about vaccines but I’m fairly confident that having polio or small pox would be much worse than any risk of being vaccinated.
  6. Chemotherapy is the best chance to beat cancer once you’ve been diagnosed. According to Natural News, your chance of survival is 2.3% on chemo and there are loads of successful natural remedies such as garlic and baking soda. The truth: your chance of survival depends on many factors such as the type of cancer and early diagnosis. Chemo and radiation may be awful but they are the most effective treatments to date. Natural “remedies” are not effective.
  7. Many cancer cases are inherited in our genes from our parents or their parents. Supposedly we’re told this to prevent us from seeking out natural remedies. The truth: Why would the cause influence the treatment? Regardless of the source, natural “remedies” are not effective.
  8. There is no cure for cancer. More of the same. The truth: STOP FALLING FOR THIS BULLSHIT. THERE IS NO BIG CONSPIRACY HIDING THE CURE FOR CANCER.
  9. The FDA and CDC function in the best interest of American consumers by inspecting food and medicine for dangerous substances. Again, there is a big conspiracy and Big Pharma is running the show. The truth: Sure, the FDA and CDC may not always be effective but there is no larger conspiracy against Americans.
  10. Fluoride in toothpaste and tap water helps humans keep their teeth strong and free of decay. We’re supposed to watch some video that will tell us “the truth”. The truth: fluoride is effective in reducing tooth decay.


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Cruciferous crusaders or (not so) superfoods? The truth about veggies & cancer

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Did you hear the news? Last week it was announced that there’s no evidence of a link between vegetable and fruit consumption and risk of developing cancer. This proclamation was based on the results of a large-scale analysis of data from cohort studies in Japan.

Before everyone rejoices and throws the contents of their crispers in the compost, opting instead to have ice cream for supper maybe we should take a closer look at the original research.

The first caution I’d make is that this is based on a study of people in Japan. Because the average Japanese diet and lifestyle differs significantly from our North American diet and lifestyle we can’t conclude that results seen in people in Japan will apply to people in Canada or the US, or pretty much any other country.

The second caution, and this is the big one, is that the frequency of consumption of vegetables and fruit used in the study was very different from what’s recommended here. The greatest consumption of veg and fruit recorded in the study was “almost daily”. Compare that to the recommended 8-10 servings per day in Canada’s Food Guide. Stating daily consumption of veg and fruit tells us very little about the true picture of veg and fruit consumption. This categorization allows a person who eats one apple a day (and no other veg or fruit) to be viewed as the same as a person who eats veg and/or fruit at every meal and snack and consumes a wide variety of produce. The method of categorization in this study really only allows us to conclude that at minimal consumption levels, eating vegetables and fruit doesn’t appear to provide protection against cancer when compared to eating vegetables and fruit infrequently (or almost never??). The fact that almost never is even an option makes me wonder about the accuracy of self-reporting and the possibility that people in that group could be more likely to succumb to ailments such as scurvy before cancer would have a chance to get to them.

The third point to mention (although hopefully I don’t need to) is that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Just because this study didn’t find a relationship between the consumption of vegetables and fruit and the development (or prevention) of cancer doesn’t mean that there isn’t a connection between the two. It’s possible that using different parameters might show that a greater consumption of vegetables is linked to a decreased risk of certain types of cancer.

The final point that I think is important to make is that we don’t eat food in order to prevent cancer. Even if this study is showing us that eating vegetables and fruit doesn’t confer protection against cancer upon us (and I’m not even remotely convinced that it does) there are plenty of other good reasons to eat vegetables and fruit. Vegetables and fruit provide us with many vitamins and minerals that are vital to the function of our bodies. They provide us with fibre which is essential for gut health. They provide us with water and energy, which are both necessary for our survival. They also add flavour, colour, and variety to our diets making meals and snacks enjoyable. All this to say that while cookies are delicious they still aren’t a balanced nutritious meal. Vegetables and fruit still have important roles to play in keeping us healthy.


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Cancer diet

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Anybody else see this article about a journalist who gets cancer and starts praising nutribabble? The description really says it all: After beating cancer, Scott DeSimon rediscovered his appetite—and lost his skepticism for wellness and nutrition trends. Meet the superfoods that guided him back to health.”

