There is always something in the news about what to eat or drink. Eat this. Don’t drink that. You will get cancer. You won’t get cancer. What is one to do?

It’s helpful to keep in mind the simple idea that real food is still real and mostly good. Processed food is still processed and mostly bad. Toxic chemicals are still in food, drinks, the environment, and really bad for you. A recent report in The Lancet provides a good illustration. The International Centre for Research on Cancer (IARC), a United Nations agency, just issued a warning about five pesticides: three which probably cause cancer and two others which have already been outlawed or restricted. One of the chemicals, glyphosate, is the active ingredient in the pesticide Roundup and is classified 2A, a probable cancer-causing agent in humans. Roundup is sprayed on GMO (genetically modified organism) crops like corn. About two years ago, a French scientist reported feeding corn sprayed with Roundup to mice. They developed pretty horrifying cancers. The results were strongly contested by Monsanto and GMO advocates, but the scientist refused to back down.

This is the recurring story about toxic chemicals. Many questions but no strong regulations. Of roughly 80,000 industrial chemicals in commerce in the US, fewer than 10 (yes that is ten) have come under significant regulation by the EPA. It is widely agreed that the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 is a chemical testing and control law which is broken and there are efforts to rewrite this law. This will be highly contentious and controversial… and, I suspect, delayed!

In the meantime, evidence of the threat posed by toxic chemicals continues to mount. Honey production is slowing because of a major decline in bee populations which is linked to pesticides, emerging parasites/infections and, more recently, a lack of flowers. As reported in Time magazine last year, we are all exposed to many toxic chemicals, which are especially dangerous for children. This is quite alarming. As reported in Science magazine in March this year, we desperately need advances in chemical design to develop safe alternatives to toxic chemicals.

For those of you who are completely depressed at this point, there is some very good news! A “BIO chemical” revolution is emerging. Bio disposable plastic is already available. In addition, it turns out that lettuce plants can be a source of natural rubber. This means that instead of using butadiene, which is linked to the causation of myeloma from the 9/11 exposures, to make synthetic rubber, there is a natural non-toxic source! Using safe bio-chemicals, there is actually the potential to prevent myeloma. 

In the meantime, you can become more aware and protect yourself in a toxic world! This is where various healthy cooking advice can be helpful. Broadly speaking, a Mediterranean-style diet, as beautifully outlined in the Ikaria cookbook, is recommended. Fresh organic produce is the best, and such a diet can include fish, (free-range) chicken and meats (grass-fed is best,) as well as organic eggs. Increasing evidence suggests that caution is required with carbohydrates and gluten, related to sensitivity in some form. Dr. David Perlmutter in his book Grain Brain emphasizes the benefits of reducing of carbohydrate/gluten intake and supplies detailed dietary tips. A much more difficult restrictive approach along with the same lines is found in The Paleo Solution, which has many advocates. A more practical approach for those patients enduring the rigors of intensive treatment or a stem cell transplant is found in the Cancer Cookbook, produced by the Royal Marsden, the famous UK cancer hospital. It provides excellent diet tips to get through the times.

Underpinning these food choices is the need to select (as best possible) sources with the least chemical contamination, or, in the case of meats and chicken, fewest antibiotics. A recent New York Times article describes how Denmark’s pigs have very few antibiotics because of local laws prohibiting routine use of antibiotics which induce antibiotic resistance. As re-emphasized by Mark Bittman in his New York Times column this week about McDonald’s restaurants, we are still waiting for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to mandate removal of non-medicinal antibiotics from animal production in the US, including pigs, cattle and chickens. As for fish, one has to do the best one can to get wild caught fish which are not endangered. The Monterey Bay Aquarium produces a very helpful list to guide you. Since fish accumulate toxins such as mercury in their systems, it is especially important to avoid farm-raised fish or fish from polluted rivers, lakes or parts of the ocean.

So you can see that “eating healthy” is quite a challenge – reaching the point where we all need a master’s degree to be safe! This is where the IMF’s motto “knowledge is power” kicks into high gear. We are definitely here to help guide you towards the best choices for healthy options. As always, it is important to read labels, avoid fast or traditional processed foods, take a little extra time and effort to find a healthy restaurant, and/or if you can manage, cook at home as often as possible.

Good eating and drinking – and be optimistic that the future can be much better!

Image of Dr. Brian G.M. DurieDr. Brian G.M. Durie serves as Chairman of the International Myeloma Foundation and serves on its Scientific Advisory Board. Additionally, he is Chairman of the IMF's International Myeloma Working Group, a consortium of nearly 200 myeloma experts from around the world. Dr. Durie also leads the IMF’s Black Swan Research Initiative®.

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