Eating healthy doesn?t cut health risks
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Eating healthy doesn?t cut health risks

A US government study has turned accepted wisdom on diet on its head, reports Sanchita Sharma.

india Updated: Feb 09, 2006 05:04 IST

A low-fat diet does not cut health risks, so eat what you will, says the largest-ever study done to determine whether a low-fat diet reduces the risk of cancer and heart disease.

Eight years and $415 million later, the US government study turned accepted wisdom on diet on its head by reporting that a low-fat diet has no beneficial impact on breast cancer, colon cancer, heart attacks and strokes.

The study -- which followed 49,000 women aged between 50 and 79 for eight years -- has been published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. It found that women who ate a low-fat diet had just as much breast and colon cancer, and just as much heart disease as women who ate whatever they wanted.

Although the study was done only on women, the colon cancer and heart disease results would apply to men, said the study, which is part of the Women's Health Initiative of the National Institutes of Health.

The only negative impact the high-fat diet had was that it raised bad-cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) levels slightly, but not high enough to make a noticeable difference in risk of heart disease.

For decades, scientists have said that what you eat determines your risk of getting a chronic disease, even though studies of dietary fibre and colon cancer and vitamins and cancer have failed to find a protective effect.

"More than diet, scientific evidence shows that it's your genetic and hormonal make-up that impacts cancer risk," says Dr Sameer Kaul, cancer specialist, Apollo hospital. But this does not mean you can overdose on fish fry. Given the conflicting advice available, doctors maintain the best dietary advice is to eat healthy: less saturated and trans fats, more vegetables and wholegrains, and some fruit.

"Current dietary wisdom has moved on from extreme measures, like cutting back on total fat, to eating different kinds of healthy fats," says Dr Ganesh Mani, chairman, Delhi Heart and Lung Institute. Agrees Dr K.K. Kasliwal of the Escorts Institute: "I would still ask people to eat the Mediterranean diet: low in saturated fats (butter) and high in oils (olive and other vegetable oils).

First Published: Feb 09, 2006 03:16 IST