Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#527 - Dietary News of 1996, 01-Jan-1997

There was good news and bad about the American diet in 1996. The bad
news is that people in the 1990s are eating far more pizza, tacos and
pasta dishes loaded with hidden fats, compared to 30 years ago. "The
most sweeping changes in the American diet can be traced to fast foods
--increases in mozzarella cheese for pizza, tomato products for ketchup
and pizza, pickles for relish, potatoes for fries, chicken for Kentucky
fried, ice milk for soft serve, beef for burgers, and soft drinks.
These are foods that are high in fat, saturated fat, salt and calories,
and low in fiber," says Bonnie Liebman of the Center for Science in the
Public Interest in Washington, D.C.[1] McDonalds spends $800 million
each year advertising its wares while the National Cancer Institute
spends only $1 million each year promoting fruits and vegetables.

During the period 1965-1991, consumption of grains, fruits and
vegetables actually declined among part of the population --African-
Americans living below the poverty line. (Among wealthy whites, the
trend ran strongly in the opposite direction.) Many of the free foods
distributed to women and children as part of the nation's welfare
programs are high in fats and cholesterol; furthermore, pizza, burgers,
and tacos have become popular school lunch items as McDonalds and
Burger King have invaded the schools, participating in the national
frenzy to "privatize" everything possible.

However, some good news about heart disease, cancer and diet also came
along in 1996. Holiday party-goers needn't feel too guilty about eating
chocolate or drinking alcohol (in moderation), according to new
studies. Chocolate and alcohol both appear to reduce considerably the
chances of having a heart attack. A daily cup of tea offers the same

Grapefruit, orange, and tangerine juices were found in 1996 to protect
somewhat against breast cancer. In addition, a common household remedy,
aspirin, was also reported this year to protect some women against
breast cancer.[2] Aspirin had previously been shown to protect against
colon cancer, heart disease, and stroke.

Wine, Beer, Liquor

Studies over the past decade have shown that atherosclerosis (plaque
deposited on the inner walls of the arteries, reducing blood flow)
occurs when "bad" cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein [LDL]
cholesterol) combines with oxygen.

This insight has caused scientists to search for items in the diet that
might prevent LDLs from combining with oxygen. These studies have
identified several anti-oxidants that seem to do the trick: vitamin E,
vitamin C, and beta-carotene (a class of naturally-occurring red and
yellow dyes, one of which gives carrots their orange color).[3]

The value of vitamin E was confirmed again at the conference
Experimental Biology '96 in Washington, D.C. in late April. Lisa
Nicholson of the University of Southern California School of Medicine
(Los Angeles) reported a 5-year study showing that a vitamin E
supplement was very effective at reducing the accumulation of artery-
clogging plaque in a small study group of 56 individuals (32 men and 24
women). Participants in the study, aged 38 to 60, were given 100
international units of vitamin E per day (or 10 times the recommended
daily allowance). At the end of 5 years, the vitamin E supplements had
reduced average plaque buildup by an amount "equivalent to 14 years of
aging," Nicholson told Janet Raloff of SCIENCE NEWS.[4] In March, 1996,
a study of 2002 individuals with serious heart disease showed that
vitamin E supplements (of 800 and 400 international units per day to
two different groups) reduced heart attacks in both groups

In the past two years, new studies have identified other chemicals --
called flavonoids --that also prevent the oxidation of "bad"
cholesterol. These flavonoids are present in alcohol, chocolate, tea,
and certain fruit juices.[6]

In 1995, John D. Folts of University of Wisconsin (Madison, Wisc.)
showed that wine and red grape juice helped prevent atherosclerosis in
dogs, while white grape juice did not.[7] At the conference
Experimental Biology '96 in April, Folts reported more experiments with
atherosclerotic dogs, showing that dark beer was effective at
preventing plaque deposits from building up in dogs' arteries.[8]
Guiness Extra Stout, a dark, malty brew, was twice as effective as a
lighter-colored beer (Heineken lager).

Tea was as effective as the dark beer, Folts reported. Furthermore, tea
seemed to have a lasting effect. After taking tea for a week, dogs
needed only half as much tea (one cup per day) to achieve the
beneficial effect, Folts said. Coffee, on the other hand, made the
dogs' atherosclerosis worse.

