Tag Archives: cancer

Preventing Cancer – there’s plenty you can do!

Girl with bag of fresh foodMany people worry about getting cancer, but they don’t realize how much difference their food choices can make in whether they get cancer or not. When it comes to cancer, your diet can make all the difference.

The connection between the food we eat and cancer is anything but new. Scientists have long noticed the association with eating meat and cancer. For instance, Scientific American stated all the way back in January 1892 that “cancer is most frequent among those branches of the human race where carnivorous habits prevail.”

Studies have shown again and again that those following a plant-based diet have a lower risk of several kinds of cancer such as stomach, colon, prostate and pancreatic. Even smokers (and of course smoking is not recommended) can cut their risk of lung cancer by half if they eat a plant-food rich diet. Now, in the 21st century, scientists are discovering many of the ways plant foods help protect us from getting cancer. Read more

WHO says Meat Causes Cancer – they finally admit it!

Grilled meatThe World Health Organization (WHO) has finally said what many already knew: red meat causes colon cancer. They say the evidence for processed meat is “strong,” classifying it as “carcinogenic [cancer causing] to humans.” The evidence for ordinary red meat was almost as high. They also found evidence linking meat to other cancers including cancer of the stomach, pancreas and prostate.

This comes as no surprise. Scientists have long noticed the association with eating meat and cancer. For instance, Scientific American stated all the way back in January 1892  that “cancer is most frequent among those branches of the human race where carnivorous habits prevail.”

Processed meat is any meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding chemical preservatives. This puts most of the cold cuts at the supermarket deli counter — such as ham, pastrami, turkey and bologna — into this category, along with bacon, sausage, hot dogs, corned beef, pepperoni, beef jerky as well as canned meat, like Spam.

The WHO report identified several kinds of carcinogens found in meat that are produced either by processing or cooking. In addition to these, many scientists have found that carcinogenic chemicals used in agriculture such as pesticides and herbicides, along with industrial pollutants such PCB’s and dioxin, tend to greatly concentrate in the meat tissues of livestock and make their way onto our dinner plate.

Although this study didn’t focus on other meats such as poultry, it should be noticed that they often have levels even higher than in red meat. For instance chicken has even higher levels of HCAs, the carcinogens produced by cooking meat, than beef does.

As we reported recently, much research has also been done into the relationship between breast cancer and diet, with the conclusion that a plant-based diet helps reduce the risk in several important ways.

While we’re grateful that the relationship between meat and cancer is finally being acknowledged publicly, we hope that it’s not too much longer before they also point out the risks of certain cancers from consuming other animal products too.

FDA Bans Trans Fats – Good News, or is it?

Trans Fat labelThe FDA has just taken a small step for our health by proposing to ban added trans fats in the American food supply, citing its role in increasing cholesterol levels, which leads to the clogged arteries that cause heart disease and most strokes. Trans fats, also termed partially hydrogenated fats and oils, have been used to extend the shelf life of various food products, among other uses.

In fact consumption was already way down. While average consumption of added trans fats was almost 5 grams a day in 2003, it had already dropped down to less than 1 gram in 2012. Estimates are that as many as 20,000 lives may be saved by this move – a good thing.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that many manufacturers are replacing trans fats with artery-clogging, saturated animal fats which are not much better. Saturated animal fats are powerful when it comes to raising cholesterol levels. They also lead to decreasing insulin sensitivity which fuels Type II diabetes. When we consider that heart disease is still the leading cause of death, that stroke is 3rd leading cause, and that diabetes rates are soaring, this latest move by the FDA is really only a baby step in the right direction.

Also, the FDA ban does nothing to address the trans fats naturally occurring in both meat and dairy. Recent studies show these trans fats to be even worse than the artificial trans fats currently added to so many different products. What’s really needed to make a big difference in the health of our nation is a ban or limit on animal fats, which are all high in saturated fat. 

Percentage of Saturated Fat in Various Foods

Animal Fats

Saturated Fat as % of Total Fat

  Plant Oils Saturated Fat as % of Total Fat
Butter

68%

  Olive oil

13%

Beef fat (tallow)

50%

  Corn oil

13%

Pork fat (lard)

33%

  Sunflower oil

10%

Chicken fat

30%

  Safflower oil

9%

 

 

  Canola oil

7%

Animal fats, both saturated and unsaturated, are not only the prime culprits behind heart disease, stroke and diabetes, but they contain highly concentrated levels of pesticides and industrial toxins such as PCB’s and dioxin, which promote several different kinds of cancer. All these diseases kill way more people than just the 20,000 people saved by the latest ban.

It’s time for the FDA to finally step up to the plate and actually ban or limit animal fats, or at least put a warning label on the package. One of the reasons they hesitate to do so, presumably, is because so many people eat them. Yet when cigarette smoking levels were very high, the Surgeon General had the courage to state that smoking causes cancer and to put warning labels on the package. Indeed, the front cover of the current issue of Good Medicine magazine, published by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington DC, states that “Meat is the New Tobacco”.

