Tag Archives: cancer

Meat and Cancer

An announcement that processed and red meat increase your risk of cancer is all over the news today. The International Agency on Cancer Research (IACR) – a part of the World health Organization – is the source of this news. They released a statement saying that consumption of processed meats increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. According to the statement, red meat is “probably carcinogenic” based on “limited evidence” that consumption causes colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.

As a nutrition professional, this statement bothers me a bit.

First, the statement doesn’t adequately put the risk in context. What does 18% risk increase mean? It is kind of a confusing statistic, because it is talking about “relative risk”, meaning your risk compared to another group of people.

One article I read broke it down to some actual numbers based on colorectal cancer rates in the United Kingdom, which I think is a helpful way of looking at it. In the group of people who eat the least amount of processed meat, 56 out of 1000 people would get colorectal cancer. Compare that to the group who consume the most processed meat: 66 out of 1000 people get colorectal cancer.

On the same vein, this is not in context compared with other known carcinogens. In the IARC’s classification system, processed meat is classified the same as tobacco. This means that the evidence is as strong for both BUT the actual increase in risk is different. The evidence shows that 18% of colorectal cancers are caused by processed meat compared to 86% of lung cancers being caused by tobacco. That’s a pretty big difference.

Second, did any of use think we should really eat a lot of processed meat or red meat? I think almost everyone knows they should avoid overconsumption of either food for health reasons beyond cancer risk.

Third, this overlooks any nutrition benefits of red meat. Protein and well-absorbed iron are among the health benefits of consuming red meat in moderation.

The take aways are the same as always. Consume foods in moderation, not to excess.  Don’t be overly swayed by large declarations about health in the news.

As always, happy eating!

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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Q&A: Food Dyes

Question:  What’s the big deal about food dyes?  Are food dyes really bad for you?  What is the harm in eating them?

Answer:  Thanks for the question.  Food dyes have been a hot topic in recent years, and it can be hard to sort fact from fiction.  As I mentioned recently, General Mills is removing food dyes from their cereal products (read more here).

I think it is important to remember that any food dyes used in our food products have been approved for use by the FDA.  There are regulations for how to use these additives as well.

However, some suggest that food dyes pose risks for increasing hyperactivity in children, cancer, and allergies.  Are these concerns based in science?  Let’s look at each risk individually.

There is some research that shows that consumption of artificial food colors can increase behavioral problems in sensitive children.  It was originally thought children with ADHD would be sensitive, but other children may also show a sensitivity.  The responses seem to be very individual however, so general conclusions cannot be made for any large popluation group.

Artificial food dyes have been linked with cancer in animal studies only.  If there was strong evidence of a link, these ingredients would not be approved for use in our food supply.

A few people do exhibit allergic reactions to food dyes.  This is why it is mandated that these ingredients are labeled on all food products.  An ingredient being an allergen is not a reason to eliminate it from the food supply.  Much larger groups of people are allergic to gluten, milk, or peanuts, for example.  However, there are still food products containing these ingredients; the labels clearly indicate the contents to help those people.

There are strong movements in Europe and Great Britain to remove artificial food colors and replace them with natural based dyes.  There are petitions to the FDA and food companies about food dyes that you can join, should you desire.  Here is a link to one trying to remove them from M&M’s:  https://www.change.org/p/m-m-s-candies-stop-using-artificial-dyes-linked-to-hyperactivity

Personally, I don’t see any evidence that they need to be removed from the food supply entirely.  As I said in my previous post about the cereals, if you are focusing on a diet of whole foods, you won’t be consuming excess amounts of these ingredients.  If you do feel that you or your child has adverse reactions, try an eliminating them from your diet.  If you see improvements, great.  If not, you don’t need to stress about it.  But I don’t think the evidence is strong enough or effecting a large enough group at this point that they need to be eliminated entirely.

Hope that helps and thanks for the question!

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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Aspartame

Everyone has an opinion on what you should or should not eat when you are pregnant, it seems.  Recently, a man at the grocery store told me I should not buy a certain light yogurt since “it contains aspartame which is toxic for the baby, you know”.  I tried to pleasantly smile and show him where it says on the front of the package that the yogurt contains no aspartame.  This made me stop and think more about aspartame.

Aspartame is a very common artificial sweetener.  Commercially, it is known as Nutrasweet and Equal.  It can be found in some sugar free products as well.  It is not found in products that have been heated to a high temperature however, since it is not very heat stable.

Aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than regular sugar.  It is made by combining two amino acids – aspartic acid and phenylalanine.  When we eat aspartame, it is broken down to these two amino acids and methanol.  The amino acids are clearly safe to have in our bodies, unless you have a special medical condition.  Methanol can be toxic in high amounts, but the amount generated in the breakdown in the regular consumption of aspartame is less than the amount of methanol created by digesting some natural foods.

Research to this point has not shown any adverse health effects from consuming aspartame, although it has been accused of causing cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, ADD, and many other issues.  While research is ongoing, it is considered safe to consume in moderation.

