With reports that a key ingredient in Nutella may cause cancer, you’re probably wondering: is anything safe to eat?
The answer is yes, but you’re not going to like it. The way many Americans and people around the world eat, is literally killing them, according to a new CuriosityStream documentary on the life-saving value of eating a natural diet.
“The leading causes of death and disability are largely chronic diseases now, but 80% is completely diet and lifestyle, it’s what we expose ourselves to, what we put it our mouth,” Michael Greger, the founder of NutritionFacts.org said in the four-part series Prescription: Nutrition.
In the past few years, we’ve seen reports that many much-loved foods may have links to cancer or other life-threatening illnesses.
Most recently, palm oil, an edible oil used in a slew of different foods including Nutella, was found to contain a potentially carcinogenic contaminant.
Likewise, in 2015, the World Health Organization announced that eating processed meats like hot dogs, bacon, and ham can cause colorectal cancer, and eating red meat "probably" can cause cancer.
And in July, an analysis of 10 years’ worth of data published in the journal Addiction, found that alcohol can cause at least seven types of cancer. The researchers found that heavy drinkers are most at risk, but even those who consume low to moderate amounts are at risk.
While studies about links between cancer and food may make people think they need to avoid that item completely, that's not always the case, according to Angie Murad, a registered dietician nutritionist.
"A lot of times we hear something, and we get really scared, and it can get us to the point we aren't sure what to eat anymore," Murad said. "I think we have to step back and take a look at our overall eating patterns, and our lifestyle habits first."
Murad points to the World Health Organization study on the connection between colon cancer and processed meats.
"It said our overall lifetime risk of developing colon cancer is 5%, and if we eat the amount of processed meat they were talking in the study, which was 50 grams or more, that increased our risk to 6%, so it really isn't that high," she said. "And there are other things that contribute like genetics our overall quality of diet."
While you don't have to turn your back on bacon, you shouldn't consume it every single day. Murad said people who are trying to avoid cancer and chronic disease should look at their lifestyle choices across the board, not just on specific foods that may have a link to cancer.
"So, getting back to our eating patterns and lifestyle habits — are we physically active, are we sitting a lot during the day," she said. "Looking at the overall patterns of eating or lifestyle can probably have a bigger impact than on specific food per say."
Murad said many American's meals center around meat and starches when it should be about fruits, vegetables, and healthy grains.
"Making sure we maintain a healthy weight, getting regular physical activity and focusing on getting enough fruits legumes in our edit can have a big impact," she said. "They have a lot of fiber which decreases colon cancer, and provides antioxidants which can prevent those diseases like cancer, heart disease."
So, what should you do to improve your diet? Here are a few tips from Murad on healthy eating:
- Shift the focus to vegetarian sources of protein when possible.
- Incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet.
- Don't have much time to cook? You don't have to cut out all processed foods, but looks for foods that are healthier like five-minute barley or pre-packaged salad mixes.
- Frozen fruits are fine, but make sure there is no added sugar.