Cancer on a bun

Grilled veggies on bbqThe Fourth of July is the most popular outdoor cooking holiday of the year, according to the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association. Yet as Americans prepare to celebrate Independence Day, many are not aware that grilling some food items produces cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). HCAs, a family of carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds, are produced when meats, including chicken, beef, pork, and fish, are grilled, pan-fried, or broiled.

Meat naturally contains amino acids and a protein called creatine that is found in muscle tissue. When meat is grilled, this combination of amino acids and creatine form HCAs. Creatine is found only in muscle tissue, not in plant-based foods, so vegetarian foods do not produce detectable levels of HCAs when they are grilled. At least 24 studies have now impli­cated HCAs in breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, and cancer of the larynx, stomach, and prostate gland. In January 2005, the federal government officially added HCAs to its list of known carcinogens. Studies have shown that exposure to PhIP, one type of HCA, at levels as low as 10 to 20 nanograms per day is associated with roughly a doubling of breast cancer risk.

The Five Worst Foods to Grill
Food Item
HCAs: nanograms per 100 grams
Chicken breast, skinless, boneless, grilled, well done
14,000 nanograms/100 grams
Steak, grilled, well done
810 nanograms/100 grams
Pork, barbecued
470 nanograms/100 grams
Salmon, grilled with skin
166 nanograms/100 grams
Hamburger, grilled, well done
130 nanograms/100 grams
Veggieburger, grilled, well done
None
Corn, grilled, well done
None

Another problem comes from meat products that have preservatives, such as the nitrates and nitrites often found in hot dogs and preserved meats. These chemicals react to form nitrosamines after they are eaten. Nitrosamines are highly carcinogenic compounds and have been implicated in several forms of cancer. So skip the dogs and the salami.  Add to all this the fact that animals store up and concentrate the carcinogenic  chemicals they encounter such as pesticides, herbicides, PCBs and Dioxin in their tissue to levels much higher than in plant foods, and you have many good reasons to avoid meat altogether on July 4th (and every other day for that matter!)

Avid grillers need not throw away the barbecue: Grilling can provide healthful meals.  Reducing exposure to carcinogens is as simple as grilling a veggie burger instead of a hamburger, or a thick portabella mushroom instead of a steak. Cooks can marinade and prepare most of these veggie options just as they would with meats.

Here are five grilling ideas for this year’s Fourth of July barbecue:

  • Veggie burgers
  • Vegetarian chicken patties
  • Vegetable kabobs (sweet onions, pineapple, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, zucchini and button mushrooms—cooks should choose their favorite veggies and use their best-tasting marinade)
  • Marinated portabella mushrooms (serve on bun as a sandwich or slice and eat as fajitas)
  • Barbecue tofu or tempeh (place tofu in barbecue sauce and allow to marinate for two to three hours, grill, and serve with baked beans, corn, and a salad)

Enjoy!

Making Health Insurance Reform Work

First Congress voted, and now the Supreme Court has spoken, so, as of this writing, a massive overhaul of the health system seems likely. The questions on many people’s minds at this point are: How are we going to pay for it all? and will there be enough medical staff and facilities to go around? The entire debate about health care is driven by the fact that Americans need so much care. Collectively we are sicker than we have ever been. When you think about it, what we really need the most to make things work is a healthier country. This is where helping the country to move towards a vegetarian diet can make a big difference, perhaps the crucial difference between success and failure.

The three leading causes of death in America are heart disease, cancer and stroke – mostly diet-related diseases which can be largely prevented, and often even reversed, by following a healthy vegetarian diet. Adding to the stress on the healthcare system are leading diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure – two of the most common diseases in America– and both of these can also be largely prevented and reversed through a healthy vegetarian diet. Diabetes and pre-diabetes are thought to affect as many as 80 million Americans, and high blood pressure another 75 million people.

As patients line up at pharmacy counters, doctors offices, and hospital registration desks, the cash registers ring up the costs of these diseases—well into the hundreds of billions every year. The money savings potential in moving the country towards a vegetarian diet is profound. For instance, a Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company showed that for every $1 spent in helping heart patients to switch over to a vegetarian diet, $5.55 was saved in treatment. One study found that over 90% of diabetics were able to discontinue or reduce their medication in only six months after adopting a healthy vegetarian diet.  Plant-food rich vegetarian diets have been shown to drastically reduce the incidence of diseases such as stroke and hypertension, and even several forms of cancer such as colon and prostate cancer.  But even less dramatic but still costly medical expenses would be saved. For instance, every year the meat-centered low-fiber standard diet, and the all-too-common constipation it causes, results in Americans to spend nearly 800 million dollars on laxatives every year. Yet the fiber-rich plant-powered diet would largely save us both the discomfort and the expense.