The gist is that the author gets cancer, goes through conventional treatment, loses a bunch of weight, finishes the treatment and attempts to regain the weight. Eschewing what he sees as healthy eating (“I know what constitutes a healthy diet: lots of vegetables, meat mainly as a flavoring, no processed foods”) he goes for quantity over quality and calories over micronutrients in an effort to regain the weight he lost during radiation. Unsurprisingly, he makes himself sick by ingesting copious quantities of fast food and restaurant food. So, he turns to a professional. Sadly, not a dietitian nor any sort of cancer specialist. Instead, he goes to Dr Lipman who has devotees such as Gwyneth Paltrow, as if that’s a selling point. Dr Lipman is a big fan of superfoods, cleanses, supplements, and has a website with testimonials. All of which are red flags of quackery and basically amount to a red sail, or whatever you want to picture for an oversized red flag. There are testimonials from actors and fellow quacks like Mark Hyman and Christiane Northrup.

Once the author goes on the extremely restrictive diet prescribed by Lipman, he magically feels much better and he slowly starts to regain weight. While he claims to be skeptical about the regimen, it comes across as hollow to me. It’s like I rolled my eyes but threw away all of my food as started living off cashew milk and chia seeds. Of course he’s going to feel better, he’s finished radiation treatment, regained his tastebuds, and started eating again (1). I’m not saying that the diet Lipman put him on is bad, I’m just saying that there are some pretty significant confounders here and correlation does not imply causation. It’s quite likely that he would have started to feel better on a much more relaxed diet and that the strict diet is falsely being credited with his recovery.

I don’t think that anyone with cancer should feel like they have to give-up gluten or sugar or coffee. They also shouldn’t feel as if they have to subsist off expensive “superfoods” and supplements. Healthy eating, whether you have cancer or not, does not have to be a complicated or costly endeavour.

For more information on cancer nutrition visit:

Canadian Cancer Society

Cancer Dietitian

Jean Lamantia

 


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Can you cure cancer by cutting sugar?

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After a conversation with a reader about ludicrous nutrition advice he was given after receiving a cancer diagnosis I felt the need to address the issue. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by people that cancer cells feed on sugar so people with cancer shouldn’t eat sugar. There are so many things wrong with this.

Sure, cancer cells use sugar in the same way that ALL cells in your body do. Sugar, in the form of glucose, is the energy source for all of your cells. If you have cancer and eat sugar you are not “feeding” the cancer. Conversely, if you stop eating sugar, you’re not going to be able to starve your cancer to death. You get glucose from more sources than table sugar and sugary snacks and if you’re not consuming enough glucose to fuel your body it will start making it for you.

I’m sure that most people who believe that consuming sugar helps cancer grow are simply well-meaning misguided individuals. Unfortunately, there’s a whole industry built on preying on people’s desperation. When someone is diagnosed with cancer, in many cases they’ll turn to whatever cure or treatment they can. As food is “natural” it’s not surprising that people would want to look for dietary treatments. That’s where the predatory wellness warriors come in telling people to cut all sugar from their diets amongst other nutritional “cures’ with absolutely no scientific basis.

A google search for “food cure for cancer” yielded the following results:

Vegetables Juices. The RAW vegetables you should focus on are carrots, cabbage, green asparagus, broccoli, red beets (i.e. beetroot), beet tops, cauliflower and related vegetables. Peppers also have cancer-fighting substances. The spice turmeric can be added as well.

Brussels sprouts, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower all contain sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinols (I3Cs), two potent anticancer molecules. These molecules help the body detoxify certain carcinogenic substances and can help prevent precancerous cells from developing into malignant tumors.

6 Cancer-Fighting Superfoods

A change of diet cured my cancer

How I used the raw vegan diet to beat cancer naturally

Heal all cancer with this diet

It’s all bullshit. If cancer could be miraculously cured by eating “superfoods” or “raw food” or having intravenous mega-doses of vitamins no one would be dying of cancer anymore. Scientists would have stopped researching cancer cures years ago.

Nutrition and your overall diet certainly play a role in cancer risk but it’s not the only risk factor. If you have cancer, I recommend working with a dietitian who specializes in nutrition for cancer patients to optimize your nutrition while you undergo appropriate treatment overseen by an oncologist.