Saturday, March 31, 2007

Foods that guard against cancer

Is a chocolate treat likely to increase the chance of my colleague developing cancer of the breast, and another recurrence of my own prostatic cancer? Will the butter on the hot-cross buns at Easter be more hazardous than chocolate eggs, and just how much did that steak increase the likelihood of my developing colorectal cancer? Would I have done better to have chosen guinea fowl, because one study indicated that where red meat increased the incidence of some gut cancers, white meat reduced it?
These are some of the questions raised by research published last week by the Vasterbotten Intervention Project in Sweden. It studied the medical history of 64,500 men and women, and compared the incidence of cancer of the pancreas, skin, uterus and urinary tract with blood sugar levels.
Part of the funding for the project was provided by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF). The project demonstrated a heightened risk for women but not for men. Unexpectedly, males with higher than average blood sugar levels were less likely to develop prostate cancer, but this difference was not clinically significant. A high-fat diet had previously been thought to be one of the factors that might increase the incidence of prostate cancer.
The heightened risk posed by increased blood sugar levels was, however, significant for those women whose levels were in the top quarter of the league table. They had an appreciably greater chance of developing one of the four cancers than did those in the bottom quarter of the table. Why the blood sugar caused an increase in these four cancers is unexplained, though. Was it an effect of raised insulin levels and insulin resistance, or was it associated with obesity?
The WCRF (UK) will publish its own more extensive study in November. This will be a follow-up to a similar but less rigorous examination of the statistics that were available and published in 1997. Rumour has it that the new report will not only extend existing knowledge, but has also detected differences in the emphasis that should be given to various known risk factors.

Source - Times

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Sugar rush

From fresh fruit to ready meals, from baby formula to sausages, the food we eat is getting sweeter. Why? And should we be worried? Felicity Lawrence examines the sugaring of the British palate

Once, sugar was all delight: from the land of milk and honey to Shakespearean innocence - "white-handed mistress, one sweet word with thee ... honey, milk and sugar, there is three". But now it's the devil incarnate; or, at least, the new nicotine.
"Sugar is as dangerous as tobacco [and] should be classified as a hard drug, for it is harmful and addictive," according to a recent article in the British Medical Journal. Sugars in all forms are seen by many as dangerous to health and our food is packed full of them: not just sucrose (plain sugar as we know it) but other forms of refined sugars from cane, beet and corn.

Eat too much of them and you may become fat, sick and miserable. Sugars rot your teeth and encourage a calorie-rich but nutrient-low diet that contributes to obesity - and obesity is a high-risk factor for heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers.
The rhetoric from the government's food standards agency is more muted but the aim is the same: having waged a successful war against excess salt, next on the watchdog's agenda is shifting the balance of our diets away from processed sugars and fats to less energy-dense and more nutritious foods. It has begun the drawn-out process of consulting industry and health groups on what should be done and is expected to ratchet up the campaign over the next few months.
The watchdog is focusing on both sugar and fat because they are closely linked in food manufacturing: reduce one and the other has a tendency to go up. The health-conscious have been reducing their fat consumption for a while, but if they've been doing it by eating more reduced-fat products, such as low-fat yoghurts, or "lite" mayonnaise, or reduced-fat biscuits, then they will be eating more sugars instead.
But how have we become so devoted to sugar? And what has the sweetening of our diets done to our palates along the way?
At East Malling research station in Kent, Vicky Knight is a raspberry plant breeder, Dave Simpson a strawberry expert and Ken Tobutt an apple, cherry and rootstock man. I took them a bag of supermarket fruit and they used a Brix refractometer, an instrument used by industry to measure sweetness, to test the sugar content of my purchases.
Foods are definitely getting sweeter and our palates altering, say the East Malling plant breeders, but when it comes to fresh produce the change is more subtle than just upping the sugar content. "Our perception of fruit varieties and their taste is affected by acid levels. People tend to talk about things being sweeter but sometimes what's actually happened is they've become blander. You can eat blander fruit in larger quantities, you come back for more of it than of the richer varieties, and that can increase sales," Tobutt explains.
Apples and strawberries, for example, have been bred to taste sweeter by greatly reducing their acid levels. The problem is that if acidity is too low, the fruit is left with little flavour at all - just sweetness.

Source - Guardian

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