What Do We Really Know about Diet and Cancer?

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Diet and cancer research has been sparse for a number of reasons. One major reason is that reliable studies are not feasible to undertake with humans for obvious ethical reasons. Additionally,  observational studies cannot show cause and effect.  We are then left with animal studies that more than likely cannot be extrapolated to human cancers. In the past, only individual nutrients have been studied, i.e., vitamins, minerals, antioxidants). Studies with supplements have shown mixed results and doses are varied. Several studies using the antioxidant, beta carotene, resulted with more cases of lung cancer in smokers when compared with a placebo group. Diet patterns like the Mediterranean or vegetarian diets are difficult to conduct on large groups of human subjects due to cost.

Research on a flavonoid called sulforaphane in cruciferous vegetables may be prudent, since these compounds called phytonutrients may hold the key to cancer prevention with diet.  A study from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute showed that a high intake of broccoli greatly reduced the risk of aggressive prostate cancer.


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The First Thanksgiving: 1621

A Brief History of Thanksgiving Foods

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English: “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“ The turkey is certainly one of the most delightful presents which the New World has made to the Old.”  Brillat Savarin.

Most of the traditional Thanksgiving foods we now eat on this holiday are foods that originated or were Native to the Americas. The word for turkey in French is dinde, short for poulet d’inde since they thought that the turkey came from the West Indies of Columbus days.  The turkey was popular in England before the Pilgrims came in 1620.

Turkeys don’t migrate so they were some of the first Native Americans and were available all year.  Turkeys are easy to hunt – when one is shot, the others freeze in place.  Don’t get me wrong – I don’t encourage shooting turkeys – we have lots of wild turkeys here in Western North Carolina. Many times I’ve had to stop and wait until they cross the road.  I once encountered a few hens walking in the woods, followed by a male who wanted to impress them by making a racket and spreading his tail feathers – of course, the “girls” totally ignored him and went on without a nod – I kind of felt sorry for him

Potatoes had reached Europe early in the Columbian Exchange (thanks to Christopher Columbus).  Potatoes had an interesting history – they were native to Peru, a Spanish colony and enemy of England, and went from Peru to Europe and then returned to New Hampshire with Scottish-Irish settlers in 1723.  It is thought that the idea of mashing them with butter and milk also came form Scottish-Irish influence.

Cranberries were native to New England. Cranberries and blueberries were mashed with sour milk and used as paint as well as for food.  To this day, these colors or variations of these colors are used in New England colonial homes.

Many types of squash had reached Europe, but pumpkin was unknown at that time. Pumpkin was used in the early colonies, but did not appear in cookbooks until Amelia Simmons in 1796 wrote the first printed American cookbook.  She referred to it as “pomkin”.  You may prefer pecan pie – and these are also of American origin.  Originating in central and eastern North America and the river valleys of Mexico, pecans were widely used by pre-colonial residents.

Cornbread and sweet potatoes (both being native to the Americas) round out our traditional Thanksgiving fare. Archaeological studies indicate that corn was cultivated in the Americas at least 5600 years ago and American Indians were growing corn long before Europeans landed here. The probable center off origin is the Central American and Mexico region but since the plant is found only under cultivation, no one can be sure.

The sweet potato has a rich history and interesting origin. It is one of the oldest vegetables known to mankind. Scientists believe that the sweet potato was domesticated thousands of years ago in Central America. Christopher Columbus took sweet potatoes back home to Europe after his first 1492 voyage. Sweet potatoes spread through Asia and Africa after being introduced in China in the late 16th century.

So as you enjoy your Thanksgiving this year, give thanks to the Americas for our traditional foods that are truly “made in America”.

BTW –Many of the foods we find on our Thanksgiving table today, weren’t  available back when the colonists celebrated the First Thanksgiving in Plymouth.  The first historical descriptions of the first Thanksgiving do not mention turkey – only “wild fowl” (not identified) and five deer.  The party was in 1621 with fifty-one Pilgrim men, women, and children hosting ninety men of the Wampanoag tribe and their chief, Massasoit.  It was in the fall to celebrate the good harvest of corn (wheat and barley weren’t as successful) and lasted three days.

