Applying the Precautionary Principle to Nutrition and Cancer

Applying the Precautionary Principle to Nutrition and Cancer

By Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D.

Research continues to show, time and time again, that plant-based foods reduce the risk of cancer and strengthen the chance of survival after diagnosis.

While more research is needed in this area, we now have a set of six precautionary principles to reduce the risk of occurrence:

1) Avoid dairy products to reduce risk of prostate cancer.

2) Limit or avoid alcohol to reduce the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colon, rectum, and breast.

3) Avoid red and processed meat to reduce the risk of cancers of the colon and rectum.

4) Avoid grilled, fried, and broiled meats to reduce the risk of cancers of the colon, rectum, breast, prostate, kidney, and pancreas.

5) Women should consume soy products in adolescence to reduce risk of breast cancer. Breast cancer survivors should consume soy products to reduce risk of cancer recurrence and overall mortality.

6) Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables to reduce risk of several forms of cancer.

Diets that center around plant sources—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes—are associated with lower cancer risk, as well as reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and hypertension.

Plant-based diets support a healthy weight, which in itself reduces the risk of many common forms of cancer. Especially good plant sources include cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, and cabbage; carotenoid vegetables, including carrots and sweet potatoes; tomato products; and allium vegetables, such as onions, garlic, and leeks.

The background: Antioxidants in plants may reduce the spread of tumors and help repair damaged DNA. Some components in soybeans, green tea, turmeric, grapes, tomatoes, and other plant foods have the ability to regulate apoptosis, an important pathway for cancer prevention.

The good news? You can do no harm, only good, by eating a diet rich in plant-based foods.


PCRM: The 2014 Farm Bill: A Mixed Bag

The 2014 Farm Bill: A Mixed Bag
After years of negotiations, Congress passed the Farm Bill on Feb. 4, an important feat given that the 950-page bill has many potential impacts on health and nutrition in the United States. Though President Obama has not yet signed the bill into law, it’s not too early to weigh in on the victories and losses we can expect to see from some notable changes to the massive legislation. The three major accomplishments below signal a growing awareness of the wide-ranging effects of agricultural policy on health.

The Good
1. Direct payments are no more.

The first piece of good news is that Congress finally did away with the controversial subsidies known as “direct payments,” which farmers currently receive regardless of whether they actually grow any crops. These subsidies heavily favor meat and dairy producers because the main recipients are those who grow (or have grown) “feed grains.” In other words, direct subsidies make feed-grade corn and soy cheap and plentiful, allowing the meat and dairy industry to expand production of the foods that make Americans sick. Now it will be at least a little more difficult for urban-dwelling Big Ag executives to cash in on these payments.

2. The “King amendment” has been overthrown.

Congress threw out the infamous King amendment, an attempt to boost egg industry profits and knock down states’ rights to protect public health and animals. The King amendment would have nullified—by some estimates—up to hundreds of existing state laws defending food safety, farm workers, animals, and the environment.

3. A new pilot program adds plant-based protein sources to school meals.

School children across the country will benefit from a new “Pulse Health Pilot” program, which allows schools to incorporate more beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas into children’s breakfasts and lunches. These foods—healthful, inexpensive alternatives to animal products—are excellent sources of fiber, protein, and a variety of micronutrients. This is a major win in the fight against childhood obesity and other chronic diseases, and we hope the program will soon be expanded.

The Bad
1. Crop insurance subsidies got a big boost.

Critics are calling the move to end direct subsidies “a classic bait-and-switch”: a simple redirection of taxpayer dollars toward a less controversial form of government handout. Much of the little savings Congress gained from cutting direct payments has been reallocated to crop insurance subsidies, which also artificially drive the production of disease-causing meat and dairy products.

2. There’s more “aid” for those who need the least help.

The 2014 Farm Bill includes $5 billion in new “disaster aid”: taxpayer funds livestock farmers receive when the animals under their care die during natural disasters. This is yet another subsidy for the meat and dairy industry. And no one’s pointing out the obvious irony: natural disasters are becoming more volatile thanks to climate change, for which the livestock industry is largely responsible.

3. Federal nutrition programs stay the same: full of junk.

Aside from the Pulse Health Pilot program mentioned above, federal nutrition programs like the National School Lunch Program, SNAP, and WIC will not change. This is bad news because these programs will continue to promote the consumption of junk foods like processed meat and cheese, only fueling America’s obesity, heart disease, and diabetes epidemics. But despite the lack of progress in the Farm Bill, there is a rising tide of support for improvements to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Check out our latest SNAP report for the details on this growing momentum for change.

So what’s the final word?

Though overall still an enormous giveaway to meat and dairy producers, the 2014 Farm Bill does offer a glimmer of hope for a healthier future. The Pulse Health Pilot and the downfall of direct payments and the King amendment represent a turning point, and voices like ours—urging for more attention to be paid to nutrition and health—are being heard loud and clear.

Below is the PDF download : PCRM Seeds of Change Report


Dr. Greger’s Testimony Before the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Committee

In the Permanente Journal last year, the official peer-reviewed publication of our nations largest managed care organization, a “Nutrition Update for Physicians” was published, which concluded that “Healthy eating maybe best achieved with a plant-based diet,” which they defined as a diet that encourages whole plant-based foods and discourages meat, dairy products, and eggs as well as empty calorie junk. To quote their conclusion: “Research shows that plant-based diets are cost-effective, low-risk interventions that may lower body mass index, blood pressure, HbA1C, and cholesterol levels. They may also reduce the number of medications needed to treat chronic diseases and lower ischemic heart disease mortality rates. Physicians should consider recommending a plant-based diet to all their patients, especially those with high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or obesity,” which of course describes a bulk of our population.