The FDA has a set a recommended upper limit for consuming aspartame at 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.  Few people would ever consume that much.  For example, a 200 lb person could consumer over 4500 mg of aspartame in a day.  That would be 23 cans of diet soda or 129 packets of tabletop sweetener.  Hopefully, you can see there are health consequences of consuming those amounts of these products beyond any concerns about aspartame.

What is my opinion?  I don’t like putting a lot of fake ingredients into my body, for sure.  However, I also know there are detrimental effects of consuming excessive sugar – such as excessive weight gain which can lead to diabetes and a multitude of other health problems.  I drink diet soda, on the rare occasions I drink soda.  I also see the benefit of sugar free products for those with diabetes.  As always, I think moderation is key.

Happy eating!

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Q&A: Diet during Cancer Treatment

Q:  What do you know about ketogenic and/or paleo diets? My sister is going that route during her cancer treatments. Any advice or recipes?

A:  Thanks for the great question.  I faced questions similar to this when I was working with cancer patients in the hospital.

First, ketogenic and paleo diets are two separate things, but they are related.  The simplest way to compare them is a ketogenic diet is an extreme form of the paleo diet.  But it goes a little deeper than that.

I previously reviewed the paleo diet for general health and weight loss here.  A paleo diet is a type of low-carb diet, focusing on meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, eggs, and plant-based oils.  You avoid grains, potatoes, legumes, salt, and refined or processed foods.

A ketogenic is more specific than just a low carbohydrate diet.  It is a very low carbohydrate diet that is high in fat and moderate in protein.  Compared to the typical paleo diet, it would be higher in fat and lower in carbohydrates and protein.  A truly ketogenic diet can have some beneficial effects in certain conditions, but can also have consequences on the body and should never be followed without consulting with a physician and dietitian first.

Why do people follow these diets during cancer therapy?  It is well documented that cancer cells LOVE glucose.  They rely on it for energy to divide and do all of their cancer damage.  So, people figure they can help fight the cancer by eating fewer carbs.

While this idea makes sense, it does have a slight problem.  ALL of the cells in your body rely on glucose to survive, especially your brain.  Your body isn’t going to know to only give the glucose you are eating to your brain and not give it to the cancer cells.  In fact, cancer cells can be hoarders and not share the glucose with the parts of your body you want to get it, like your brain, muscles, etc.  So it may not actually work to stop the cancer.

With that being said, there is some promising research into ketogenic diets as an additional therapy along with chemo or radiation for some people.  This research is in the very preliminary stages however.

I always recommend caution for cancer patients in following any diet, and even more so for a diet as extreme as a true ketogenic diet.  Part of this is just because of all the side effects of the treatments they are receiving.  Cancer patients feel sick, tired, have nausea/vomiting/diarrhea, can get severe sores in their mouth or throat, and the list just goes on.  Many of the foods people can tolerate at those times would not be allowed on a low carb diet:  mashed potatoes, jello, juice, yogurt, ice cream, and Ensure or similar supplements.

Nutrition is very important during cancer therapy, and you don’t want to box yourself into a corner that makes getting those nutrients harder.  Weight loss is a bad course to begin during cancer treatments, so you need to get those nutrients in somehow.  I recommend a general, healthy diet.  Focus on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and dairy, and whole grains, all in moderation.  And when symptoms make that hard, you eat what sounds good to get you through.

If she wants to follow those diets, I would recommend she talk to a dietitian at her cancer center and her doctor.  And if it isn’t working for her, make sure she knows she isn’t failing herself if she has to stop.  Cancer treatment is hard.  Don’t make it too much harder with complicated diet regimens.

I hope that helps.  Thanks for the question!

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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Beyond vitamins

Salads are a great way to incorporate a rainbow of colors.

Salads are a great way to incorporate a rainbow of colors.

People often wonder if they can just take a multi-vitamin and skip eating their fruits and vegetables. I always say no! A pill does not contain all the phytochemicals your foods do, among the many other benefits of foods over supplements.

Phytochemicals are substances that naturally occur in plant foods. They can contribute to the color, flavor, or odor of the plant. The difference between a phytochemical and a vitamin is that phytochemicals are not known to be essential. A phytochemical can have health benefits, though. You might be more familiar with the names of some of the common phytochemicals than the term phytochemical itself: flavonoid, carotenoid, isoflavones, phytonutrient.

There are many health claims out there for phytochemicals. Some are thought to help fight cancer, such as lutein and isoflavones. Resveratrol, a phytochemical in grapes and red wine, may help slow the effects of aging. Beta-carotene may boost the immune system and help with vision. Research is ongoing on how these substances effect the body and in what amounts.

How do you get enough phytochemicals? By eating a variety of different fruits and vegetables. The color of the plant can correspond with different phytochemicals. For example, beta-carotene is found in dark orange or dark green leafy vegetables. Lycopene is found in red foods, particularly tomatoes, watermelon, and grapefruit. Anthocyanidins are found in red and purple berries. By consuming a balanced diet with many different colors of fruits and vegetables, you will get a variety of phytochemicals and all of their health benefits.

So make sure you are getting not only your recommended number of fruits and veggies each day, but also make sure there are a rainbow of colors in there, too.  Happy eating!

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