Have you noticed how hardly anything is safe to eat any more? Because any group of food apparently will give you all sorts of nasty diseases? Milk will make you infertile and give you breast and prostate cancer (One time it's full-fat dairy which is the culprit, next day it's low fat variety, or cheese, or yogurt so it's obviously never safe). Meat will give you cancer. Fish is good, but on the other hand, full of mercury and contaminants. Butter and eggs will give you high cholesterol, heart attacks and diabetes. Sugar is the Devil incarnated and is strictly to be avoided in any form. And God forbid, you enjoy toast, it'll give you cancer, too.
Thusly, you are reduced to eating grains and plants, but don't be too happy as yet that you finally found something you can enjoy. Because, the proponents of the new paleo theories will tell you that eating grains, beans, potatoes and too many vegetables isn't safe, either, and you should eat tons of bacon, lean meat, dozens of eggs etc, but no dairy, except for butter. Then there is the famous fat controversy. One paleo group suggests you choose lean meats, while others state you really need fat, lots of it, including dairy fats. So in the end, there is apparently no food which is really safe to eat for anyone under any circumstances, right?
The truth is, that most of the theories circulating on the internet about food safety are just that, theories. There is too much scaremongering around and too many "experts" giving their opinion and pushing their own agenda. Take toasted bread, for instance. There is a theory that slightly burned toast will give you cancer because it contains acrylamide which some scientists speculate theoretically could lead to cancer.
In practise though, evidence from human studies has shown that, for most cancer types, there
is no link between acrylamide and cancer risk. Some studies have
suggested a higher risk of womb cancer, but the evidence is weak and
inconsistent, so we can’t be sure if this link is real. Even food
industry workers, who are exposed to twice as much acrylamide as other
people, do not have higher rates of cancer.
Eating tons of burnt toast is probably still not a good idea, but there is sure a lot of noise about something which can't be really linked to anything sinister after all the research. Let's now move on to dairy. From the same official UK website on cancer research:
Studies looking into the link between cancer and dairy products have not
given clear results. There is evidence that dairy products could reduce
the risk of bowel cancer, but we cannot say for sure that this is the
case. There is no strong evidence linking dairy products to any other
types of cancer. We need further research to find out more about the
links between dairy products and cancer risk.
Again, no links have been proven to exist, except that dairy can probably protect you from the bowel cancer, but it doesn't stop the campaigners. I have been asking myself whether it has something to do with anti (North) European sentiment prevailing nowadays. I think it's really lousy that people outside of Northern Europe are often lactose-intolerant but I'm not going to let myself to be guilt-tripped into not drinking milk out of some mistaken and misplaced solidarity.
Hormones in the milk could be a problem for the inhabitants of the USA, but not for Europeans, since In some countries, a hormone called bovine somatotrophin (BST) is used
to speed up or increase the production of milk or meat. In the UK and
the rest of Europe, farmers are banned from using this hormone, and the
import of meat from countries, including the US, where this hormone is
used is also banned. This ban is on animal welfare grounds and not
because there is any proven effect on human health. Independent health
bodies including the European Union Scientific Committee have reviewed
the evidence on BST and found it does not pose any harm to human health.
Now let's look at sugar. Does it really make you fat? No. Overeating does. As in stuffing yourself with too many calories daily. And for all those meat-lovers who claim protein won't make you fat ever, excess protein turns into glucose in your body. But to return to sugar, even WHO jumped on the bandwagon of demonisation even though the only thing they could prove is that consuming too much sweets leads to caries (as if we didn't know!). Apparently, there is an international agenda behind anti-sugar campaign, which has to do with environmentalism, anti-corporate movement and similar concerns. EU sugar producers reacted to WHO new guidelines in the following way:
We note the clarification in the report that WHO has retained its
recommendation that “free sugars” can provide <10% of total energy
We believe that before a <5% value can be included in official
recommendations, extensive debate must take place, as called for by
WHO, especially because the data this value is based on, was deemed to
be of very low quality by both WHO and the dental health review authors. In practice, such a threshold would be exceeded for instance with the drinking of a mere glass of orange juice...
It should be noted that the WHO intake recommendations are based purely
on dental health data. The authors of the WHO-mandated systematic review
on “free” sugars and weight gain concluded that any effect of sugar on
weight gain is purely due to the consumption of excess calories and not a
specific effect of sugar per se.
This review highlights the fact that obesity is an extremely complex
and multidimensional problem, and preventing obesity requires the
balance of managing calorie intake coming from all foods,
including sugar, with energy expenditure. Therefore, simply advising an
individual to decrease sugar intake without taking into account overall
diets and other factors will not solve the current obesity crisis. The
WHO recommendations notably have to be put in the context of each
country’s food culture, which has an impact on individuals’ food
(Read the whole thing over here). Again, it's probably not a good idea to consume too much sugar, and fizzy drinks containing 1000+ calories each, but if you are not suffering from diabetes, sugar in moderation, preferably eaten with the meals, appears to be all right.
Now, if all these foods don't give you cancer, what does? Well, the risk factors are all known and have been for a long time: smoking, obesity and overweight, alcohol, not enough physical activity, too much sun exposure, not eating enough vegetable and fibre, and processed meat. Yes, chemicals in bacon can give you bowel cancer, and eating to much red meat is also suspect, too much being defined as more than 500g cooked red meat a week, which can be easily avoided by eating fish and poultry 3 times a week.
But really, it's all about using common sense, isn't it?