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Reality Check: There is No Such Thing as a Miracle Food

A recent episode of the Dr. Oz Show suggested endive, red onion, and sea bass as foods that can decrease the risk of ovarian cancer by up to 75%. However, the scientific evidence supporting these recommendations is limited. This commentary discusses some of the concerns related to the promotion of “miracle foods” by the media. Nutritional scientists and epidemiologists should be cognizant of the public health messages that are taken from their individual studies and not sensationalize the findings of a single study.

Cancer is a disease that invokes fear, so it is not surprising that the public is eager to identify ways to decrease their risk. Food is a familiar and universally shared experience, which makes it a popular cancer prevention topic for the media. Attention-grabbing headlines and sound bites draw readers/viewers in. Foods are often promoted as “anticancer foods” or “super foods,” which have the power to magically prevent or “cure” cancer. But, do such miracle foods really exist? Do we really have sufficient evidence to make these claims to an eager public?

As an example, a recent segment from the Dr. Oz show, entitled Anti-Cancer Diet, suggested that endive, red onion, and sea bass are anticancer foods that can decrease risk of ovarian cancer by up to 75%. The segment claimed that kaempferol, a flavonoid found in endive, induces apoptosis in ovarian cancer cells and inhibits cancer progression by blocking angiogenesis. Several studies have demonstrated that kaempferol has apoptotic and antiangiogenic activity in vitro, however, it is unclear whether these findings translate to free-living human populations consuming kaempferol in usual dietary quantities.

An association between raw endive intake and ovarian cancer has been reported by only 1 prospective observational study, in which endive was one of 39 foods evaluated. Given the large number of statistical tests, it is likely that the reduction in risk of ovarian cancer related to higher endive intake might have been observed solely by chance. No association with ovarian cancer risk was observed for other vegetables that actually provide more kaempferol per serving than endive (See Table 1 below), such as kale [relative risk (RR): 1.02, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.31–3.35) and spinach (RR: 1.43, 95% CI: 0.86–2.37), and there was a lack of association with cooked endive (RR: 0.78, 95% CI: 0.48–1.26).

Flavonoids in red onions were also touted as being able to prevent ovarian cancer. A reduced risk of ovarian cancer related to higher onion intake, which was assessed after cancer diagnosis, was reported by 1 case-control study. Conversely, 3 large prospective studies (the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer Nutrition study, the Women’s Health Study, and the Nurses’ Health Study), where data on usual dietary intake were collected prior to cancer diagnosis, reported no association between onion intake and ovarian cancer risk.

The retrospective nature of case-control studies makes this study design subject to unique biases (especially recall bias), and it is essential to interpret findings from a single case-control study with caution. In addition, red onions, rather than white or yellow onions, were specifically recommended, but whether red onions contain more flavonoids than white or yellow onions is questionable. A study comparing total flavonoid contents of the 10 onion varieties (1 red, 1 white, and 8 yellow) showed that two varieties of yellow onions (Western Yellow and New York Bold) had the highest flavonoid contents (69.2 mg/ 100 g and 55.2 mg/100 g, respectively), followed by red onions (Northern Red, 35.1 mg/100 g) and other yellow onion varieties.

TABLE 1 Major dietary sources of kaempferol
Food item Kaempferol (mga)
Kale, raw 46.80
Mustard greens, raw 38.30
Welsh onions, raw 24.95
Watercress, raw 23.03
Chinese cabbage, raw 22.51
Cress, raw 13.00
Turnip greens, raw 11.87
Endive, raw 10.10
Chives, raw 10.00
Collards, raw 9.48
Radish leaves, raw 7.72
Fennel leaves, raw 6.50
Spinach, raw 6.38
Chinese cabbage (pak-choi), raw 4.35
Green onions, raw 3.60
Leeks 2.67
Chicory greens, raw 2.45
Kohlrabi, raw 2.43
Red lettuce, raw 2.24
Garlic chives, raw 2.12
Rocket, raw 1.78
Horseradish, whole 1.58
Parsley, raw 1.49
Tea (green or black), brewed 1.31

Data source: U.S. Department of Agriculture.
aPer 100 g edible portion.

The other food identified in the episode of the Dr. Oz Show as having antiovarian cancer activity was sea bass because of the high content of omega-3 fatty acids, which were also claimed to have antiangiogenic activity. Yet, again, the evidence of an association between fish intake and ovarian cancer risk is not convincing. A meta-analysis of 2 cohort studies and 6 case-control studies concluded that high fish intake was associated with a marginally significant reduction in ovarian cancer risk; however, statistically significant inverse associations were observed only in case-control studies. Many different types of fatty, predatory fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, several of which (including mackerel, salmon, and herring) have much higher contents of omega-3 fatty acids compared to sea bass.

