Should French Fries Be Labeled "Cancerous?"

Thanks to the VegSource blog for pointing out this fascinating article about a food fight playing out in the California courts. As Melanie Warner tells it in The New York Times:

California's attorney general, Bill Lockyer, filed suit in August against McDonald's; Burger King; Frito-Lay, owned by PepsiCo; and six other food companies, saying that they should be forced to put labels on all fries and potato chips sold in California. The proposed warning might say something to this effect: "This product contains a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer."

The Anthropology of Gluttony

The current Johns Hopkins magazine examines the seven deadly sins. Anthropologist Sidney Mintz (who has written a fair amount about food--including Sweetness and Power and Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom) tackles Gluttony in a well-reasoned essay:

The ubiquity of the food itself is an important element in how much of it we eat, and we have it available now in theaters, next to supermarket checkout counters, cluttering up the lobbies of symphony halls, in laundromats, gymnasia, and (McDonalds, no less) in our hospitals. (Shhh � not yet in our cemeteries.)

I think that we Americans, in particular, are led down the path by the much-touted insistence that sophisticated people should be able to do many things at once. How often are we told by people who want to sell us things that busy folks like us have no time, and must learn to multitask? Chronically subject to low-key distraction by the other things we're doing, we may fail to notice what (or how much) we're eating. Clever devices, like plastic cup holders in automobiles, make it convenient to consume almost uninterruptedly. Takeout and TV dinners, energy bars, and soft drinks everywhere encourage and enable us to eat continuously. Fortunately for the food producers, the eating that makes us sophisticated also makes the GDP rise. The nag factor � an American crotchet ensuring that children get to eat what they want, whenever they want it (nurturing their individuality, perhaps?) � also comes into play.

The composition of the foods we are offered is an element in how much we eat � featuring as they do sweet and fat tastes � but also, of course, in how fat we're getting. Sweeteners and fats have not only overtaken but surpassed complex carbohydrates � the carbs we briefly loved to hate � in everyday meals. That movement from carbs to fat and sweet has been going on at least since World War I.

Nutrition Researcher: Frank Hu

One of the world's most respected nutrition and disease prevention researchers is Frank Hu, MD, Ph.D., who is an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Dr. Hu has been instrumental in many of the studies that Dr. Fuhrman cites. Anyone who wants to know more about nutrition research would be smart to follow his work. Here are some of the studies Dr. Hu has been involved with.

2002 Diabetes in Men Study
This study, released in 2002, tracked 42,000 men for twelve years. At the beginning of the study, none had diabetes. 1,321 cases of type 2 diabetes were diagnosed during the study. All participants were asked repeatedly about their diets, and those who ate what the researchers called the "western diet" (high in red meat, processed meat, high-fat dairy products, and refined grains) and were obese and inactive were at a mich higher risk to get type 2 diabetes.

A Harvard School of Public Health press release describes the study. "The implications of the study are straightforward," says Dr. Hu in the release. "To substantially decrease the chances of getting type 2 diabetes and developing potentially serious complications like blindness, kidney failure and heart disease, men should change their eating pattern and increase their intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and fish. They should also get plenty of exercise and avoid weight gain."

2004 Study of Weight and Exercise in Women
More than 115,000 women were studied between 1976 and 2000. The findings were clear: being overweight and not exercising both significantly affected mortality. "There is no question that one should be as active as possible no matter what your weight is, but it is equally important to maintain a healthy weight and prevent weight gain through diet and lifestyle," Dr. Hu says in a press release describing the study.

2004 Study of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages
This study attempted to assess some of the impact of sugar-sweetened beverages on health. More than 91,000 participants filled out questionnaires between 1991 and 1999, and the results were remarkable: those who had more than one sugared soft-drink per day had an 80 percent increased risk of diabetes compared to those who had one per month.

"This is the first study to show a strong positive association between sugar-sweetened beverages, including regular sodas and fruit punches, and diabetes risk," said Frank Hu in a press release describing the study. "Our study suggests that limiting consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, especially soft drinks, is an important public health strategy to curb the epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes."

2000 Studies of Coronary Heart Disease in Women
Two studies taken together showed coronary heart disease was dramatically reduced among women who stopped smoking and ate a healthier diet. The studies tracked 86,000 women over a 14-year period.

