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Vegetarian diet may lower cancer risk ...

Feb 16, 2004 7:44AM PST

After some of the discussion about diet & weight I couldn't resist pointing out this study.

The problem with choosing the 'best' diet is complicated by the question of criterion. Best for what purpose?

Yahoo! News - More Evidence Vegetarian Diet May Cut Cancer Risk

After following more than 10,000 people for 17 years, investigators found that vegetarians were 15 percent less likely to develop colorectal cancer than meat-eaters.

This study adds to the "increasing scientific evidence" that a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and fiber and low in meat--especially red and processed meat--can prevent colorectal cancer, study author Dr. Miguel Sanjoaquin of the University of Oxford, UK, told Reuters Health.

However, Sanjoaquin cautioned that only a small number of study participants -95--developed colorectal cancer, making it impossible to determine if fewer vegetarians developed cancer simply due to chance.

Discussion is locked

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Re:Vegetarian diet may lower cancer risk ...
Feb 16, 2004 8:04AM PST

can't find the link I had before to the site study, but being a vegetarian doesn't lower your risk of heart disease or high cholesterol even in non-smokers...


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I'd be interested in hearing about the study, but ...
Feb 16, 2004 9:51AM PST

(1) It is important to understand that I'm not claiming a vegetarian diet is necessarily the healthiest one to choose. I actually do not believe that it is. The reason for the post was to illustrate that, despite all the enthusiasm for Atkins and various other diets, we have to be very careful to acknowledge the limits of our understanding. The best diet for cancer prevention, the best diet for cardiac health, the best diet for weight control, the best diet for longevity and the best diet for athletic achievement may each be different. We do not understand the connections between diet and mental health or between diet and immune function. And so on. We just do not know enough to make hard and fast conclusions about optimum diet;
(2) Not all vegetarian diets are created equal. IIRC, Dr. Ornish has good evidence that a very low fat vegan diet can reverse atherosclerosis in many patients. Of course, almost nobody wants to live that way.

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Isn't your Point 1 the reason why ...
Feb 16, 2004 9:38PM PST

People rebel and still carry on in their own sweet way? For every study which comes out, it is almost inevitable that it will only be five minutes before someone points to another study saying the opposite - that being for the same condition let alone the alternative advice which might be needed for other specific conditions.

Aside from people with a particular need for a diet, I'm sure that most folks naturally want to eat a "healthy" diet, but ask "What is a healthy diet?". Most folks seem to say that (a) a little of what you fancy does you good, and (b) why not? if even the experts cannot agree.

The only universal tenet for weight gain or loss seems to be to eat more or eat less - and even that might not work depending on an individual's metabolic rate, and nor of course does it take account of a healthy balance (whatever that turns out to be in a hundred years!).

Do you think a day will ever come in our lifetime when doctors can safely advise "the masses" as to content of diet? Aside from each being an individual, there is also the national or regional influence to be countered. We now also have to ask ourselves the question: I know it's healthy, but is it chemically polluted? We have been told for ages that red meat (which mainly means beef) takes too long to go through the colon and could therefore be carcinogenous, so we have to eat more "white meat", which also happens to be lighter in fat content, but some people still will not eat any beef because of the CJD possibility, and those also worry about lamb since MCD is said to be a variant of scrapie, and now have to worry about eating chicken - not to mention what they spray on vegetables!


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Re:I'd be interested in hearing about the study, but ...
Feb 16, 2004 9:58PM PST
The reason for the post was to illustrate that, despite all the enthusiasm for Atkins and various other diets, we have to be very careful to acknowledge the limits of our understanding.

And we have and Dr. Atkins did! You seem to be charging that only Atkins adherants and the doctor himself advocated his diet as the *only* solution or best option for everybody. He never did. His diet works for me, but I would never claim it to work for everybody or be right for everybody. The problem is that the AHA has settled on some "heart healthy" diet that they insist is the best and maligned Atkins as an alternative.

