Just in time for World Cancer Day this week, the World Health Organization released a new statistic stating that cancer cases worldwide are expected to increase by 70 percent over the next 20 years. This is grim news, but by eliminating just two things, cigarettes and processed meat, you can decrease your risk of 23 types of cancer. Click image to enlarge: CVS made strides in cancer prevention this morning by announcing plans to cease the sale of cigarettes by October. This is evidence that the massive shift in conversation surrounding tobacco products is working. Changes like this will save countless lives. But in order to reverse growing cancer rates, we need to focus our attention on the cancer-causing product of our generation: processed meat. Nearly everyone knows that smoking causes cancer, evidenced by the fact that you can’t light up a cigarette in schools, bars, airports, office buildings, or hospitals. However, the lack of public awareness about diet’s role in cancer isn’t limited to just the United States. In 2009, nearly 73 percent of Canadians were unaware of the link between diet and cancer. A recent U.K. survey shows that 49 percent of citizens are in the dark. If the public knew the direct correlation between processed meat and cancer, hot dogs and sausage wouldn’t be in school lunches, hospital cafeterias, or at every ballpark stadium. A study published in December showed that the link between animal products and cancer was as strong as the link between smoking and cancer. A review published in the journal Nutrition Research elaborated on how meat can cause colorectal cancer. In fact, the research linking meat and cancer goes all the way back to 1907. Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man have morphed into images of body bags and teens yanking out their teeth with pliers. Let’s ignite the same change in processed meat—the Oscar Mayer Wiener becomes a colostomy bag, and hot dog eating competitions turn into a hospital morgue. CVS should ban hot dogs, spam, and pepperoni. Hopefully by World Cancer Day 2015, both processed meat and tobacco will be off the shelves.
The buzz over this year’s Super Bowl has been nearly overshadowed by the highly publicized commercial reunion of the three “dads” from the 90s classic Full House. It’s a shame that the uniting force for the comedic trio is Dannon’s Oikos Greek Yogurt, which employs John Stamos as a spokesperson.
While the reunion has produced some humorous late-night TV banter, yogurt has a serious downside. Dairy is strongly linked to ovarian cancer, and men who consume the most yogurt have a 52 percent high risk of prostate cancer. In the words of Stephanie Tanner: “How rude!” And the probiotic effects of yogurt have been overhyped even more than the Oikos commercial. In 2009 and 2010, Dannon paid legal settlements of more than $50 million related to their false-advertising probiotic claims. Yogurt is also a high-calorie, high-sugar product, with nutrition content similar to pudding and ice cream. If Stamos had really been consuming Oikos yogurt as much as Dannon would like us to believe, a real Full House reunion segment would feature Uncle Jesse needing a prostate exam and convincing Danny and Joey to go along with him for solidarity. As the physician snaps his rubber glove, Uncle Jesse exclaims, “Have mercy!” To get a cholesterol-free Full House fix, ditch Oikos and its marketing campaign, and check out this Jimmy Fallon skit:
You hear it everywhere you go—a sniffle on the train or a cough in the grocery store. Cold and flu season is upon us, but that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to spend the next several months with a runny nose, nursing a low-grade fever. A healthful diet and a few smart habits can keep you from frequenting the pharmacy this winter.
The first step to warding off illness is boosting your immunity. Stay warm with layers of clothing: scarves, hats, mittens—even long johns! Viruses are sensitive to temperature, which is why a fever is your body’s natural defense. What you put inside your body, as well as outside, can help, too. Fats and oils impair immunity, while fruits and vegetables enhance it. The jury’s still out on the effectiveness of echinacea, but it can’t hurt!
When you’re out and about, you’ll want to minimize your exposure to viruses. Wash your hands, especially if you’re touching the same surface that may have been touched by someone who’s already sick. Humidity, the bane of summertime, is your friend come cold season. Dry air can irritate the throat and nasal passages, creating an entry point for viruses. So keep the air moist and your body hydrated.
If you’ve done all this, and you still feel a tickle in the back of your throat, pop a zinc lozenge or some vitamin C. The digestive system can only handle so much vitamin C, so consuming a large amount of it can help flush the virus out. While several glasses of fresh carrot juice might have enough vitamin C to help, store-bought orange juice is more of a sugary placebo than a treatment. Gargling hot salt water can also boost the blood flow to a sore throat.
Don’t be a hero and force yourself to go out in public if you have the option to stay home under quarantine. If you have to be around others, frequently wash your hands—and try to cough into your elbow rather than your palms—to lessen the spread of germs.
This week, Michelle Obama celebrates her 50th birthday. While we honor the occasion and also congratulate her on years of hard work with the Let’s Move campaign, news of her big day comes alongside news regarding diminished school lunch standards and reports of junk-food marketing in schools. It’s impossible not to wonder—how many of today’s kids will be healthy when they reach 50?
More than one-third of children are overweight or obese, putting them at an increased risk for a whole host of problems: diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, and even cancer. These kids are our future. But when we see what school lunches really look like, the future starts to seem grim. The First Lady has certainly made momentous efforts to draw attention to this issue, but we have yet to see the changes necessary to subdue the rising tide of childhood obesity. We’re starting to see a generation with a shorter life expectancy than their parents. That said, it’s not too late for action. There are many ways governments, schools, and parents can team up to get things back on track. But let’s start by getting processed meat out of school lunches. It’s an easy change with a big impact. There are so many other versatile and cholesterol-free options—beans, quinoa, and legumes. Processed meat is strongly linked with colorectal cancer, and the cholesterol and saturated fat contribute to cardiovascular troubles. There are many more steps that need be taken, but getting the worst out of school lunches is a key first step. Michelle Obama has both the power and the responsibility to take a stand and change our nation’s future for the better. Let’s hope that as the party winds down and the guests go home, our government commits to making sure every child has the nutrition resources necessary to see 50, and many decades beyond in the best of health.
Here is a special guest blog post from Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., the Physicians Committee’s director of nutrition education, discussing her experience this week at the 2015 Dietary Guidelines hearing:
In the classic film Soylent Green, the main character discovers that the titular food product is actually made of human remains. The end of the movie features an iconic scene with Charlton Heston being carried away as he yells, "Soylent Green is people!" Even though this is a science fiction movie from 1973, the fight still rages on between what’s good for consumers and what makes the food industry money.
At the 2015 Dietary Guidelines hearing today at the National Institutes of Health, physicians, dietitians, and other health care professionals took on the role of Charlton Heston, trying to warn the advisory committee about the dangers of meat and dairy products. Everyone with a stake—financial or otherwise—in America’s eating habits was invited to present their testimony to the advisory committee. Health care professionals were flanked by representatives from major companies who have a financial investment in what Americans eat. To protect their profits, the meat and dairy lobbyists came out in full force.
Even though processed meat products are linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer, these products provide a source of revenue for people who have concerns other than our health. I presented evidence from multiple sources showing the health detriments of red and processed meat. I urged for similar language to the World Cancer Research Fund, which has stated that no amount of processed meat is safe for consumption. Compared to hot dogs, Soylent Green starts to seem like a pretty good option.
I also proposed that the advisory committee reassess their dairy recommendations. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines acknowledged that high-fat dairy products are the biggest source of saturated fat in our diets. However, even low-fat dairy options are high in calories and can contribute to certain forms of cancer. So why recommend fatty dairy when leafy greens offer an excellent danger-free source of calcium?
Fortunately, none of the protagonists at the hearing were carried screaming from the room, like in Soylent Green, so hopefully our message was heard. It’s time for the USDA and DHHS to support the best interests of our nation’s health and not capitulate to the financial interests of the meat and dairy industries.
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