At the same conference, Kenneth K. Carroll of the University of Western
Ontario in London, Ontario reported that the flavonoids in grapefruit,
orange and tangerine juices were powerful cancer inhibitors in
laboratory animals.[9] The best of these was tangerine juice.

Danish researcher Hans Ole Hein in March published a study in the
BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL solving the "French paradox." French people
generally have high cholesterol levels in their blood yet don't
experience high rates of heart disease. Hein and his colleagues say the
French seem to be protected by flavonoids in the wine they drink.

Eric Brimm of the Harvard University School of Public Health examined
25 separate studies showing that moderate alcohol use reduces the
chances of serious heart disease.[12] He concluded that there is
"strong evidence" that all alcoholic drinks, used in moderation, reduce
the dangers of heart disease. He says, therefore, it seems to be the
alcohol that provides the benefit and "it doesn't matter what beverage
you get the alcohol in."

Hein and Brimm both think doctors should begin recommending a drink
with dinner for most patients at high risk of heart disease. However,
not everyone agrees. Marion Nestle of New York University told Janet
Raloff of SCIENCE NEWS that "under no circumstances should persons who
don't drink [alcohol] be encouraged to do so" because of "the enormous
social impacts" of alcohol on society: drunk driving, violence against
women and children, and accidents (involving guns, boats, etc.).[9] You
should ask your doctor what he or she recommends for you.


Chocolate isn't entirely good for people either, because of the fat and
sugar that usually accompany it. However Andrew L. Waterhouse of the
University of California at Davis reported in September that the
flavonoids in chocolate are more powerful than red wine in protecting
against heart disease.[13] A 5-ounce glass of red wine contains about
210 milligrams (mg) of antioxidants; a cup of hot chocolate made with 2
tablespoons of cocoa would deliver 146 mg of antioxidants, and a 1.5
ounce chunk of milk chocolate, 205 mg. Waterhouse suggests a beneficial
synergistic effect from combining red wine with dark chocolate.

A danger of chocolate in addition to the sugar and fat is possible
addiction. Americans consume 2.86 billion pounds of chocolate each year
--about 11 pounds per person per year, but certain 'chocoholics'
consume far more than the average.[14] Daniele Piomelli of the
Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, California in August reported
finding a chemical in chocolate, called anandamide, which is closely
related to the cannabinoids in marijuana.[15] Anandamide is a pleasure-
inducing opiate which hits all areas of the brain, creating a "global
high," says Piomelli.[16] Some people just can't seem to get enough of


A case-control study of 511 women with breast cancer, and 1534 women
who did not have the disease, showed that women who took aspirin or
ibuprofin at least three times a week for 5 years cut their chances of
getting breast cancer by one third. If these findings are confirmed in
other studies, these nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NAIDs) will
become the first chemicals found to protect against this malignancy.[2]
In the study, women who took one aspirin or ibuprofin every day had the
best chances of avoiding breast cancer. About 180,000 new cases of
breast cancer occur each year, causing approximately 46,000 deaths

Americans take 20 to 30 billion aspirin every year with few side
effects, though some people experience irritation of the stomach lining
and bleeding.[17] Several studies in the 1980s showed that aspirin can
protect against colon cancer.[18] Many physicians now recommend an
aspirin a day for their patients. Ask your doctor.

Because so much remains unknown about the effects of diet on health,
probably the best advice still comes from Terence, the Roman playwright
who said in 166 B.C., "Moderation in all things."

--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)


[1] Jane E. Brody, "Study Finds a Three-Decade Gain in American Eating
Habits, but a Long Way to Go," NEW YORK TIMES September 5, 1996, pg.
A14, describing Barry M. Popkin and others, "A Comparison of Dietary
Trends Among Racial and Socioeconomic Groups in the United States," NEW
ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE Vol. 335, No. 10 (September 5, 1996), pgs.

[2] Randall E. Harris and others, "Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs
and Breast Cancer," EPIDEMIOLOGY Vol. 7, No. 2 (March 1996), pgs. 203-

[3] A good overview of antioxidants can be found in Barry Haliwell,
"Free radicals, antioxidants, and human disease: curiosity, cause, or
consequence," THE LANCET Vol. 344, No. 8924 (September 10, 1994), pgs.

[4] Janet Raloff, "Vitamin E slows artery 'aging,'" SCIENCE NEWS Vol.
149 (May 4, 1996), pg. 287.

