Cynthia Thomson, Diet and Ovarian Cancer


PART I: Cynthia Thomson, PhD, Diet and Ovarian Cancer
Thomson_produce_LRDr. Cynthia Thomson is a Professor in the College of Public Health and holds joint appointments in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences & the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona. Dr. Thomson received her Ph.D. from the Interdisciplinary Program in Nutritional Sciences, University of Arizona and completed NCI-sponsored post-doctoral training at the Arizona Cancer Center with a focus on diet and cancer prevention. Her research emphasis includes dietary intervention in breast and ovarian cancer survivors, as well as behavioral interventions for weight control and metabolic regulation. She was appointed as the Director of the Canyon Ranch Center of Prevention and Health Promotion at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health a center whose mission is to support a healthier Tucson community.

Part II: Caryn talks about food storage and packaging, her favorite potato pancake recipe, new cream of celery soup recipe, and a the Swingin” Gourmets recording of “The Man With the Bag“.


Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. It’s December 16, 2014, and we have another great show lined up for you today talking about my favorite subject–food, and its relationship to one of my favorite diseases, cancer. And we’ll get into that in just a moment. I wanted to remind you, as I usually do, that my non-profit is Responsible Eating and Living, and I hope you visit our site We have some fun things at this site; I will tell you a little bit more about that later. And any time you have a question regarding this show, anything related to food, please send me a message at I love to hear from you, I love your comments, and I haven’t invited you to message me recently so I thought I might remind you to do that. Great. Shall we get started? So, I want to bring on my guest, Dr. Cynthia Thompson, who is professor in the College of Public Health and holds joint appointments in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona. Dr. Thompson received her PhD from the interdisciplinary program in nutritional sciences at University of Arizona and completed NCI-sponsored post-doctoral training at the Arizona Cancer Center with a focus on diet and cancer prevention. Her research emphasis includes dietary intervention in breast and ovarian cancer survivors as well as behavioral interventions for weight control and metabolic regulation. She was appointed as the director of the Canyon Ranch Center of Prevention and Health Promotion at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, a center whose mission is to support a healthier Tucson community.

Welcome to It’s All About Food, Dr. Thomson!

Dr. Thomson: Oh thank you very much, I’m glad to be here.

Caryn Hartglass: When I saw your recent research publication article in the Journal of National Cancer Institution on diet and ovarian cancer, I thought, “I need to talk to this person.” I was very excited to see that.

Dr. Thomson: Yeah, well there’s not much out there, and so you’re right, it is exciting to have an opportunity with the women’s health initiative to have enough information and enough cases to really start to tease this out and figure out what’s going on.

Caryn Hartglass: So important, I can’t underline how important this is. I know this intimately because I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2006; here I am eight years later, thriving–

Dr. Thomson: Wonderful!

Caryn Hartglass: Yay me, I’m alive! And, it’s not by chance, and it’s not by luck. There were a lot of different things that contributed to my surviving and thriving, and a big piece of that is diet and nutrition. I’ve been immersed in health and diet for a long time so I had access to a lot of information when I was diagnosed. But still, it was so difficult to find information! So when I saw this study, I went, “Yay, let’s talk about this, let’s dig in, and see what you discovered.”

Dr. Thomson: Well, basically, with this analysis, what we did was–it’s not a trial, just to be clear–we looked at data from a large sample of 151,000 postmenopausal women who were in the women’s health initiative, and what was in that cohort, we looked at just 600 women who had developed ovarian cancer. We looked at what their diet quality was before they were diagnosed. So they had told us what they were eating a few times over the course of the observation, and we said “okay, if we look at the quality of that diet, does it predict survival?” And basically what we found was that the women who recorded higher-quality diets had a 27% lower mortality rate over the period of follow-up. So just about eight years, and we found a significant benefit from the diet.

Caryn Hartglass: So that’s a very significant number, and it comes from… I don’t want to say general data, but it’s not really fine-tuned because it wasn’t a specific test where you could really determine what you wanted to look at. You were just taking what you could from data that was already established.

Dr. Thomson: Yeah, so what happens with a lot of these large observational trials, people fill out what’s called a food frequency questionnaire. And these have about 100-150 line items where people tell us what they eat, when they eat it, and how frequently they eat it, and when they eat it, what’s their portion: small medium or large. Then from this, we developed a score: a diet quality score. And we applied what’s called the healthy eating index score. What it does is, it has 10 different factors that it evaluates and then people are given high or low scores depending on how much they eat. So, how much total vegetables, how much total grains, how much total saturated fat, how much total cholesterol, and that becomes a composite score. That composite score tells us the quality of your diet. The advantage of doing that over saying, “Oh was it broccoli or was it grapefruit or was it whole grain?” is, people eat whole diets with a variety of different foods, and while it’s interesting and maybe exciting for the cherry industry if we find that cherries are good, it really doesn’t help people because you can’t eat a diet that’s 100% cherries. So, the quality score really says that it’s all about getting healthy things in and fewer healthy things out and making sure that day in and day out, the quality of your overall diet is healthy.

