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Foods that can make you feel bad

Two weeks ago, I began a series on foods that heal. This is the final segment. Much of this information was compiled by David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Servan-Schreiber is a physician and clinical professor at the University of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine. At the young age of 31, David was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, which he fought and won.

Five years later, the tumor was back. This time he decided to add complimentary treatments to the conventional treatment plan in hopes of improving his odds for a total cure. His goal was to find information that he -- and other patients -- can use in conjunction with conventional treatments -- not as a substitute.

In doing so, he embarked upon an extensive journey to find research-based information of effective complementary treatments. To share this information with those in treatment -- or those wishing to avoid it -- he published a book, Anti Cancer: a New Way of Life.

In the first two parts, the focus was foods with healthful properties, many of which may offer healing properties. In this, the final segment, I'll discuss the foods to avoid.

• Tobacco and asbestos provide the classic "smoking gun" associated with disease, such as cancer. However, there is no evidence that links a particular food with disease. That said, there are strong indications that certain foods are intertwined with disturbing trends of disease, or conditions that favor disease. Not surprisingly, these foods come from a factory -- not farms or gardens.

• Americans consume 14 times more sugar and high fructose corn syrup than our grandparents did when they immigrated to Minnesota. By themselves, sugar and corn syrup are not considered dangerous; the problem is our skyrocketing over- consumption that leads to health problems. In our food system today, sugar or corn syrup are ingredients in nearly every packaged food and beverage on the grocer's shelf. Read the ingredient list on processed foods or beverages and try and find ones without; you'll be astounded.

• Soft drinks are among the worst. In fact, just one can of Coke or Mountain Dew contains 12 to 15 teaspoons of sugar (or equivalent corn syrup). If you're an average American, this accounts for about 1/3 of your daily sugar consumption. Simply eliminating soft drinks will go a long ways in reducing sugar from your diet.

• Otto Heinrich Warburg won the Nobel Peace Prize in medicine for his discovery that the metabolism of malignant tumors is largely dependent upon glucose consumption. (Glucose is the digested form of sugar.) In fact, PET scans are commonly used to detect cancerous tumors by simply measuring the areas consuming the most glucose. Cancer feeds on glucose.

• Foods with a high glycemic index, such as sugar and highly refined white flour, cause blood levels of glucose to rise rapidly. When this happens, our body immediately releases a dose of insulin to enable the glucose to enter cells. The secretion of insulin is accompanied by the release of IGF (insulinlike growth factor) whose role is to stimulate cell growth. Both of these have another effect in common; they promote the factors of inflammation -- undesirable for a variety of medical conditions, but especially tumor growth.

There is no good substitute. The only safe answer is to consume less, or use natural sweeteners such as those found in fruit, honey (in limited amounts) or agave nectar -- a natural substitute with a very low glycemic index. Artificial sweeteners have their own baggage and are best avoided. Indeed, reducing sugar in your diet takes fortitude, just ask me.

• The introduction of trans-fats is another major dietary shift that's negatively implicated with our health. Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated trans-fats are made from a variety of vegetable oils (sunflower, soybean, corn and canola), most of which are Omega-6 rich, not the essential Omega-3. These Omega-6 oils are altered (hydrogenated) to be a solid at room temperature, so you can "spread" it on your toast instead of pouring it.

Unfortunately, hydrogenation makes these oils less digestible and more inflammatory than in their natural state. But, they became popular because of something immensely important to the manufacturers -- once hydrogenated, they do not go stale. Indeed, the entire process is done entirely for industrial and commercial purposes. The best strategy is to avoid all trans-fats and use butter and olive oil.

Adding healing foods and eliminating industrial foods offers proven health benefits, without a downside. Though it's unlikely that food alone will cure disease, healing foods may give you one more arrow in the quiver. Maybe it's the one that'll make all the difference.

However, making these dietary changes takes effort, planning and determination, but it's something we can all do. You'll have many chances at change; after all, we make these choices every day -- with every meal.

To learn more, contact me at the Polk County Extension office in McIntosh or at the Clearwater County Extension office on Wednesdays. Our toll free number is 800-450-2465. If e-mail is your thing, contact me at

The material contained in this article is adapted from "Anti Cancer: a New Way of Life." If you'd like greater detail, check with your local public library or favorite bookstore. Lastly, in case you're wondering, Dr Servan-Schreiber turns 48 this month and is cancer free.