[5] Nigel G. Stephens and others, "Randomised controlled trial of
vitamin E in patients with coronary disease: Cambridge Heart
Antioxidant Study (CHAOS)," THE LANCET Vol. 347 (March 23, 1996), pgs.
781-786. For a discussion of the limitations of this study, see Rudolph
A. Riemersma, "Coronary heart disease and vitamin E," THE LANCET Vol.
347 (March 23, 1996), pg. 776.

[6] Michael Hertog and others, "Dietary antioxidant flavonoids and risk
of coronary heart disease: the Zutphen Elderly Study," THE LANCET Vol.
344, No. 8878 (October 23, 1993), pgs. 1007-1011. And see J. Raloff,
"Add tea to that old 'apple a day' adage," SCIENCE NEWS Vol. 149
(October 30, 1993), pg. 278

[7] Heather S. Demrow, Peter R. Slane, and John D. Folts,
"Administration of Wine and Grape Juice Inhibits In Vivo Platelet
Activity and Thrombosis in Stenosed Canine Coronary Arteries,"
CIRCULATION Vol. 91, No. 4 (February 15, 1995), pg. 1182. And see John
Folts, "An In Vivo Model of Experimental Arterial Stenosis, Intimal
Damage, and Periodic Thrombosis," CIRCULATION [Supplement IV] Vol. 83,
No. 6 (June 1991), pgs. IV-3 to IV-14.

[8] Janet Raloff, "A couple of heart-friendly dark brews," SCIENCE NEWS
May 4, 1996, pg. 287.

[9] Janet Raloff, "Juicy anticancer prospects," SCIENCE NEWS Vol. 149
(May 4, 1996), pg. 287.

[10] Hans Ole Hein and others, "Alcohol consumption, serum low density
lipoprotein cholesterol concentration, and risk of ischaemic heart
disease: six year follow up in the Copenhagen male study," BRITISH
MEDICAL JOURNAL Vol. 312 (March 23, 1996), pgs. 736-741.

[11] J. Raloff, "Have Danes solved the French paradox?" SCIENCE NEWS
Vol. 149 (March 30, 1996), pg. 197.

[12] Eric B. Rimm and others, "Review of moderate alcohol consumption
and reduced risk of coronary heart disease: is the effect due to beer,
wine, or spirits?" BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL Vol. 312 (March 23, 1996),
pgs. 731-736.

[13] Andrew L. Waterhouse and others, "Antioxidants in chocolate," THE
LANCET Vol. 348 (September 21, 1996), pg. 834. And see "Chocolate: As
hearty as red wine..." SCIENCE NEWS Vol. 150 (October 12, 1996), pg.

[14] J. Raloff, "Coming: Drug therapy for chocoholics?" SCIENCE NEWS
Vol. 147 (June 17, 1995), pg. 374.

[15] Emanuelle di Tomaso, Massimiliano Beltramo, and Daniele Piomelli,
"Brain cannabinoids in chocolate," NATURE Vol. 382 (August 22, 1996),
pgs. 677-678.

[16] "...but we eat it for pleasure," SCIENCE NEWS Vol. 150 (October
12, 1996), pg. 235.

[17] S. Sternberg, "Aspirin Users May Trim Breast Cancer Risk," SCIENCE
NEWS Vol. 149 (February 24, 1996), pg. 116.

[18] L. Rosenberg and others, "A Hypothesis: Nonsteroidal Anti-
Inflammatory Drugs Reduce the Incidence of Large-Bowel Cancer," JOURNAL
OF THE NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE Vol. 83, No. 5 (March 6, 1991), pg.


In RACHEL'S #525 we described David Brower as the "founder" of the
Sierra Club. The Club was actually founded in the early 1890s by John
Muir. Mr. Brower became the Club's first executive director in 1952 and
changed the Club from a regional conservation club to a modern national
environmental organization.

Descriptor terms: food safety; breast cancer; colon cancer; diet and
health; cholesterol; fat; mcdonalds; center for science in the public
interest; heart disease; chocolate; wine; beer; alcohol; liquor; tea;
coffee; grapefruit juice; orange juice; tangerine juice; aspirin;
ibuprofin; nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; atherosclerosis; anti-
oxidants; vitamin e; vitamin c; beta-carotene; flavonoids; anandamide;
cannabinoids; cspi; sierra club; david brower; john muir;