We just do not know enough to make hard and fast conclusions about optimum diet


Agreed, but I think we could also say that we just do not know enough to make hard and fast conclusions about optimum weight either!

My guess is that the veggie diet is high in fiber and it is nothing new that fiber rich diets lower the risk of colorectal and perhaps other cancers. Also there are certain preservatives in meats that aren't present in the kinds of foods most vegetarians eat, so a fair comparison would have to account for that variable.

Evie Happy
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I'm not sure how to do a fair comparison ...
Feb 17, 2004 5:40AM PST

Getting rid of all additives from food would be extremely difficult. I suppose that one could try to compare a vegetarian diet with a diet that included organically produced meat. Of course, to be fair, the vegan diet would have to be strictly organic also. I don't see anybody funding that kind of study any time soon. In any case, it would be really hard to assemble enough patients to achieve adequate statistical power.

You are correct that we do not know enough to be extremely dogmatic about optimum weight, but there is evidence that longevity is maximized when BMI is in the low 20s. Of course there may be a better metric than BMI but thus far it appears to be at least as good as any of the readily available alternatives.

Optimum weight based on other criteria (immune function, cardiac disease, mental health, functional capacity, strength, ...) may well be different from the optimum weight for longevity. Doctors have generally been biased toward maximizing longevity rather than maximizing alternative variables, which is one of the reasons for pushing patients toward lower weights. Of course, as I said elsewhere, I really don't pay much attention to weight or BMI in most patients. It is more appropriate to focus on a reasonable diet and regular exercise. One thing that almost everybody can agree on is the need to increase fiber and reduce refined carbohydrates and excess fat (especially trans-polyunsaturated fat) from the typical American diet.

BTW: The reason I specifically mentioned Atkins in the prior post is that there are very few people pushing any of the other 'fad diets' on the forum but it is clear that there are some Atkins enthusiasts. Posts in this and similar forums tend to lose all sense of nuance in the discussion, particularly when posts are limited to an arbitrary short length.

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Re:I'm not sure how to do a fair comparison ...
Feb 17, 2004 8:48PM PST

Hi Bill,

I guess this is what has struck me recently because I didn't realize this forum was a diet advocacy discussion group. I think the most I've advocated Atkins was years ago when Charlie asked about Xenical and I suggested he give it a try. I share what's worked for me but I really don't think that necessitates some balancing out lest Atkins might catch on or something?

I'm reminded on one discussion about the diet a year or so ago comparing Atkins to the traditional AHA diet and Atkins came out looking very good. One criticism was that the fish oils must have been responsible for the improvements in cholesterol. Well, if that's the case then, why doesn't the AHA advocate the fish oils? Atkins did, and while it's not prescribed as a must with the diet, he spent considerable time discussing the benefits of such supplements (and/or choices of protein/fat) in conjunction with his diet.

We're bombarded every day in the news about some new study on the effects of this or that on every thing. To drink, not to drink, is wine better than beer, too much protein, too little protein, good fats/bad fats and on and on and on.

My problem in this whole arena is that Dr. Atkins was unfairly criticized and demonized for his diet. I think that's most unfair, and I guess it just seems to me from your posts that you feel he was overweight thus his diet didn't work for him. For decades he was scoffed at as some sort of diet quack. The low carb boom is following that low fat boom from a couple of years ago and I'm fully aware of all the hype out there.

I think our bodies tell us what's right more than we know. If people are honest with themselves, they will find a diet that is healthy and works for them. Too many of us look for excuses to gorge on what we want. Anyone who chooses Atkins so they can pig out on bacon (I admit on occasion to eating just bacon for a meal Wink) and stuff themselves full of cheese is going to be doomed anyway. This is what bothers me about the hypers. They always show a plate with eggs, steak & bacon and brag about all you can eat on this diet. Truth is, anybody who actually did eat that way probably wouldn't lose weight no matter what. Those who eat till they are full and no more will succeed because fat is more filling in the long run and you simply eat less.