Here's how Dr. Hu summarized his findings: "Taken together, these studies give strong support to the theories that much of heart disease can be prevented through changes in diet and lifestyle. This newest study shows that a person's risk can drop very quickly by improving their diets and by quitting smoking."

You can read more about Dr. Hu's research at the Harvard School of Public Health website.

Toxic Chemicals in Seafood

Keep in mind, there is a significantly larger exposure to toxic chemicals in animal products compared to plant foods. By eating lower on the food chain and reducing our intake of animal products, one automatically reduces exposure to toxic chemicals. Plants have the least fat-soluble pollutants, animals that eat plants have more, and animals that eat animals have the hightest levels of these toxic compounds. Fish that eat smaller fish will store the toxic compounds from every fish it ever ate, including all the fish eaten by the fish it just made a meal of. It is important to avoid lobster, shellfish, catfish, and predator fish such as tuna, bluefish, striped bass, shark, and swordfish, where toxins such as PCB, DDT, dioxin, and mercury are likely to build up due to the compounding effects of eating lots of smaller fish. One gets larger doses of more toxic compounds from these contaminated animal products than would be possible to take in from produce.

This passage is from the chapter entitled "Understanding the Causes of Cancer and Other Illnesses" from Joel Fuhrman M.D.'s new book Disease-Proof Your Child.

Parents, Children, and Sugar

Over at the Blogging Baby weblog there is an interesting discussion going on now about kids and sugar.

One of the consistent themes in Dr. Fuhrman's work--for children and adults alike--is that it is smart to avoid refined sugars. The diet he recommends is rich in nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables--and does not include any refined sugars at all. However, as a parent of four, Dr. Fuhrman understands the challenges of parenting at birthday parties, county fairs, and other junk-food-centric occasions. In his new book Disease-Proof Your Child, this is what he recommmends:

As your child gets older, birthday cake and other unhealthy foods might be offered on occasion. If no fuss is made and nothing discussed, three things might occur: the child might have a few bites and nothing more, she might eat the whole piece, or she might not even like the sweet or artificial taste.

My daughter Cara found birthday cake distasteful. We always fed our children a good meal of their favorite foods before they left the house prior to birthday parties or other events to make sure they were not hungry when exposed to this kind of food. By the time they were older and faced with parents distributing soda and doughnuts at soccer games, they were already knowledgeable enough to say no thank you on their own. They knew the health consequences of such eating habits.

If your children choose to eat junk food on occasion, let it go. Try not to make them feel bad about it. You will know how healthfully they eat when they are home, which should be more than 90 percent of their intake. Control what is done in the home and make sure that 90 percent of the time the family is eating at home. The best approach is to control what you can control and don't try to control what you can't.

The goal is for your children to eat healthfully because they want to, and do so whether their parents are around or not.

Dairy, Fast-Growing Kids, and Cancer

Scientific studies have consistently repeated the observation that most common cancers are associated with stimulated growth in childhood, especially growth fueled by a diet heavy in growth-promoting animal products. This protein- and fat-rich diet is enabling today's children to exceed the height predicted by their parental genetics. But children who mature early and grow taller than expected by parental height have been shown to be at higher risk of breast, prostate, colorectal, leukemic, ovarian, and endometrial cancers.1

Animal models have displayed this phenomenon for decades.2 We now have the data to conclude that the same is true for humans. Growth can be equated with aging; slower growth leads to slower aging and longer life. We used to think rapid growth in our children was a beneficial phenomenon. "Drink your milk. It will help you grow big and strong," parents parroted to their children. Over the years, however, scientists have noted that animals that grow faster and mature quicker, die younger. Now we find that drinking "growth promoting" cow's milk in early childhood may have negative effects. Humans are designed to be raised on human milk in the first few years of life, not cow's milk. Human milk makes for slower growth. Cow's milk is specially designed for baby cows, and it supplies the nutrients to facilitate the rapid growth natural to cows.

Epedimiological studies consistently show low death rates from breast and prostate cancer where dairy consumption is very low.3 In areas of the world where breast-feeding is routinely continued past the second birthday, the intake of cow's milk is exceedingly low. It is likely that this combination of more breast milk and a much later introduction of cow's milk explains the results of these studies linking very low intake of dairy to lower incidence of breast and prostate cancer.

This passage is from the chapter entitled "Understanding the Causes of Cancer and Other Illnesses" from Joel Fuhrman M.D.'s new book Disease-Proof Your Child.

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