TABLE 2 Omega-3 fatty acid (FA) and mercury contents in major dietary sources
Food item Omega-3 FA (g/100 g)a Mercury (ppm)b
Mackerel, Atlantic, raw 2.51 0.050
Salmon, Atlantic, farmed, raw 2.36 0.022
Anchovy, European, canned in oil, drained 2.10 0.017
Herring, Pacific, raw 1.83 N/A
Salmon, Atlantic, wild, raw 1.72 0.022
Herring, Atlantic, raw 1.63 N/A
Mackerel, Pacific, raw 1.56 0.088
Spanish mackerel, raw 1.44 0.454
Tuna, Bluefin, raw 1.30 0.368
Sardine, canned in oil, drained 0.98 0.013
Shark, raw 0.95 0.979
Trout, raw 0.91 0.071
Tuna, albacore, canned in water, drained 0.88 0.350
Swordfish, raw 0.79 0.995
Bass, freshwater, raw 0.75 0.354
Sea bass, raw 0.67 0.152
Sea trout, raw 0.48 0.235
Catfish, wild, raw 0.46 0.025
Mackerel, king, raw 0.42 0.730
Tuna, light, canned in water, drained 0.28 0.128
Tuna, yellowfin, raw 0.23 0.354
Cod, Pacific, raw 0.22 0.111
Cod, Atlantic, raw 0.19 0.111

a Per 100 g edible portion. Including eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5 n-3), docosapentaenoic acid (22:5 n-3), and docosahexaenoic acid (22:6 n-3). USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.
b U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish (1990–2010).

Media coverage of these so-called miracle foods is often just a marketing tool. Stories of miracle foods sell magazines and advertising space; food industries often sponsor research to show that their foods or products are superior, and supplement industries look to boost sales. In real life, however, we do not live on one single food item. We eat meals that consist of a considerable variety of foods, several times each day. When evaluating potential cancer prevention benefits from the foods we eat, we need to consider diet in its totality, as well as other lifestyle factors such as physical activity, and the potential influences of genetic and epigenetic factors…….


Anytime Workout

Shoulders Stretch

  1. You can start sitting or standing. Look straight ahead and stand tall or sit with straight back.
  2. Roll your shoulders forward 10 times. Then roll your shoulders backward 10 times.
  3. Finish by bringing your right arm across your body while gently putting pressure on it with your left hand. Hold and breathe deeply five times before switching arms.

Source: The Globe and Mail

Walking Can Lower Risk of Heart-related Conditions As Much As Running

Walking briskly can lower your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes as much as running can, according to surprising findings reported in the American Heart Association journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.

Researchers analyzed 33,060 runners in the National Runners’ Health Study and 15,045 walkers in the National Walkers’ Health Study. They found that the same energy used for moderate intensity walking and vigorous intensity running resulted in similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and possibly coronary heart disease over the study’s six years.

“Walking and running provide an ideal test of the health benefits of moderate-intensity walking and vigorous-intensity running because they involve the same muscle groups and the same activities performed at different intensities,” said Paul T. Williams, Ph.D., the study’s principal author and staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Life Science Division in Berkeley, Calif.

Unlike previous studies, the researchers assessed walking and running expenditure by distance, not by time. Participants provided activity data by responding to questionnaires.

“The more the runners ran and the walkers walked, the better off they were in health benefits. If the amount of energy expended was the same between the two groups, then the health benefits were comparable,” Williams said.

Comparing energy expenditure to self-reported, physician-diagnosed incident hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes and coronary heart disease, researchers found:

  • Running significantly reduced risk for first-time hypertension 4.2 percent and walking reduced risk 7.2 percent.
  • Running reduced first-time high cholesterol 4.3 percent and walking 7 percent.
  • Running reduced first-time diabetes 12.1 percent compared to 12.3 percent for walking.
  • Running reduced coronary heart disease 4.5 percent compared to 9.3 percent for walking.

“Walking may be a more sustainable activity for some people when compared to running, however, those who choose running end up exercising twice as much as those that choose walking. This is probably because they can do twice as much in an hour,” Williams said.

Study participants were 18 to 80 years old, clustered in their 40s and 50s. Men represented 21 percent of the walkers and 51.4 percent of the runners.

“People are always looking for an excuse not to exercise, but now they have a straightforward choice to run or to walk and invest in their future health,” Williams said.

Source: American Heart Association

Shrimp Hearty Soup


200 g shelled shrimp
1 stalk Chinese celery, chopped
50 g mung bean vermicelli
100 g ground pork
4 peeled water chestnuts
1 tbsp preserved cabbage, rinsed, drained and chopped
6 cups water

Pork Marinade

1 tbsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp sesame oil
dash pepper


1/2 tsp salt
1 egg white
1 tsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp sesame oil
dash pepper


  1. Add marinade to pork. Set aside.
  2. Soak vermicelli in water for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  3. Rinse shrimp and pat dry with paper towel.
  4. Mash shrimp and water chestnut. Add seasoning. Stir the mixture with chopsticks in one direction until they become sticky. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  5. Boil 6 cups water in a pot. Add vermicelli and pork. Bring to a boil again and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Spoon shrimp mixture into the soup. Simmer until all the shrimp balls float to the top.
  6. Turn off heat and sprinkle with celery and preserved cabbage. Serve hot.

Source: Hong Kong magazine

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