Have a great Thanksgiving Day from Food, Facts & Fads and STAY SAFE.  SJF

The American Plate 1990-1999

Celebrity Chefs

The nineties has to be the decade of the celebrity chefs. This was mainly made possible by the Food Network with shows entitled Rachel Ray’s 30 Minute Meals, Everyday Italian with Giada De Laurentiis, and The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. Alton Brown explained food chemistry with the aid of graphics; Bobby Flay traveled America to clambakes and a stew called burgoo in Kentucky. Mario Battali ate his way across Italy. A shy young Austrian chef named Wolfgang Puck opened a restaurant called Spago in West Hollywood, California. Puck reinvented pizza by using food from worldwide cuisines such as goat cheese, smoked salmon, duck sausage, chili oil and chicken. He began his own show on the Food Network in 2001.

Emeril Lagasse, a Portugese-American from Massachusetts developed a tremendous following by using signature phrases like “Kick it up a notch” and “BAM” as he adds spices to his food. He owns several restaurants, his TV show, a line of spices and sauces, cookware, and cookbooks.

One of the most popular shows on the Food Network was Iron Chef. This show pits chefs against each other. Each show centers around a theme food that must be used in the preparation of gourmet dishes. It can be from clams to eggplant to pumpkin and the cooking and preparation is presented as a contest in spectacular ways.

The Rise of SnackWells

Back in the real world, manufacturers were still busy finding ways to make food fat-free, low-fat, or reduced fat. Scientists even made a fake fat, Olestra which reached the market with the hope that we could then binge on foods that contained it. It was not successful – we continued to gain weight and turned to carbohydrates instead since they were low in fat. One problem: many of them were full of sugar. One popular product was called SnackWells, an array of fat-free cookies that suggested that you could eat all of them and not consume any fat. Introduced in 1992, the problem remained that they still contained calories.

The Internet or the World Wide Web opened up a whole new world of food with access to recipes from around the globe. All you had to do was search for a certain dish and voila – an abundance of recipes would appear for your choosing. Most recipes were reviewed by “real” people who offered suggestions for improving the dish or warned you ahead of time what to expect from the ingredients. Recipes were rated from one star to 5 stars with 5 being the best.

Dieting and Diabesity

Although weight loss diets had been around for decades, people began to be obsessed with dieting in the 1990’s. The diet industry exploded with diet books, diet pills, dieting gimmicks, fat blockers, calorie counters. In 1994, the FDA mandated that food labels must include detailed information about calories, fat and fiber. In 1996, it was estimated that six million Americans are either taking fen-phen (the appetite-suppressant, fenfluramine) plus the amphetamine phentamine. The products were pulled off the market when the FDA reports that “fen” might cause fatal heart problems. In 1996, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute reports that 40 percent of nine and ten-year-olds are dieting and trying to lose weight. In 1999, Nutrisystem began selling its pre-made food and its products on TV and the Internet.

A new word was coined – diabesity. As the world became more overweight and obese, diabetes type 2 began to reach epidemic proportions. From 1990 to 1998 diabetes increased by one-third in the U.S. The vast majority of this increase – 76% was among people aged 30-39. The two major causes are an increase in obesity and a lack of exercise. Sixty percent of Americans do not exercise regularly and 25 percent do no exercise at all.

Survivor Foods and Y2K 

On December 31, 1999, the world waited to see if the coming year (2000) would disrupt computer systems that controlled phones, traffic lights, electricity and communications. Many were panicked and stockpiled food for survival in case the world shut down – None of the fears came to pass.

