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Local opinion columnists

Some diet news is tough to digest

By From page A11 | April 25, 2014

I have to confess that I love seeing a story that debunks a popular belief.

Most of us have accepted the notion that, as an article in The New York Times Sunday Health and Science section says, “avoiding cancer is mostly a matter of watching what you eat.” I can’t say it any better than the writer, George Johnson, who points out that it is accepted, at least in the mind of the public, that “one source after another promotes the protective powers of ‘superfoods,’ rich in antioxidants . . . or advises readers to emulate the diets of Chinese peasants of Paleolithic cave dwellers.”

Earlier in April, San Diego hosted a giant event of the American Association for Cancer Research, with 18,500 professionals attending. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much discussion of what the role of diet was in the onset of cancer. The keynote speaker, Dr. Walter Willett, an internationally recognized cancer specialist, said, “Whatever is true for other diseases, when it comes to cancer, there was little evidence that fruits and vegetables are protective or that fatty foods are bad.”

Before I go any further, let me mention that I know as much about the causes of cancer as I do about quantum mechanics, but I couldn’t help but be impressed with this perspective on the disease. However, as we all know, it is virtually impossible to dislodge a belief once it is accepted as the truth. As an example, what about the advice that not only should we avoid fatty foods, but that we should have as much fiber as we can tolerate?

I’m not making a recommendation, but I was relieved to read Mr. Johnson’s comments on hamburgers: “If hamburgers are carcinogenic, the effect appears to be mild. One study suggests that a 50-year-old man eating a hefty amount of red meat – about a third of a pound a day – raises his chance of getting colorectal cancer to 1.71 percent during the next decade, from 1.28 percent . . .. From the point of view of an individual, it barely seems to matter.”

The writer makes what I believe is a very thoughtful point, which is that, “assiduous eaters of fruits and vegetables probably weigh less, exercise more often and are vigilant about their health in other ways.” Mr. Johnson points out that lots of vegetables in the diet (french fries?) might lower the incidence of a certain kind of breast cancer and men who consume fewer dairy products might have less chance of getting prostate cancer.

Is there any chance that those who are fatophobic will surrender some of their daily intake of radishes and asparagus for a double cheeseburger or two?

Sorry, I have to run – my anchovy pizza is getting cold. Note: Do not try this higher fat diet without consulting two physicians, a dietitian and a nutritionist. And a psychiatrist.

Bud Stevenson, a retired stockbroker, lives in Fairfield. Reach him at [email protected]

Bud Stevenson

Bud Stevenson


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