Whatís the Skinny on Vegetables, Fruits and Fats?
This article was originally published in the Westfield Leader on July 10, 2014.†
In my last Westfield Leader article, I noted that clinical studies do not support any significant medical health
benefits or harm of multivitamins. Unfortunately, the same holds true with antioxidant- rich vegetables and fruits. At the recent American Association for Cancer Research meeting with close to 20,000 attendees, unlike in the past, reports on diet and dietary supplements were virtually absent. Dr. Walter Willet, a well respected Harvard epidemiologist and
strong advocate of the beneficial role of diet in maintaining health, reported that, regarding cancer, there is little
solid clinical evidence that vegetables and fruits are protective. Though he didnít address their role in other diseases, the same currently holds true.
So here we are: multivitamins, vegetables and fruits with medical-health benefits unknown. As Iíve repeatedly
stressed before, long term clinical nutritional studies, unlike those with insulin or penicillin, are difficult
to execute with precision. In the past, there was an explosion of highly promising, but not definitive, clinical
studies supporting the benefits of diets and dietary supplements. This rapidly resulted into the creation of a
huge nutrition industry propelled by vast armies of media. I, myself, was cautiously optimistic. After all, many
scientific laboratory studies supported these clinical results. Americans, with evangelical fervor, eagerly embraced
not only products supported by these studies but others which were not. This pattern still holds.
During the 90ís, motivated by these promising clinical studies, my foundation sponsored multiple nutraceutical conferences in Manhattan and Washington, D.C. with some of the worldís most respected leaders in nutrition and clinical research to encourage more clinical research on nutritional products. A nutraceutical, the term I coined, is a nutritional product that has been proven to have a medical-health benefit in a well-designed clinical study.
There then followed a surge in such studies most of which, unfortunately and surprisingly, reported negative
results, including those on herbal remedies. Because of the magnitude and the level of emotional zeal of the players
in the nutrition field, and I donít say this with cynicism or disrespect, the current disappointing clinical data
on vegetables and fruits will not be given the sufficient attention that they deserve. In fact, media coverage of
the negative results has already virtually vanished. Nutritional advocates will continue to embrace their ersatz
gods of broccoli, kale and fruit-vegetable salads, be it in their educational efforts or at the dinner table.
Highly questionable favorable reports will continue to raise false hope. For example, one study reports that eating
five or more servings of produce daily decreases the risk of heart disease by 30 percent. The World Cancer
Research Fund in conjunction with the American Cancer Institute report that certain vegetables may
help to protect against multiple cancer types. I can assure you that neither study could withstand statistical scrutiny.
Itís worthwhile to note that at The American Association for Cancer Research meeting a reception was hosted by M.D. Anderson, one the worldís foremost medical centers for cancer research, where thick slabs of roast beef and all kinds of cheeses were served followed by a buffet of rich fat-laden desserts. This was before the recent publication in the
Annals of Internal Medicine reported that saturated fats may not be harmful which Iíll discuss in my next Leader article.
So whatís the true skinny on the medical-health benefits and risks of vegetables and fruits? As with multivitamins, the clinical data regarding both benefits and harm are not definitive, and we just donít know. Until such time, be very skeptical of any health-medical claims- and there will be many.
Stephen L. DeFelice, M.D.