America’s Green Acres

As the century drew to a close, Americans look to their past to this to rediscover the pleasures of getting back to nature. Cashing in on this desire with farmers markets: there was just a few 100 in the 80s; by 1998 there were more than 2,700. And that number continued to grow as consumers seek out farm fresh produce. Then there were catalogs for fresh and dried herbs, heirloom vegetable seeds and exotic produce.

The organic foods industry was also a big story. As part of the 1990 farm bill, Congress included the Organic Food Production Act, which authorized development of national standards for labeling foods organic. But in 1997 when the USDA released these long awaited rules there was such an outcry against many of the proposed alliances, like permitting the use of sewage sludge fertilizer , and the inclusion of genetically altered foods, that the Department was flooded with an unprecedented 200,000 angry comments from the public.

The draft was scrapped, and the process began anew. A second set of rules was completed and released for public comment before the end of 1999.

But this governmental blunder didn’t stop the organic industry’s burgeoning sales and production because individual states already had their own standards and watchdog agencies in place. The organic industry posted double digit growth throughout the decade, with product sales topping the 4 billion dollar mark.

SOURCES: The Century in Food: America’s Fads and Favorites, Beverly Bundy [Collector Press:Portland] 2002 (p. 172-189)

The Food Chronology, James Trager [Henry Holt:New York] 1995 (p. 694-721)

Bon Appetit, September, 1999, p. 230

Timeline Trivia

1990: The US Department of agriculture introduces the Food Guide pyramid displaying 6 to 11 servings of carbohydrates a day. No differentiation was made between refined carbs and healthier carbs.

1990 The first fully recyclable plastic ketchup bottle hits supermarket shelves.

1991: McDonald’s introduces the McLean Deluxe, a lower fat

burger that is eventually shelved because of consumer lack of interest.

1991 US sales of salsa pass those of ketchup by $40 million dollars.

1992: Basketball greats Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Larry Bird advertised for Lays potato chips new formulation. The motto becomes “too good to eat just one.”

1993: US annual per capita egg consumption falls to 232, down from 321 in 1960, as the country becomes consumed with worries about cholesterol.

1993: the nation’s first 24-hour food channel, The Food Network, goes on the air.

1995: DiGiorno Rising Crust pizza is introduced.

1996: Four of five grocery bags used are plastic.

1998: Potato sprouts carried aloft on the space shuttle Columbia produced the first food grown in outer space.

1998 Organic farmers, marketers, chefs and consumers send more than 280,000 protest letters, prompting the US Department of Agriculture secretary to withdraw proposals to allow food to be labeled organic even if it is irradiated to kill germs, genetically engineered, or subject to sewage sludge or chemical spraying. The USDA continues to work on guidelines to have a national standard for organic food.

1999: genetically engineered corn is found to contribute to the death rate of Monarch butterflies.

1999: Prepackaged convenience foods are the fastest growing segment of the natural foods market, which is seeing a 20% annual growth rate. Consumers are gobbling up soy-based frankfurters, veggie burgers, frozen tofu desserts, and vegetable burritos.

1999 the average household works 40 days to buy its food for the year and spends 11% of household income on the annual food bill.

Are Vitamins Just a Placebo?

Do we all really need to take multi-vitamin/ mineral supplements as the supplement sellers suggest? This has been a debatable topic with nutritionists for the past few years. Some studies suggest that they are really not necessary unless you are diagnosed with a particular vitamin/mineral deficiency or underlying health issue. Others say that vitamins are only placebos and are marketed to the “walking well” population. In other words, they show no benefits when taken by healthy people.

Supplements can be very expensive and some studies say they only add to the profits of the vast supplement industry. Every supplement consumer should be aware of these realities and make their own educated health care decisions.

