Monday, June 29, 2009

Mmmm, carrots

From today's Herald

By Susan Daly

Monday June 29 2009

Carrots -- how do you eat yours? At this time of year, a crunchy salad with shreds of grated carrot on top sounds appetising. On a bitterly cold day, there is comfort in the perfect marriage of carrot and parsnip mashed with a knob of creamy butter.

Carrot sticks dipped in hummus. Steamed discs of carrot to add levity to a roast dinner. It's the vegetable that keeps on giving.

Well, forget all the slicing, dicing and mashing. The men and women in the white coats are now telling us that whole-cooked carrots are the only way to go to increase the anti-cancer properties of the veg. Excellent. That's one more tiny piece of joy sucked out of everyday life. Did we really need to know that cooking carrots to our own particular taste could be the difference between life and death? How much money was spent on a study to tell us that yes, eating carrots is good for us -- but it can be even better if we do it in this very specific way?

The finding shows how ludicrous the industry of fear has become.

The world is so hungry for a tidy solution to the Big C that studies like this get commissioned, funded and lauded for throwing up even the tiniest morsel of advice. Something that can make a catchy headline; something to justify the project. No doubt, the researchers' motivation is good but they play on our deepest anxiety: that when it comes to cancer, there is always something we can do to prevent it.

Here's the real newsflash: sometimes bad things happen to good people. Think of all the children who suffer from leukemia and other childhood cancers. They haven't had time to build up a carcinogenic lifestyle of obesity, alcoholic overindulgence or a smoking habit. So the plague of guilt descends on their parents: was it something we did? If we had fed our children whole-cooked carrots; if we had not given them dairy products, would it have helped?

If you were to adhere to every minor food warning that is released into the media, you would very quickly descend into a tailspin of panic and madness. The only study I'm interested in reading at this stage is one that definitively sorts out the conflicting advice we have been given over the years. Drink lots of tea -- it's full of antioxidants. Don't drink tea -- the caffeine will be passed onto your unborn child and give them ADHD. Drink wine -- it's good for the heart. Don't drink wine -- it will give you breast cancer. Eat meat -- it's full of iron. Don't eat meat -- it's carcinogenic.

Research is vital of course, and we all hope that some day the magic cure to human ills will present itself. We know from studies that there are links between smoking and lung cancer, overexposure to the sun and skin cancer, alcoholism and liver disease. But let's not get in our knickers in a twist over the small stuff. Stress can be a killer too.

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