You Want Cancer with That?

Like lead covered toys, the Western diet is becoming a toxic import

In July, a study in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention of 3,002 postmenopausal women in Shanghai, China found those who ate the high fat, low fiber Western diet — a badge of developed countries — were 30% more likely to get breast cancer, especially the estrogen receptor-positive variety. Women who abstained from the Western diet in favor of tofu, cauliflower, beans and bean sprouts had no increased breast cancer risk.

In August a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found colon cancer patients who ate a lot of red meat, French fries and desserts increased their chance of a recurrence of cancer by three and a half times. Subjects who ate what Dr. Jeffrey Meyerhardt, the study’s lead author, called a “prudent” model of fruits, vegetables, poultry and fish had no increased risk of returning cancer or death.

And this month a study of 192 people with Alzheimer’s disease in the journal Neurology found those who avoided the — you guessed it — Western diet were 76% less likely to die during the study period of 4 1/2 years.

Increasingly poor countries, too, are finding the arrival of KFC, dairy and US fast food culture presages a rise in obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, osteoporosis and even gout, the so called rich man’s disease. And they’re saying thanks but no thanks to the Western diet.

“In the 50’s, 60s, and 70’s, most of our diet in sub-Saharan Africa was not refined or high fat as we are having today,” says Dr. Adekunle Adesina, an oncologist/pathologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston in the Nigerian Tribune, Lagos’ oldest newspaper.

“There was a lot of fibre in our meal at that time, which kept cancers and other diseases at bay. But the Western diets that we are now eating in Africa are highly refined with little fibre.”

J. Olufemi Ogunbiyi, a professor of Anatomic Pathology at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan agrees. “It is crucial that we cut down the amount of fat in our diets,” he told the Tribune. “Meats, especially red meat, cheeses, eggs and whole milk should also be eaten with utmost caution to prevent some diseases.”

Nor is the world view of the Western diet likely to improve with the follow-up to the American Institute for Cancer Prevention/World Cancer Research Fund’s 1999 landmark study, Food Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer due out November 1. Its 1999 position on the Western diet? “If eaten at all, red meat to provide less than 10% total energy.”

But you can’t expect Big Food to take world rejection of its products lying down — like the people and animals it sidelines.

This month Quality Meat Scotland, a red meat promotional agency, is hosting a seminar at the Moredun Institute in Edinburgh about the health properties (sic) of the fatty acids found in red meat — conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and Omega 3 — which it claims help the immune system and in losing body fat.

The US egg industry also claims its product makes you lose weight. Women who ate two eggs with toast every morning lost 65% more weight and 83% more abdomen fat than women who ate bagels and low fat yogurt according to its own study cited in the August 17 issue of Feedstuffs, the agribusiness weekly.

And the Australian meat industry, a big exporter to the US, is undaunted by the bad Western diet press.

“Red meat has played a significant role in human evolution” it says (see tall ships; leeches) and “trimmed of fat it is generally lean and contains low levels of saturated fats and cholesterol.”

Red meat can also “be included in the diet of people with or at risk of heart disease” and, “Strategies for the prevention and treatment of obesity can include lean red meat.” (How? Very carefully.)

And cancer concerns?

“The balance of evidence indicates that lean red meat, cooked without charring or heavy browning is not consistently linked to the development of colorectal cancer.”

Especially if you don’t eat it, like lead paint.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist/cartoonist who writes about public health. Her latest book is Big Food, Big Pharma, Big Lies (2023). Her first book was Born with a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health. She can be reached at: Read other articles by Martha.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Kenny said on September 17th, 2007 at 8:56am #

    The problem may be linguistic. The Chinese may have understood that lead meat was good for them.

  2. brian said on September 17th, 2007 at 4:36pm #

    Fat is not all bad…but people have been brainwashed to assume that it is. The following article “The Oiling of America’ will tell you how this came about:

    ‘The Oiling of America
    by Mary Enig, PhD, and Sally Fallon

    In 1954 a young researcher from Russia named David Kritchevsky published a paper describing the effects of feeding cholesterol to rabbits.1 Cholesterol added to vegetarian rabbit chow caused the formation of atheromas—plaques that block arteries and contribute to heart disease. Cholesterol is a heavy weight molecule—an alcohol or a sterol—found only in animal foods such as meat, fish, cheese, eggs and butter. In the same year, according to the American Oil Chemists Society, Kritchevsky published a paper describing the beneficial effects of polyunsaturated fatty acids for lowering cholesterol levels.2 Polyunsaturated fatty acids are the kind of fats found in large amounts in highly liquid vegetable oils made from corn, soybeans, safflower seeds and sunflower seeds. (Monounsaturated fatty acids are found in large amounts in olive oil, palm oil and lard; saturated fatty acids are found in large amounts in fats and oils that are solid at room temperature, such as butter, tallows and coconut oil.)


  3. Thomas Victor said on September 17th, 2007 at 8:14pm #

    I’m very skeptical of these ‘health studies’. Just watch the health news carefully and you’ll notice that the studies consistently contradict each other.

    Seconldy it could well be that it’s the ‘Western Way of Life’ with it’s selfishness, emphasis on individual satisfaction, high stress, high ambition and emphasis on at all costs avoiding being a ‘loser’ that is causing the cancer not the ‘American Diet’.

    After all, who in China, Japan, India etc, eats the Americvan Diet and patronize McDonalds?. It’s those natives who have given up their traditional low cost simple lives and have gotten on the higher paying consumeris American Way of Life.

    What’s needed is to separate the two e.g. find a remote tribe, away from cities and pay subjects to eat more meat and eggs, keeping total caloric input the same and have no other change in their way of life so that they continue being simple family and group oriented people.

    I bet that they stay healthy!

  4. JE said on September 18th, 2007 at 4:06pm #

    What a load of vegan BS. Will these people ever cease with their moralizing and pathetic propaganda about food they feel is wrong to eat. Any casual observer is capable of recognizing the average american eats so much shit that it’s impossible to isolate one dietary component as the sole cause of increased cancer rates in the U.S.

    I highly doubt a perfidious cartoonist has any business providing commentary insofar as diet is concerned. Highly-trained medical professionals who study nutrition their entire careers have a very narrow consensus on what is and isn’t healthy. Take a look at the junk argibusiness pumps into cattle in this country and you’ll realize the absurdity of attempting to blame red meat for anything in and of itself.

    Countering mass indoctrination of the public by argibusiness with PETA propaganda is a false dichotomy if ever there was one. A Western Diet IS the problem but uniformed dietary habits based on ethic grounds ARE NOT the solution.

  5. EA said on March 21st, 2008 at 12:07pm #

    It’s amazing how people get so offended by something that goes against their way of life. First of all, you may want to look up the characteristics of carnivores and herbivores and see where humans fit in. It’s very clear cut.

    This article isn’t vegan propaganda in the least, just restating facts and studies that the typical American sheep isn’t aware of. I guess if I ate meat, I might take this as a personal attack and get easily butt-hurt and defensive without actually considering what the article says.