This sentiment was echoed last summer by the American Institute for Cancer Research—probably the most preeminent institution on diet and cancer risk—when they explicitly endorsed a diet revolving around whole plant foods: vegetables, whole grains, fruits and beans.

I’ve personally been eating a plant-rich diet since 1990, when Dr. Dean Ornish published his Lifestyle Heart Trial in The Lancet, angiographically proving that heart disease could be reversed with the help of a plant-based diet, opening up arteries without drugs, without surgery. If that’s all a plant-based diet could do, reverse our number one killer of men and women, then shouldn’t that be our default dietary recommendation until proven otherwise? And the fact that plant-based diets can also be effective in preventing, treating, and arresting other leading killers, such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension, would seem to make the case for plant-based eating overwhelming.

Now to the last Guideline Committee’s great credit, the 2010 guidelines were a leap in the right direction, recognizing food as a package deal. Yes there’s calcium in dairy, protein in pork, iron in beef, but because of the baggage that comes along (like the saturated fat and cholesterol), plant sources are preferable, because then the “baggage’ we get is the fiber, the folate, the phytonutrients, etc.

I would like to see the committee be more explicit, though. When “eat-more” recommendations are issued, the messaging is clear—for example, “Increase vegetable and fruit intake.” But when there’s a conflict between USDA’s dual role to protect the public while at the same time promoting agricultural products, recommendations often resort to speaking in cryptic biochemical components, such as “Reduce intake of solid fats (major sources of saturated and trans fatty acids).” How about instead, eat less cheese. Or messages like drink less soda. Eat less meat, particularly processed meat. The American Institute for Cancer Research just comes out and says it: “Processed meat like bacon, sausage, and cold cuts should be avoided.” Period. They don’t need to sell food; they just want to prevent cancer.

I am not here today on behalf of the broccoli lobby (though I’d be honored to represent big broccoli). I am not here representing any financial interest. I am here as a physician, representing the interests of the hundreds of thousands of Americans that continue to suffer and die every year from chronic disease. And you can help them by recommending a more plant-based diet.

Link to article and video and all together amazing website for nutrition information:

Pillars of Health

Increase the good in these 4 aspects of your life to optimize your health.

1. Nutrition: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” — Hippocrates.    Food either helps us to grow and heal or it is toxic. Work towards a whole foods plant-based diet. Start by increasing vegetables, cooked or raw. Fill up your plate more with plants and see how it makes you feel. If you do not tolerate raw yet start with cooked and then slowly increase raw, chewing well. You can use a blender to start getting more raw into your diet with a green smoothie. Try raw kale or spinach with frozen fruit of choice and some fresh ground flaxseeds or chia seeds. Switch from dairy milk to non-dairy. As you slowly increase the ‘essential’ foods you may find your cravings for the ‘fun’ foods decreases. What are the ‘fun’ foods? Processed foods, cheese, animal flesh, ice cream, etc. Joe Cross, the creator of Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead puts it nicely this way: We all like to have fun but we all know that if we spend too much time in the fun part of town it will not be much fun anymore, we may get into a bit of trouble. So we need to spend more time in the essential part of town. We need to eat more of the essential foods: vegetables and fruit.  Very importantly, make sure you are enjoying these essential foods. Find plant-based recipes that you enjoy. Believe it or not they can be fun too! Go to Forks Over Knives website or Happy Herbivore for recipes to get the ball rolling.   And remember to drink plenty of water in between meals. Sips of water throughout the day is better than big gulps.

2. Exercise: Move your body! This will increase the circulation and oxygenation of every cell in your body and help remove waste products though activation of your lymphatic system. Start slow. Walk. Stretch. Try Yoga. Swim. Find what is practical and enjoyable. You don’t need to kill yourself to get results. Forget about the no pain, no gain logic. It is not necessary. When exercising we should be able to carry on a conversation with someone. We should be able to breath through our nose. Remember to do this and you will best prevent injury and burn out. Read Born To Run and learn about proper mechanic barefoot running. That book got a non- runner like myself into running. Now running is my primary exercise and I am training for my first marathon. If you want to try running, check out the Couch to 5 K app for your smart phone. Try to increase to 30 minutes of exercise 4 times a week and maintain that regimen for at least 6 weeks before adding anything more.

3. Stress Management: See my recent post on abdominal breathing. Make breath work your foundation for stress management. Always start with the breath. Return to the breath when in a jam. Observe your breath, then change from a stress chest breath to a soft belly breath. Maintaining observation of your breath for a few minutes will kick start your re-training of the nervous system. You can create new neuro-pathways in your brain by observing the breath, then your sensations in the body. This is also called meditation.  We all should know how to work with the breath as a starting point in stress management, mindfulness training, and learning to live in the present!

4. Sleep: Most of us need to sleep more. Go to bed early and wake up with the sun. Avoid late night TV. Avoid caffeine after lunch time. Exercise in the morning before you start your day so the evening can be a peaceful warm and cozy time. Read at night. If your muscles are achy and tense, make sure to stretch before bed. Practice some breath awareness and soft belly breathing. You can try magnesium citrate before bed to help relax the muscles if needed.

So take a personal invitatory of how much you are doing in these 4 areas of your life. If you are not feeling optimally well, then chances are one or more of these areas are not getting adequate nourishment. Start small and increase the right kind of medicine into these areas and watch the magic happen.

–Dr. Kyle