The biggest reason Atkins works for me I believe, is that I no longer crave sweets. That was always an issue for me. If you told me in my 20's that I could follow a diet virtually devoid of sugar and not feel deprived I would have laughed at you -- or insisted that I must eat sugarfree versions. Well, I no longer even want the sweets. I use Splenda or one of those diet shakes in my coffee cuz I like coffee a little sweet -- that's pretty much it. The other reason has nothing to do with Atkins itself, but rather that it does lend itself well to a snacking lifestyle. Pretty much I eat one meal and a snack all day long. From what I understand of all my dietary studies is that this actually elevates one's metabolism and sure keeps me from being hungry.

Oops .... there I went advocating again Wink

Evie Happy

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Not a doctor, but a couple of personal observations
Feb 17, 2004 9:34PM PST

Firse, what works for someone that leaves them healthy is great.

In another thread I complained about some Atkins advocates tendancy to not just offer suggestions, but to preach fanatically about the diet. I got a few posts suggesting I should read the book, or that I shouldn't blame the diet for the messenger etc. I had noted that it worked for some and that was great. I know some that use it, will tell you so, but don't preach. But some you almost have to run away to get out of a discussion on it.

What works for someone is great. I agree the fuss over his problems was unfair and little or nothing to do with the diet benefits. I guess some of the prejudice is just the same as any other field, people are jealous of success or just plain disdain any other ideas that disagree with them.

I have had periods where I ate too much sweets. But overall it's not sweets as such that is my problem. I just eat too much and excercise too little I guess. But I'm not sure that everyone can 'eat till they are full and no more' and do better on fat because it's more filling. And I'm not sure why, but I can experience almost overwhelming desire to eat even though I'm full sometimes.

And some of us just don't necessarily enjoy physical activities, which leads to a declining spiral. Because as we gain weight we want to do less physically. Physcial activity of almost any form is something we have to conciously and with effort work into a day if not required by our job.

I'm glad it works for you. I'm glad it works for anyone that likes it.

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I think there has been a misunderstanding?
Feb 18, 2004 12:52AM PST

Or perhaps a tendancy to see any "reporting" of benefits as advocacy because of your experience with your coworker? I grant that many Atkins devotees can become obnoxious promoters who will try to convert others to their way of life. But I remember a friend who did the fat gram counting diet (dunno if it had a specific name but it was all the rage in the late 80's) and my experience with her was similar. Nobody at our lunch table could put dressing on our salads without her chiming in about this and that. My only reason for discussing this here and now is because I believe the flack and outright abuse of this man since his death is unwarranted. He, himself, would be the last person to claim that his diet was for everyone. Nobody is obligated to read his book, but I think anyone who has not cannot possibly have enough knowledge of the diet to really assess it. Like I said in my post the hype these days with all the low carb this and that and that image of the 16 oz steak, 10 strips of bacon and scrambled eggs for breakfast is misleading. The complete book is about maintenance which is a pretty balanced diet, if lower in carbs than the average diet. All I would say to advocate this diet is that for anyone with a weight problem that has tried other plans, so too is this worth a try. If it works, great, if it doesn't then hopefully they will find something that does.

Evie Happy

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(NT)Continued success and good health wishes to you
Feb 18, 2004 12:58AM PST
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Thanks ...
Feb 18, 2004 1:29AM PST

... same to you and I hope you find something that works for you. Maybe bring a smelly sock to stick in your coworkers mouth the next time he starts preaching Wink

Evie Happy

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A study of
Feb 16, 2004 11:16PM PST

the effects of an organic diet would be interesting. I'd like to see what would happen if people didn't have to process all the crap that's in our food now. Regardless of the meat/veggie ratio, it would be fascinating.


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Studying organic diets would be interesting, but ...
Feb 17, 2004 5:42AM PST

I have real doubts about whether it will ever happen. In an ideal world it would be interesting to see what effect the additives have, but there are a number of barriers to actually doing the studies.