Dietary Supplement Realities: What Consumers Need to Know

  • FDA does not approve, test, or regulate the manufacture or sale of dietary supplements.
  • The FDA has limited power to keep potentially harmful diet supplements off the market.
  • Dietary supplements may not have been tested for safety or effectiveness before they are sold.
  • Dietary supplements often do not list side effects, warnings, or drug or food interactions on product labels.
  • Ingredients listed on supplement labels may not include all active ingredients.
  •  Dietary supplements may not relieve problems or promote health and performance as advertised. Claims on labels are often vague and unsubstantiated by clinical trials.
  • Studies have shown that the multivitamin/mineral pills that most people take provide plenty of B vitamins and vitamin C, but little calcium. The intake of both calcium and Vitamin D may be less than optimum and should be discussed with your doctor.

One of the most serious consequences of supplements results when they are used as a remedy for health problems that can be treated, but not by vitamins or minerals. Vitamin and mineral supplements have NOT been found to prevent or treat heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, premature death, behavioral problems, sexual dysfunction, hair loss, autism, chronic fatigue syndrome, obesity, cataracts or stress. Some such as vitamin E, vitamin C and beta-carotene may be harmful to certain groups of people. If taken, dosages should not be excessive.

Who may benefit from vitamin and mineral supplements? 

People with diagnosed vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies

Vegans (vitamin B12 and D)

Pregnant women (folate and iron)

Elderly persons on limited diets (multivitamin/minerals)

People on a restricted diet (multivitamins/minerals)

People at risk for osteoporosis (calcium, vitamin D)

People with alcoholism (multivitamin/minerals)

Elderly people diagnosed with vitamin B12, vitamin D and/or folate deficiency

  • Guidelines for Using Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
    Purchase products with USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia or the CL symbol (Consumer Laboratories) – tested for purity, ingredients, and dose.
    Choose supplements containing 100% of the Daily Value or less. Megadoses are not recommended.
    Take supplements with meals.
    Tell your health care provider about the supplements you take.

Source: Judith Brown, Nutrition Now, 2013.

Lori A. Smolin and Mary B. Grosvenor, Nutrition: Science and Applications, Third Edition.

What Else Is In Your Food?

Twenty five years ago, It was largely assumed that the health benefits in foods came from the vitamin and mineral content of fruits and vegetables. That conclusion turned out to be incorrect because supplementation with specific vitamins and minerals failed to yield the same health benefits as did diets rich in fruits and vegetables. In addition, use of individual vitamin and mineral supplements was found to increase health risks in some studies. So what else was in the foods themselves that made them “healthier” than others?

The subjects of many current studies are plant chemicals known as phytochemicals or phytonutrients. Phytochemicals are not considered essential nutrients because deficiency diseases do not develop when we fail to consume them. They are considered to be nutrients however, because they are biologically active and perform health promoting functions in the body. Most of these bioactive food constituents are derived from plants. 

Phytochemicals play a variety of roles in plants as they provide protection against bacterial, viral, fungal infections; Ward off insects; and prevent tissue damage due to oxidation. Some operate as plant hormones or participate in the regulation of gene function, while others provide plants with flavor and color. Recently, more than 2000 types of phytochemicals that act as pigments have been identified and give plants with a wide variety of colors. Some of these phytochemicals have been identified: beta-carotene (orange), lycopene (red), anthocyanins (blue to purple), allicin (white), and lutein (yellow-green). Many of them function as antioxidants.

The following are examples of vegetables you can buy or plant in the garden that provide some specific health benefits that are thought to be due to either established nutrients or phytochemicals. Keep in mind that some have more research behind their claims; however, many do not and simply rely on presumed health benefits.