Caryn Hartglass: So here’s what I like about that message. There are more pharmaceutical companies and supplement companies that want to sell us specific things, like a vitamin, or some concentrated nutrient from something that they say will improve our health or reduce our chance of cancer, or shrink our tumors. But, the message that we really need is that it’s our overall diet of a variety of all the right foods, less of the wrong foods, that’s going to make a difference in our health!

Dr. Thomson: Absolutely. And, it also gives people permission to say, “If I don’t want to eat broccoli today, I don’t have to eat broccoli today, but if I want to, I can” to really say, I can individualize how I get a quality diet.

Caryn Hartglass: Now, this was pretty general, and I know from my own experience that I honed in on some very specific foods because my understanding was they had tremendous power in fighting cancer and boosting my immune system, like cruciferous vegetables and mushrooms and things like that. So does a study like this encourage future studies so you can hone in on which of these foods do more good and which of these foods do less good?

Dr. Thomson: Well this study definitely supports the idea that we need to work with ovarian cancer survivors in trying to improve their diet. It also speaks to the fact that people should always think of a quality diet in terms of primary prevention, and understand that what you do today, tomorrow, when you’re in your 20s or 30s, matters when you’re 50 or 60. So I think it sends a few messages. In terms of finding magic foods, this analysis is not going to give us magic foods. In fact, I don’t think we’ll ever have the studies where we take a 100,000 women and put them on a high-mushroom diet for 20 years and go “okay, mushrooms matter, we have lower rates of ovarian cancer when people eat mushrooms.” And I doubt we’re going to have the studies where we take women diagnosed with ovarian cancer and give them mushrooms and look at outcomes, just for mushrooms. But I can tell you that we have a very large trial going on right now in ovarian cancer survivors, we call it the Live Trials: the Lifestyle Intervention for ovarian cancer and cancer survival. We’re really testing healthy habits and whether they make a difference in terms of prognosis after you’ve been treated for ovarian cancer.

Caryn Hartglass: Who’s participating in this study? I’m just asking because I’m a survivor and I don’t know about it.

Dr. Thomson: So this study is really recruiting people through what we call the gynecological oncology group and the NRG. So these are clinics throughout the nation who participate in clinical trials related to cancer. It’s one of the few that’s really focused on cancer and lifestyle. Many of the trials are trying new drug therapy and therapeutics, but this one is lifestyle. It is targeting women between 6 weeks and 6 months of finishing treatment. So we’re really trying to hit that window early, right after treatment, because that’s when we feel that women are ready to try something new, not totally overwhelmed, which can happen when you’re going through treatment, as you probably know. Yet, if we go too far out, what happens is we get kind of a biased sample of people who survived the disease and we can’t really tease out the effects of this healthy lifestyle. So we’re really targeting, and it’s very exciting that the ovarian cancer community has really stepped up. We’re probably just under 500 women that we’ve recruited in around two years and that is phenomenal for a national trial. Now, why a national trial? Because, the good news is, while ovarian cancer occurs way too much in too many women, it actually is one of the less common cancers, and any one side of the country would have a hard time recruiting over 1,000 women within a reasonable time period. So we hope to finish recruitment within three and a half years; we’re shooting for around 1,080 women. They’ll be randomized some on this trial, and we’re hoping we’ll have some answers within five years. But it takes time, unfortunately.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah it takes time, it takes money, but I believe that for the most part, the information you’re going to find out will apply to not only ovarian cancer, but also other cancers, and other chronic diseases as well.

Dr. Thomson: That’s what we generally find, and we always tell people that yes, the message of healthy eating can be complex, but the good news is, pretty much across the board there are certain behaviors that hold true whether it’s cancer you’re trying to prevent, or diabetes, or cardiovascular diseases, or hypertension strokes. The message is pretty consistent and it starts out with getting to a healthy body weight, and try to maintain it. Do your best to be physically active while you eat healthy, and then start feeling that those eating habits to make sure you’re getting all those nutrient dense foods that you need.

Caryn Hartglass: Now a lot of people are confused about what a healthy diet really is, and I don’t even know that we would agree, but there are many things that most of us who promote a healthy diet, one way or another, will agree on. I think the majority of things that are important.

Dr. Thomson: I think you’re right, we all have our individual viewpoints on what constitutes a healthy diet, and these indexes, like the healthy eating index, guide us so we have some consistency in comparing with people across the world. But yes, I would say I have a bias towards vegetable more so than fruits, or I have a bias towards leafy vegetables more so than iceberg lettuce. Like you said, we don’t have a study, a lot of the basis for our feeling towards certain foods that are healthy come from smaller mechanistic research which says if you do this…

Caryn Hartglass: You’re getting a little fuzzy in the sound; I’m not sure if something’s changed in where you are or what you’re doing–

Dr. Thomson: I don’t think so, is that better?

Caryn Hartglass: That’s better!

