Dispelling some health myths

Karen Collins, a registered dietician and certified nutritionist with the American Institute for Cancer Research, answers questions related to how diet affects health.

Q: My friend got an e-mail from a famous hospital that said by avoiding meat, we can free up more enzymes to attack and destroy cancer cells. Is that true?

A: No. What you are describing is part of a hoax e-mail supposedly coming from the cancer treatment center at Johns Hopkins Hospital, but it doesn’t. Excess consumption of red meat (beef, pork and lamb) is linked to increased risk of colon cancer, but the potential reasons scientists have identified for the link have nothing to do with body enzymes, and doesn’t mean that cancer survivors need to avoid all red meat. They may include it in moderation. The hoax e-mail that includes this false statement includes other misinformation as well. Unfortunately, we have to remember that even when something on the Internet is attributed to a source you trust, it’s always best to go directly to the website of that trusted source to verify it.

Q:Why do nutrition experts say that you should only shop around the perimeter of the grocery store?

A: The concept behind that advice is that the produce, dairy and fresh meat and seafood departments are usually located around the outside rim of the grocery store. By shopping there and avoiding the inner aisles laden with sweets, soft drinks and low-nutrient snack foods, the hope is that you’ll fill your cart with healthful foods. We know from research that no matter what you tell yourself when you throw them in your cart, the more unhealthy choices you bring home, the more of them you eat. However, it’s not really true that everything in the center of the store is unhealthy. This is the spot for many unprocessed whole grains (whole-grain pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa), dried beans (either canned or uncooked), nuts, dried fruit, coffee and tea and herbs and spices. Although it’s hard to go wrong in the produce department, the meat department contains both healthy options like seafood, poultry and lean red meat (for limited use), and high-fat and processed meats that should not be standard fare for eating habits that help lower your risk of cancer and heart disease. Perhaps what makes more sense for nutrition-wise shopping habits is to shop with a list and go down only the aisles with foods on that list. Shopping like this, rather than going up and down every aisle, will probably save you money by avoiding impulse purchases and lead to better food choices.

Karen Collins is a registered dietician and certified nutritionist with the American Institute for Cancer Research.