  1. Kale is a member of the cabbage family and is known to contain vitamins A, K, and C, as well as essential minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium. It is also rich in fiber and acts as a prebiotic that increases nutrient absorption in the gut. Kale also contains antioxidants that protect against oxidative damage and chronic disease. Its nutrient density exceeds that of other vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, or those of the onion family.
  • Onion have been known for their healing properties for centuries. One study compared wound healing results after the daily application of onion gel and found that scars were significantly less noticeable after just four weeks of use. Recent research has suggested that onions contain compounds useful for the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and inflammatory diseases. Most of these benefits can be traced to onion’s high concentration of sulfur amino acids,  phytochemicals such as flavonoids, phytosterols, and saponins – compounds that have anticancer, antibiotic, and antithromboitic activity.
  • Potatoes are a rich source of potassium, fiber, vitamin C. Little attention is paid to potatoes recently due to their high calorie density and their relationship with obesity and diabetes. If they are eaten in whole form and not as French fries or chips, they can be healthy due to their high potassium content. Often, they are the only source of potassium for many people including children. Adequate potassium can protect us from hypertension. P
  • Tomatoes contain the phytochemical, lycopene, the carotenoid responsible for its red color and acts as an strong antioxidant. An increased intake has been associated with a decreased risk of prostate and breast cancers.
  • Cauliflower in both forms, white or purple are high in phenolic compounds (a phytochemical) and antioxidant. Purple cauliflower is especially high in anthocyanins and is an potent anti-inflammatory and antiviral compound.
  • Bell Peppers are antioxidants that may protect against Alzheimer’s disease. Green, yellow, and red peppers are all high in phenolic compounds and vitamin C.

So, the secret of healthy and colorful fruits and vegetables lies in the fact that they not only provide essential vitamins and minerals, but that they also become protective against the chronic diseases of aging that have become the leading causes of illness and death in the developed world.

Bon appetit!!!

Obesity: Some Solutions?

September 26, 2019 by foodworksblog Leave a comment

The Obesity/Diabesity Pandemic

Obesity is a major risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes mellitus, so much so that the epidemic is often called diabesity. It has been described as one of the most important crises that has invaded our public health system.

Global Statistics, Source: Lancet

  • Since 1980, the number of adults with diabetes worldwide has quadrupled from 108 million to 422 million in 2014.
  • Diabetes is fast becoming a major problem in low and middle-income countries.
  • From 1980 to 2014, the prevalence of diabetes more than doubles for men in India and China.
  • Half of adults worldwide with diabetes in 2014 lived in five countries: China, India, USA, Brazil and Indonesia.

So what are some solutions?  

The standard American diet is in much need of an overhaul and our national food systems need to change if we wish to reverse or at least slow down this trend. Many say that it would take the same determination as the campaigns to change behaviors that were utilized during the campaigns against smoking.

Prevention awareness should be first on the front lines of treating the people with prediabetes that can often be reversible using lifestyle modifications. There are already some prevention models in the community; however, these should be expanded so that they become more easily accessible to more people. The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) uses intensive behavioral therapy to help people lose a little bit of weight (typically 5-10%). When this program is followed, the number of people progressing to have diabetes comes down by more than half. In people over 60, the reduction was 70%.

Nutrition education should be incorporated into the school system in the early years to help young children understand the importance of knowing where our food comes from and why nutritious foods are the best choice. They can be taught about balanced eating, calories, reading labels and grocery shopping. Nutrition education can also be offered at the middle and high schools’ levels by returning to a revamped and modernized home economics course in the curriculum.

A lingering problem has existed for many primary care physicians for many years in that they say they were never adequately prepared in nutrition principles in medical schools. In a survey of family physicians (2009), two thirds said that dealing with extremely obese patients is “frustrating “and one-half said treatments are often ineffective. This is reflected by a lack off obesity training.

Shockingly, another survey in 2010 of 140 doctors revealed that nearly one-third were not even familiar with the American Diabetes Association (ADA) prediabetes guidelines. Only 6 percent were able to identify all 11 risk factors and on average, the doctors could only identify just eight of the warning signs. Only 17 percent knew the correct laboratory values for blood glucose and only 11 percent said they would refer a patient to a behavioral weight loss program.

There should be an increased access to professional treatments. Medical professionals not trained in obesity management should refer their patients to outside providers such as dietitians, exercise trainers, behavior therapists, psychologists, or the new concept of health coaches. These providers should be trained, certified, and credentialed to protect the public from unscrupulous treatments and to provide quality care. Reimbursement of qualified health professionals needs to be enhanced to keep patient volume high and lessen out-of-pocket expenses.

