No one in his right mind would deny the importance of cancer prevention. But too often we fall prey to quick fixes. Dieticians and self-appointed experts routinely tell health-conscious consumers they can avoid cancer if only they eat this, or avoid that. A good example of this misguided thinking is apparent in a Chattanooga Times Free Press article today. It quotes a dietitian, Lea Reagan, who seems convinced that a fast food diet contributed to local school principal Billy Millican’s colon cancer.
According to the article, “A diet that includes a good deal of fast foods full of trans fats and saturated fats may have very well been what led Mr. Millican to be diagnosed with colon cancer, Ms. Reagan said, even though he was active and health-conscious.”
From such a dramatic statement, it appears that Reagan must have some solid facts on her side. Not exactly: "Inadequate fiber, especially soluble fiber and fast food, puts a lot of saturated fat in the diet. Not getting the right vitamins and minerals can be conducive to causing inflammations that lead to cancer."
But even if we were following Lee Reagan’s advice, there’s no good reason to believe we’d be any healthier.
Consider one of the largest studies on diets in American history, called the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) Dietary Modification Trial. It found that women who cut their total fat and saturated fat intake while consuming more fruits and fiber were no more likely to avoid cancer than others. The researchers concluded: “A low-fat dietary pattern intervention did not reduce the risk of colon cancer in postmenopausal women during 8.1 years of follow-up.”
As cancer rates decline and life expectancy grows, cancer prevention still remains an urgent goal. But even with the best intentions, arbitrarily demonizing certain foods will not help us get there.