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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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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Let’s Clear It Up makes one thing about the beverage industry clear

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One of the joys of blogging is getting unsolicited requests from PR people telling me what to write about. Some of them are pretty random, like the one I got about promoting the new album from a former reality show contestant, the tenuous connection to my blog? That the singer is committed to living a healthy lifestyle. Ha. Some of the requests are interesting and worth writing about (like the Beyond Milk and Cookies project I wrote about a few weeks ago). And then there are the slightly scary ones.

Those would be the ones from groups such as the American Beverage Association. The message I received urged me to “keep the facts in mind” and proceeded to disparage a new study that purportedly found that “postmenopausal women who sip diet soda are more likely to experience heart attacks and stroke“. Unfortunately, the research has yet to be published so I can’t comment on it directly. However, I think it’s pretty telling that the ABA feels sufficiently threaten by the research that they’re emailing bloggers such as myself (who, if they’d done any reading at all would have seen that I’m generally critical of the food industry) asking us to be critical of such research.

The email included a link to the ABA’s “educational” website “Let’s Clear It Up” which states:

Soda is a hot topic. And the conversation is full of opinions and myths, but not enough facts. America’s beverage companies created this site to clear a few things up about the products we make. So read on. Learn. And share the clarity.

The website presents “myths” and “facts” on topics such as artificial sweeteners, marketing, and caffeine, among many others. Unfortunately, it would take me far too long to comment on each “myth” and “fact”. So I’d just like to make a couple of fairly general comments. The first is in regard to marketing. The ABA claims that soft drinks and energy drinks are not marketed to children. Soft drinks not to audiences younger than 12 years of age, and energy drinks not to those in grade school. Are you kidding me?! Energy drinks sponsoring extreme sports isn’t marketing to teens? Putting cute little polar bears in your commercials isn’t targeting children?? I know that the pledge to stop marketing to children was just last year but I don’t think all that much has changed since Yale reported on broken industry marketing promises in 2011. The second is that many of these “facts” are misleading and while not being outright lies are twisted truths. Take hydration for example. Just because the 8-glasses-a-day has been busted and because other sources of fluid can contribute to hydration does not make pop a good choice for hydration. Sigh.

“Let’s Clear It Up” is a desperate attempt by the ABA to convince the public that their unhealthy beverages are healthy. The only thing made clear by the site is that the industry is running scared.


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Follow Friday: Diet Duchess

Diet Duchess - Eat Fabulously and Diet Easily. Modern Day Lady Conquering Diet

Not long ago I was asked if I would answer a few questions about my diet by fellow dietitian Perryn Carroll. She added a “What do dietitians eat?” section to her fabulous Diet Duchess blog in an effort to help dispel misconceptions about the nutritional proclivities of dietitians. Always happy to help dispel myths about dietitians and to do a little quiz (true fact: I used to wish I had a job at which I could complete surveys, assemble IKEA furniture, and bake/eat all day) I happily accepted her request. You can check out my answers and those of other dietitians here. I also recommend perusing the other sections of her blog: diet advice, diet etiquette, and food reviews while you’re there. You can also follow Perryn on twitter at: @PerrynCarroll.


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Just because an account has a blue checkmark doesn’t mean it knows all

I don’t follow this twitter account but after a seeing a retweet of this (fortunately not in a complimentary manner):

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Yes, many of us have experienced workouts where we felt like we were going to vomit. However, that’s no reason to push your body beyond its limits. Listen to your body. Enjoy exercise!

I had to peruse the timeline… I found an interesting mix of decent advice and misinformation. Here are just a few of the worst offenders I found in a quick scroll:

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There is nothing wrong with using butter sparingly. Yes, extra virgin olive oil is a healthy choice. However, at high temperatures it breaks down, making it less healthy for us. Also, consuming too much of any type of fat (or food) ignores one of the most important edicts of a healthy diet: variety.

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Again, red meat can be a part of a healthy diet. But… It doesn’t have to be. We should consume a variety of sources of protein and red meat is wholly unnecessary.

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Common myth. Previously written about here.