July 10, 2008
Question: I am feeling the need to broaden my whole foods diet more but after hearing and reading about certain foods I fear that adding some of these foods may cause cancer or some other serious disease. Any suggestions?
The negative use of the word cause or causes when associated with a particular food is enough to invoke fear and concern in the bravest and most courageous of beings intent on nourishing themselves with a healthy diet based on traditional foods.
Upon hearing or reading that this food or that food “causes” disease or even “too much” of this or that food “causes” disease can easily set one up for a dietary experience based on fear of food that can have long lasting and damaging effects on ones health and more so, on ones happiness. The expression “too much” meat, cheese, fish, grain…“causes” cancer and or other diseases or even the same expression without the “too much” where a particular traditional food alone is presented as dangerous or even poisonous to health is a way of relating to food that is beyond strange when you think about it. Yet, at the same time, this mindset is not exclusive to any specific health food diet. In fact, it is common expression among diet proponents of natural food diets of all types, especially vegan, raw food and macrobiotic diets. It is an unhealthy mindset as it stifles creative thought and limits ones understanding of real food and its potential as our primary means of nourishment.
Even western nutritional science does not use this type of expression in their food/disease connections although theirs is not much of an improvement. When speaking in the negative about a particular food they use terms like such and such “has been linked to” or when speaking in the positive “may help to prevent” cancer or heart disease. Furthermore, when nutritional or medical science speaks to us about food they rarely speak of quality and mostly speak of isolated components. For example, with the exception of the rare scientific report researched by pro-organic organizations, you are not likely to hear from mainstream science how nutritionally superior organic broccoli is compared to commercial broccoli. It is simply, “broccoli may help to prevent cancer” or you will hear about the polyphenols or anthocyanins in blueberries as if these chemical components were more important than the blueberries as a whole giving one the impression that these chemicals are the sole reason you should eat blueberries.
When speaking in the negative, they tend to speak in generalities but their data and research are based mostly on processed or poor quality foods; “Saturated fats have been linked to high cholesterol and heart disease,” is one of many examples where all foods fitting that category of fats are inaccurately grouped together. It is no wonder all this terminology around food has contributed to such confusion among people trying to eat a healthy diet.
When nutritional science does use the word cause in connecting food and disease it is used to describe the effects of eating food in general. An example being, “Overeating disrupts entire networks of genes in the body, causing not only obesity, but diabetes and heart disease, in ways that may be possible to predict, researchers report.”
Alternately, when proponents of natural diets use the word ‘causes’ when connecting a food with a disease it is just as confusing. Unless this accursed food/cause connection can be clearly described as to how it does so, and so far, it cannot, then perhaps the word cause is best avoided when attempting to connect it with a traditional nourishing food.
Connecting a food as an influence on an organ as done in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine or describing a food as having an energetic effect on an emotion is not the same as accusing a food of causing a disease. Many of these energetic food and mind/body connections are thousands of years old and recognized in every traditional culture in some form as traditional folk medicine, many of which are being validated through modern scientific research – but nowhere do we find a historical precedent for a traditional food as a cause of disease. Energetic correspondences between foods and human physical/emotional health are simply examples of a food’s potential to influence you based on a particular food’s unique characteristics and your relationship with it.
While it is obvious that poor quality processed foods are strong contributors to degenerative diseases and that this connection has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, there is no causal connection what so ever that can be made to disease by any naturally grown traditional food of any kind through western science or energetic science. On the other hand, foods can contribute to biological and psychological symptoms like digestive distress or worry, food poisoning… but even these are bound to other factors that include combinations, eating late at night, eating to fast and not chewing, spoiled food…
The closest historical examples we have to natural traditional foods being causal factors to diseases are as follows. War, occupation of foreign lands and peoples, famine, drought and other environmental catastrophes all have an effect on a culture’s food and health but even with these problems one would be hard pressed to find a traditional natural food that caused any health problems during or in the aftermath of these events. The food related diseases associated with these events are primarily the result of deficiency and malnourishment due to loss of vital food crops and basic supplies for living.
Does naturally raised meat cause prostate cancer or liver cancer? Does raw un-pasteurized milk from grass fed cows cause breast cancer? No one really knows but historically; there has never been a reason to connect these or any other traditional foods as causal factors to any degenerative diseases especially when consumed proportionately with other traditional foods and certainly, no single traditional natural food in and of it self has caused a degenerative disease that anyone knows of.
Does hormone-injected, artificially raised cows or chickens cause cancer? Does pasteurized/homogenized milk and related processed products cause cancer? They certainly have been linked to diseases, for the most part, due to what has been done to these foods and their combinations with other processed foods but even these cannot be said to individually cause cancer or degenerative disease.
All diseases are the results of numerous influences in our lives so create the diet you need for your lifestyle with the highest quality foods you can get and rest assured none of those foods will cause the problems you fear.