We have become a nation of non-cooks and prefer to have our meals prepared by someone else. Encourage home cooking and home kit meals to help to counter using fast foods and packaged highly processed meals loaded with calories, fat, sugar and salt.

Educate the public on food labeling including ingredient lists. Beware of food companies that promote products with a “health halo” meaning exaggerated claims made that appear to make unhealthy foods seem healthy because of an added nutrient or ingredient. Corporations also mislead consumers with their labeling, so they include four different types of sugar to keep sugar from being listed as the first ingredient. This is misleading to the consumer when attempting to make wise food choices.

Stop corporate-government partnerships and diminish lobbying.
“Lately, the food industry (Big Agriculture, Big Meat, and Big Food ) has been highly implicated in this epidemic. This includes the advent of ultra-processed foods. “To sell these foods, companies bombard us with billions of dollars in ads, normalize eating junk food, and make it available 24/7, everywhere, and in large amounts at remarkably low cost.”

Source: “Against the Odds: Why our food system makes it tough to eat healthy, Nutrition Action Healthlettter  November, 2020.  

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) is funded by myriad food companies such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Kellogg’s. The dairy industry has a long history of influencing the food pyramid and Dietary Guidelines. A good example is the placing of a glass of milk on the MyPlate Logo. Often this practice only serves the dairy industry and not necessarily the consumer.

Another health organization guilty of taking in millions from food companies is the American Heart Association. They offer a “Heart – Check logo for a price: $5, 490 to $7,500 that is renewable for another fee annually. The product has to be low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol to gain this “honor.” However, some products such as Boar’s Head processed meats have the logo and still may still contain high levels of sodium. If the AHA were sincere in their efforts to help consumers choose healthier foods to rein in obesity/diabetes, they would realize that research has shown that a 1.8 oz. daily serving of processed meat raised the risk of diabetes by 19 percent and heart disease by 42 percent. Most current dietary recommendations emphasize a reduction in processed meats (my emphasis).

Bottom Line: It will take a concerted effort from government, politics, industry, communities, and consumers and the perpetrators of our obesigenic culture to begin to change this trend.

Living in an American Blue Zone


(In 2008, National Geographic writer Dan Buettner published his bestselling book, The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, about the five “longevity pockets” around the world. Here, Next Avenue Money and Work & Purpose editor Richard Eisenberg, a Gerontological Society of America Journalists in Aging Fellow, takes a different look at the Blue Zones — places where there’s a high concentration of people living past 90 without chronic illnesses. Rather than focusing on the residents’ diets, he reports on how the oldest people in the Blue Zones make their money last and what Americans and America can learn from this.)

This article discusses healthy aging from the financial aspect. For more information on the Blue Zones, search “Blue Zones” on the Food, Facts and Fads Homepage (www.foodfactsandfads.com).

How Much Do We Eat?

Is  Super- sizing Leading to Super- sized Americans?

Many Americans are eating a good deal more food than needed and it appears that rising rates of obesity are partly related to increased portion sizes.

Supersizing fast food can double or triple the caloric content of the foods compared to their regular sized counterparts. A single, supersized meal including a cheeseburger, large fries, and thick shake provides more calories (about 2200) then many people need in a day. Larger portions don’t cost restaurants much more than smaller portions, they increase sales volume, and they encourage people to eat more.

Among adults, a 50% increase in portion sizes of meals has been found to increase daily energy intake by 423 calories.

Frequent dining at fast food restaurants (three or four more times per week) that primarily serve burgers and French fries is associated with a higher intake of calories, soft drinks and fat and a higher risk of overweight and obesity than frequent use of full-service restaurants. On a positive note, some restaurants have recently begun to offer smaller portion sizes or small plates and healthier menu options than in the past.