June Health News – The News is Bad for Red Meat and Soda, Good for Seafood and Veggies

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June 13, 2014

1.  Red Meat Consumption and the Increased Risk of Breast Cancer:

Women, how much red meat do you eat a week?  For years, many scientists have tried to link red meat consumption to a variety of cancers including breast and colon.  I have patients who eat only “organic” red meat to avoid the allegedly high levels of “hormones” which some believe are linked to “hormonal” cancers.  Is there a significant link between red meat consumption and cancer? 

Well, a study released online on June 10 in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), conducted by Dr. Maryann S. Farvid and colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health, concluded that a higher intake of red meat in early adulthood may increase the risk of breast cancer.  Replacing red meat with poultry, nuts and fish may, on the other hand, reduce the risk of breast cancer. 

This large study of 88,803 premenopausal women from the Nurses’ Health Study II, found an association between higher red meat consumption and an increased risk of breast cancer in premenopausal women, while a higher consumption of poultry was associated with a lower risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.  For each increased serving per day of red meat, there was an associated 13% increase in breast cancer risk.  Substitution of legumes or poultry or the combination of poultry, fish, legumes and nuts was found to lower the risk of breast cancer.

The authors cautioned that, with some potential limitations in their studies, and the inconsistency in other scientific studies regarding this subject, further study is needed to establish the relationship between diet in early adulthood and breast cancer risk.

Dietary protein sources in early adulthood and breast cancer incidencee cohort study: prospective

BMJ2014:348 doi:http:dx.doi.org/10.136/bmj.g3437(published 10 June 2014)

Cite this as: BMJ2014,348:g3437

2.  And You Thought You Knew the Bad News About Sodas!

You are probably well aware of the obesity epidemic and the role played by sugary sodas.  Americans consume the highest quantity per person of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) of all nations!  We Americans drink about 45 gallons of soda per person annually.  However, you might not be aware that instead of natural sugar (sucrose) or HFCS (a syrup long-claimed to made up of equal parts fructose and sucrose), these drinks contain “fructose-intense concoctions” that might well increase your risk for a variety of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and liver disease.  

This alarming news comes from Michael Goran, lead author of a study released on June 3 in the online journal Nutrition.  The study examined a multitude of popular sodas and juices and found that those made with HFCS (e.g., Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper) all contain significant amounts of fructose, sometime much more fructose than glucose.  The major concern is how fructose, unlike sucrose, is not used as energy for the body.  Instead, fructose ends up in the liver where it is converted to fat.   

Another concern is product label inaccuracy.  Goran’s group found many examples of fructose concentrations being significantly higher than was indicated on the product label (e.g., Gatorade, Pepsi Throwback, Sierra Mist).  This may lead to an unawareness by consumers that they are drinking more HFCS (or the fructose-sucrose syrup) than they assumed. 

The bottom line?  Read more about the increased risk for diabetes and heart disease that can be attributed to soda consumption.  Drinking sodas is not a healthy habit.  It is time to switch to water!

For more details,see “Fructose content in popular beverages made with and without high fructose corn syrup,” Nutrition (online), June 3, 2014

3.  Seafood lovers rejoice: more, not less, fish….if the fish is low in mercury levels!

Ten years ago, the EPA and the FDA expressed their concerns about the negative effects of mercury consumption.   The agencies particularly recommended that pregnant women and breast feeding mothers avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish.  They further cautioned that, on a weekly basis, these women shouldn’t eat more than 12 ounces of any fish.

Recently, many studies have established the nutritional, and neuro-developmental benefits of fish and have found that there’s an insufficient consumption of fish in pregnant women.  The findings from recent internal FDA research concerned the agency – 21% of a studied group of 1000 pregnant women consumed no fish during the prior month.  

Well, like so much in medicine, over time, science brings forth new findings, and opinions change.  This week, the FDA and EPA changed course dramatically and now are encouraging low mercury fish and shellfish consumption.  On June 10, 2014, the agencies released draft updated advice recommending for the first time that pregnant and breastfeeding women should eat at least 8 ounces (and up to 12 ounces) of fish low in mercury each week. The American College of OB-GYN issued a statement encouraging women to follow the updated draft advice.

Such “good” fish include salmon, tilapia, catfish, shrimp, cod and canned light tuna. The agencies still cited four “high mercury” fish to be avoided: swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, and shark. The draft advice also singles out white albacore tuna with a recommendation to avoid consuming more than six ounces per week.  

For more information call call (888) 463-6332 or visit FDA.gov.

4.  Mirror, mirror on the wall, which veggies and fruits are the best of all?

We have been bombarded for decades with news and information about the best fruits and vegetables for reducing chronic disease risk.  Unfortunately, guidelines are general such as “cruciferous and green leafy” or “yellow/orange, citrus” and the research findings haven’t helped narrow these categories.  While guidelines encourage us to eat the best of the best, known as powerhouse fruits and vegetables (PFV), we don’t know which specific ones to choose.  

One recent study is intriguing as it offers some early guidance.

The research looked at 47 foods (all PFV according to scientific literature and national guidelines).  It attempted to use a classification scheme defining PFV based on 17 nutrients of public health importance per the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and Institute of Medicine.  The authors hoped to find subgroups of the foods that might provide the highest levels of benefit.

While trying to understand which PFV are the most beneficial for reducing such chronic risks as cancer and heart disease, the research showed that the cruciferous group (e.g., Chinese cabbage, kale, arugula) and the leafy greens (e.g., spinach, leaf lettuce, chard) generally were in the top half of the scores of nutrient dense foods; while the foods in the yellow/orange (e.g., sweet potato, carrot, tomato) and the berry (e.g., blackberry, strawberry) groups generally were in the bottom half. 

Note well though, ALL the PFV in the study are considered excellent for their nutritional value.

 So, while we should eat PFV in all categories, this study is more an academic exercise than anything else.  To make our meals more tasty, it is helpful to eat vegetables in the “rainbow” colors.  This study, however, might help narrow down the list of powerful vegetables for those who do not want a long list of vegetables for which they need to shop.

For more information and details on the study, visit