It has often been said, “You are what you eat”, but could it also possibly be, as many people have suggested for a long time, that many common diseases are also what we eat and how we cook what we are about to eat? I, as well as many other health professionals, have been saying for many years that many of our common diseases are linked to our modern lifestyle.
There is no doubt that following the five keys to good health markedly reduce the risk for all diseases by somewhere around 70% and a recent study has shown a reduction in cardiovascular disease by 83%.
1. Quit all addictions
2. 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep each night is as good for your body as not smoking
3. Nutrition — eat less, and eat more naturally
4. Exercise 3 to 5 hours per week in some form
5. Happiness is, no doubt, the best drug on the planet.
Three recent disturbing reports have linked common aspects of Western diets with diverticular disease and also cancer risk. The first report was part of the Male Physicians Trial in Boston looking at 46,500 doctors followed for an average of 26 years. One component of this trial was for the doctors to fill in a food questionnaire every four years. Specifically looking at intake of red meat, poultry and fish and, in this case, the link to diverticular disease. When they looked at red meat intake, the higher the intake, the higher risk of diverticular disease whereas more poultry & fish reduced the risk. Specifically, they compared the doctors who never ate red meat with those who would consume red meat at least six times per week.
Firstly, red meat intake was also associated with an increased intake of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, other painkillers, cigarette smoking, being sedentary and reduced dietary fibre. Those doctors with an increased intake of fish & poultry were also more likely to use aspirin, be non-smokers & be regular exercisers. After controlling for all these factors, men with the highest red meat intake versus those with the lowest intake had a 58% increased risk for diverticular disease. Strangely, the strongest risks occurred with the highest intake of unprocessed meats. Swapping red meat for fish & poultry reduced this risk by about 20%.
Those with the higher intakes of red meat also had higher levels of C-reactive protein and ferritin, both markers for inflammation. High levels in the blood stream of these two proteins were also linked to a higher rate of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes again through the common factor of high inflammatory risk. It is felt that high intake of red meat has a direct effect on the gut microbiome. Unprocessed meats typically require higher temperatures for cooking which release a number of chemicals that may lead to damage in the bowel wall.
A number of studies in the past have also linked high consumption of grilled, barbecued or smoked meats to an increased rest for breast cancer. This particular study followed just over 1500 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer in the mid 1990s. All answered a food questionnaire every five years and were followed for over 17 years. During this time, 597 women died of which 40% died of breast cancer. Those with the highest intake of grilled, barbecue or smoked meats prior to diagnosis had a 23% increased risk for all-cause death compared with those who had the lowest intake, at the start of the trial.
Finally, a report from the Food Standards Agency — UK (FSA) has recently launched a campaign about the potential damage from acrylamide, the chemical which is formed when starchy foods are subjected to high temperatures. This new campaign is called “Go for Gold” suggesting people should cook all of these particular types of foods to a much lighter, golden yellow colour rather than burning the foods to much darker colours. This includes foods such as potatoes, breads, chips and other cereal based products. The dangers of acrylamide have been discussed for a number of years but this recent report continues to highlight the potential issues of overcooking food.
When combining the results of all three reports there is a common message. It may not be the foods themselves that are the problem but the way we are cooking the foods. The Aussie barbecue is a tradition, especially with Australian Day just passed but getting barbecued foods should not be seen as a licence to chargrill foods to a state where the meat is not only well done but also almost black. The dangerous chemicals released by overcooking are almost certainly causing more health issues than the food itself.
Let’s not forget the wise words of the Father of Medicine, Hippocrates when he said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.