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Prevention Magazine

The mail brought a “sampler” of Prevention Magazine that included an offer for the "Doctors Book of Healing Foods." Such books are mushrooming these days because of the seductive message that the right diet can perform miracles and that foods can act as drug-free cures. That message of course is not new. Over two thousand years ago Hippocrates tantalized people with his dictum of "let thy food be thy medicine." That was an insightful remark calling attention to the relation between food and health and played well at the time given that there were no effective medicines to be had. With the vast amount of research that has accumulated since that time, mostly of course within the last fifty or so years, it is way too simple-minded to suggest that there are "healing foods for almost any condition." That simply isn't true.

The notion that "Mother Nature has placed in her nutritional Garden of Cures every food you need to get well" is absurd as is the statement that "your immune system is the greatest "pharmacist" ever created and knows how to make more than 100 billion types of medicines, called antibodies, to attack just about any unwanted germ, virus or renegade cell that wants to harm you." Such folly is prompted by Prevention's overall philosophy that nature provides cures for all diseases which of course is nonsense. What the magazine, and the book it now offers, repeatedly do, is take scientific mole hills and build them into mountains. But climbing those mountains will not get you anywhere.

One headline asked the intriguing question, "to live longer, eat pizza?" The intended answer of course is "yes." Why? because "the tomato sauce in pizza is loaded with one of Mother Nature's most powerful disease-fighting compounds, lycopene, along with a healthy dose of vitamin C. Studies show this combination can dramatically reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease." Really?  Where are those studies? Yes, you can dredge up some studies showing that lycopene has an antioxidant effect and that antioxidants have some theoretical benefit. That benefit is debatable, but in any case there are no studies that show pizza, no matter with what topping, reduces cancer or heart disease risk.

Then there is the "six-cherry" remedy for gout. What is the evidence provided? "Back in the 1950s a Texas doctor was so crippled by a gouty big toe, he was forced to use a wheelchair. He reported in a Texas medical journal that a diet including six cherries a day soon had him up and walking." This is laughable, but at least not dangerous. Much of the advice in this "Prevention" sampler is relatively innocuous but some of it is plain wrong. For example, the claim that "A big reason we gain weight-and find losing it so hard-is because of the fat in our diets." Not exactly. We are learning that it is more important to curb carbohydrate intake than fat intake, both for weight loss and cardiovascular health. Are there any positive things to say about the “Doctors Book of Healing Foods?”Not many, but the book does emphasize the importance of vegetables in the diet. Basically, though, this is a money grab, which is undoubtedly going to be successful because it promises easy solutions to complex problems.

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