Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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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.


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16 cancer causing foods: What THEY don’t want you to know

Oh Natural News with your fear mongering. Here’s the truth about the 16 foods you say cause cancer.

  1. Canned tomatoes. According to the article, it’s not just canned tomatoes, it’s any canned foods. Although, canned tomatoes are allegedly worse because of their high acidity. It’s not the tomatoes per se, it’s the BPA that leaches from the lining of the can.

TRUTH: We don’t know if BPA causes cancer or not. We know that it’s an endocrine disruptor and it may cause cancer but we don’t know for certain that it does.

Some canned goods are available in cans with BPA-free lining. Although rumour has it, what ever’s in the lining of those may be just as bad as the BPA one. You can also buy some brands of tomatoes in glass jars, or just go for fresh if you’re truly concerned. I would never want to discourage anyone from consuming vegetables.

2. Soda pop. They take a convoluted route to cancer causation by saying that soda increases the risk of reflux which can cause ulcers which are linked to an increased risk of cancer.

TRUTH: There are so many good reasons not to drink pop; tooth decay, weight gain, type 2 diabetes, but cancer’s probably not one of them. Even the article talks about other health problems correlated with (i.e. not necessarily caused by) soda consumption. So, even if pop doesn’t cause cancer it’s still advisable to minimize your consumption of it.

3. Farmed salmon. Farmed salmon often contains sea lice and are raised in confined contaminated conditions.

TRUTH: This is statement is true but has nothing to do with cancer. There is no link to farmed salmon causing cancer. There are also some clean humane salmon farms. As with anything, if you’re concerned about the conditions in which your food was raised/grown, get to know your farmer.

4. Processed meats. These contain preservatives that may cause cancer. Smoked meat contains tar from the smoking process that may cause cancer.

TRUTH: This one is true. However, it doesn’t mean that your will get cancer if you eat processed meat. It just means that the more processed meat you consume the greater your risk of developing cancer in comparison to someone who never eats processed meat. It doesn’t mean that you should never consume processed meat but you should definitely consume it less often than every day. A safe amount has not been set so you’re kind of on your own to decide how often you want to eat processed meat. I’d try to limit it to no more than once a month.

5. Microwave popcorn. A chemical used to line the bag has been linked to cancer. Also the GMO popcorn kernels may cause cancer.

TRUTH: The GMO thing is bogus but the bag liner is legit (see above note re: risk from eating processed meat). What are you doing eating microwave popcorn every day anyway? How about some variety? Have popcorn occasionally but when you do, make air popped or stovetop or even use the brown paper bag method.

6. Potato chips. Cooking potato chips at a high temperature creates acrylamide which is a known carcinogen.

TRUTH: Sniff. Unfortunately, this is true (again, that whole increased risk thing applies; eating potato chips occasionally does not mean you’re guaranteed to get cancer). You can make your own or make home made kale chips instead. Or, just eat them once in a while as a treat. You shouldn’t be eating them on the daily anyway.

7. Hydrogenated oils. “Hydrogenated oils influence our cell membranes’ structure and flexibility, which is linked to cancer.”

TRUTH: Partially hydrogenated oils are bad. Partial hydrogenation creates trans-fats but the harm from consuming them is an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, not cancer.

8. Foods that are highly salted, pickled, or smoked. “There is overwhelming evidence that eating these types of foods greatly increases the risk of colorectal cancer and higher rates of stomach cancer.”

TRUTH: Well, the preservative and smoked issue was covered under number four. Little bit of overlap here. Too much salt can lead to hypertension and heart disease. Again, not related to cancer risk.

9. Highly processed white flours. White flour is bleached with chlorine gas. White flour increases blood sugar which feeds tumour cells.

TRUTH: Bleached flour is usually whitened using peroxide, although some flours use chlorine gas. Did you know that chlorine is used to kill pathogens in drinking water and it’s one of the components of table salt (sodium + chlorine)? Not a significant cancer risk. Even so, you can always get unbleached flour.

I don’t know what minimally processed white flours would be. Flour is flour. You gotta process grain to get it.

It is better to consume complex carbohydrates to obtain more nutrients. However, eating a croissant isn’t going to increase your cancer risk. Glucose is fuel for all of your cells, not just cancer cells. Cutting out white flour won’t prevent or cure cancer.

10. GMOs. Just read the section yourself. It’s too hard to tease out anything from this convoluted web.

TRUTH: I think that there are many risks associated with genetic modification. Primarily to biodiversity and the environment. It’s unlikely that cancer is one of them (although pesticides used to treat GM crops, and other crops, quite likely do cause cancer). This whole section is pretty misinformed bullshit.

There are very few GMO crops in the US at the moment (and despite what the article says, they have been approved by the FDA). If you are concerned about GM then try to buy organic versions of common GM crops.

11. Refined sugars. (see number 9)

12. Artificial sweeteners. “There is mounting evidence that the chemicals that make up these sweeteners, especially aspartame, break down in the body into a deadly toxin called DKP. When your stomach processes this chemical, it in turn produces chemicals that can cause cancer, especially brain tumors.”

TRUTH: Artificial sweeteners have been proven safe in MANY MANY studies. That being said, they may affect your perception of sweetness and there’s always the possibility that there is some other harm that they’re causing. I’m of the opinion that they taste weird and you’re probably better off having a little of the real thing (yes, sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup…).

13. Diet anything. “All “diet” food is chemically processed and made from super refined ingredients, excessive sodium levels, as well as artificial colors and flavors to make it taste good.”

TRUTH: I’m not a fan of “diet” foods because it’s better to have minimally processed whole foods and fat. However, there is no evidence that “diet” foods cause cancer. Frustration and hunger maybe, but not cancer.

14. Alcohol. Alcohol use is the second leading cause of cancer, right behind tobacco use.”

TRUTH: Yes. This is true. Alcohol is a toxin. However, there are also heart health benefit associated with moderate alcohol consumption (i.e. approximately one drink a day for women and 1-2 a day per men). Pick your risk factor.

15. Red meat. Increases cancer risk; especially colorectal.

TRUTH: Yes, there is an increased correlation between red meat consumption and cancer diagnosis. However, it’s a very slight risk. As the article, surprisingly rationally suggests, you can still enjoy an occasional steak, it just shouldn’t be an every day food.

16. Non-organic fruits. The pesticides on them are toxic.

TRUTH: No mention of cancer here (just had to point that out). Still, many pesticides are likely harmful to humans and while some can be removed by washing, not all can. The thing is, you’ll find pesticides on organic fruit too, maybe in smaller quantities but some nevertheless. The health benefits you reap from eating fruit are likely greater than any cancer risk or other health risks the pesticides on them may pose.

The ultimate truth: We live in a carcinogenic environment. There are many things that we come in contact with on a regular basis that may cause cancer. Inciting fear in people about common foods is not going to help anyone avoid cancer. Continue to make mindful food and lifestyle choices and hope for the best. It’s all any of us can do.