With all this in mind, you’d think that the government would do everything it could to financially support farmers who grow healthier food, but such is not the case. Sadly, every administration, both Democrat and Republican in recent decades, has been caught up in a system that not only tolerates ill health, but encourages it. For instance, only 3% of farm subsidies go towards healthy plant foods while the other 97% goes to animal products and highly refined and junk food. With this kind of policy, the government promotes an environment that encourages the very diseases for which it now needs to insure against. How much simpler it would be to promote a healthier diet, and save us all the money of so much “disease care,” and in so doing, provide the American people with what we really need, true health care.

While still controversial for some, most Americans feel we need some kind of insurance reform. But even more, we need better health. And that should be front and center in any emerging plan. While financial fixes have their place, and while new technologies can make a significant contribution, the country has largely blinded itself to the simple yet powerful potential of the vegetarian diet. Far from a bitter pill to swallow, a delicious vegetarian diet may just be the miracle drug of the 21st century.

Beyond Pink Slime

Oh yuk! There’s something called pink slime in hamburgers and we’re feeding it to our kids at school! In response to a large number of grossed out parents and the general public at large, a growing number school districts, restaurants and grocery stores are rapidly removing hamburgers and ground beef which contain pink slime from their offerings. Pink slime is the common term used to describe cuttings and scrapings of meat often taken from the less appetizing parts of the cow and then treated with the harsh chemical ammonium hydroxide to kill the bacteria it usually contains.

While we have no problem with removing pink slime from the burgers, there are much more serious problems with the common hamburger that can’t be so easily fixed, and which harm us much more than just making us hold our noses and saying yuk. Ultimately there is no such thing as safe meat. Meat is loaded with cholesterol and saturated fat, not to mention E. Coli and other pathogens that can cause serious illnesses. Let’s take a look at some of them and ask ourselves why, given the problems they cause, we still have hamburgers on the menus at all.

Topping our list are artery-clogging saturated fat and cholesterol that are found in hamburgers in plentiful amounts. While fat and cholesterol may not sound as objectionable as pink slime, the damage they cause is much worse. It turns out that saturated fat and cholesterol are the culprits behind clogged arteries which in the heart can cause heart attacks, and in the brain can cause strokes. These two diseases are the number one and number three causes of death in America.

Next on our list of burger problems are antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Most farm animals these days are raised on what are known as factory farms. On factory farms, animals are badly crowded together, and overcrowding promotes the spread of disease. To enable farm animals to survive under such harsh and unnatural conditions, farmers must routinely give them antibiotics in their daily feed. The problem is that, with repeated use, all antibiotics become less and less effective because the bacteria develop resistance to it. In one study of meat collected from supermarkets, almost all the bacteria found were resistant to at least one antibiotic, and over half the bacteria tested were resistant to three different antibiotics.

Antibiotics have been haled as the miracle drugs of the 20th century, but they are now under threat. Doctors are frustrated by rising numbers of infections resistant to their arsenal of antibiotics. When these medicines don’t work, patients suffer or even die, and our nation’s health tab also ratchets upward.  Doctors worry that the day may soon come when their prescriptions will no longer work, and we will go back to the old days when infections were rampant and people died from them. 

Rounding out our list are toxic and cancer causing chemicals. Broadly speaking, there are three kinds of toxic chemicals out there that are the most worrisome: those that were deliberately applied in agriculture, industrial chemicals discharged as pollutants, and chemicals directly applied to food or which emerge during its cooking and processing.  When agricultural chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides are applied to crops, or industrial pollutants such as PCBs, dioxins and mercury contaminate the air and water, they wind up being consumed by the farm animals. Other toxic chemicals such as heterocyclic amines or HCA’s are formed when the meat is cooked. Many of these toxic chemicals have been shown to cause serious health problems ranging from birth defects to cancer.

The problem is that the farm animals (and fish which consume polluted algae) store these chemicals in their bodies, especially in the fatty portions, in a process known as bioaccumulation. Day after day, and year after year, the levels of these chemicals build until the animal is finally killed for food. When we eat the animal, we get much of the toxic chemicals they have been storing.

What about the toxic chemicals on the crops themselves, that vegetarians eat directly, you may ask? This is a legitimate concern. However meat often has levels of toxic chemicals 10 times higher than in plant foods, as a result of the animals storing and concentrating them day after day. In fact, most Americans get 90% of their toxic exposure through meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy. 

Just how serious is the problem of toxic chemicals in meat?  According to Oxford University Physician Paula Baillie Hamilton, “We are one of the most polluted species on the planet. Indeed, we are all so contaminated that if we were cannibals our meat would be banned from human consumption.” No wonder cancer has become so much more common in recent times.

 Here in the US, Neal Barnard MD, President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, sums up the overall problem with meat when he says, “Whether it’s pink slime or organic and grass-fed beef, it all leads to obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other life-threatening illnesses.” The pink slime victory shows just how powerful consumers can be when they come together to fight an unsafe product. But it’s hardly the end of the battle. It’s time to face up to the consequences of our meaty diets and move to more healthful ways of eating.