Dr. Thomson: Okay, so I won’t move from here. But, I think that it’s important that we realize that foods have a variety of different compounds in them that can be health-promoting, and those compounds act in our bodies in a variety of ways to improve our health. So if you eat something like onions, it may reduce your rick of viral infections, it may promote immunity, it may also reduce inflammation; you have to remember that variety buys you not just a variety of nutrients and vital chemistry, but it also buys you a variety of kind of targets mechanistically that help you have a higher level of health.

Caryn Hartglass: Now when I was diagnosed, I consulted with a number of different, very reputable doctors, and I will never forget some of the responses I got from some of them that I really didn’t respect, and one of them really said that food had nothing to do with my outcome; he said it didn’t really matter what I ate, and I didn’t pursue or keep up with him after, because i knew differently. And I recently heard, I was speaking with a cancer doctor from Memorial Sloan Kettering recently on this show, and she was saying that many of her colleagues really rely on hard science. And that’s hard to come by!

Dr. Thomson: Yeah. Well, a couple of things. One is, if you’re looking for hard science, and by that meaning hard cancer outcomes, you’re talking trials that are hundreds of thousands of people; cancer is a rare disease, particularly ovarian cancer. So you just cannot fund, in a five-year cycle, trial after trial testing different food compounds. It’s not going to happen. And even when we try to do whole diet intervention, with or without physical activity, if you look at the number of trials that are funded that do these behavioral interventions, they can be few and far between in comparison to drug trials because the perception is the drug trial is going to give us a homerun, and the diet trial won’t. I always find it intriguing because, for example, a colleague of mine Rowan Chlebowski was at the San Antonio breast cancer conference last week and presented his data on women’s intervention nutrition study conducted over twenty years ago, low-fat diet, and what he’s finding is that 56% better survival all these years later in women who had triple negative breast cancer, who were on the low-fat diet. And they lost a modest amount of weight; we’re not talking a lot, you know, four to six kilos, not a huge weight loss, but that small amount of weight loss in a postmenopausal woman through a low-fat diet cuts the rate of recurrence in half. That’s pretty powerful drug therapy, in my opinion.

Caryn Hartglass: Has that been published, or was that just an observation?

Dr. Thomson: The original data was published about ten years ago, the shorter term; he just published this in abstract form at the meeting, but knowing Rowan, it will be out in literature within the next several months. So I think part of it is, we don’t have nutrition as a standard component in medical education. When it is there, it tends to get less attention because there’s a lot of things they need to learn and I respect that. But then what happens is, the assumption is if we didn’t learn it, it’s not important. That kind of concerns me, and I think somehow we need to convince the medical profession that diet is not to be all curative, that’s not what we’re talking about; what we’re talking about is the potential to extend life, quality of life, reduce recurrence rates–the evidence is certainly mounting for lifestyles in terms of diet and physical activity. And we at least need to be aware of where we are with that literature.

Caryn Hartglass: You used the word perception before when you were talking about pharmaceutical companies and drugs versus lifestyle research, and more of the funding goes toward the pharmaceutical because we perceive it will have a greater impact. I think that’s such an important concept because I don’t agree. I think that lifestyle is primary, and the diet is primary, and it starts even before we’re born.

Dr. Thomson: Oh absolutely. And I think increasingly we know that. But changing that perception is going to take evidence, and a larger and larger body of evidence to have a major paradigm shift in our approach.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about you and how you got into studying about ovarian cancer and nutritional science! How did you make the connection and realize that this was such an important topic?

Dr. Hartglass: You know, I think for me, I grew up in a home where we always had gardens and we ate healthy. My parents set a good precedent for me to be physically active and eat healthy. I actually contemplated medical school, and then realized–I was a registered dietician, I was working in the hospital setting back in the days when we first started doing bone marrow transplants, and one day I said, “You know this is tough, patients going through BMT suffer quite a bit during the process, and I would really like to prevent cancer.” And you know, to my benefit, and I guess maybe a bit fortuitous, the Arizona Cancer Center at the time had the leading cancer prevention researcher in the nation, Dr. Gabe Albert, running the cancer prevention control program. So I went and met with him and that was at the time when the Wins trial that I mentioned earlier as well as the women’s healthy eating and living trial, both of those, and breast cancer survivors’ diet interventions, were just getting off the ground and moving forward. And my skills as a dietician were obviously beneficial in terms of moving those trials forward at our university site. Once I started, I was… addicted, so to speak. I loved the opportunity to work with survivors, to help them make informed choices, to help them have an impact on their quality of life and their longevity, and I’ve never looked back. Now it’s just a matter of more and more reward as we develop this body of evidence, it’s going to be so important to changing how we treat survivors of cancer.

Caryn Hartglass: And what’s next for you? Are you working on some new research in this area?

Dr. Thomson: Well, the live trials that I mentioned is really a huge trial that we’re undertaking now. We’re about halfway through recruitment, have about 500 women across the country, and we’ll be recruiting up to 1,080, recently got funded to look at blood samples from those women to see what are the nutrients in those samples that may be protective, what impact are we having with diet and physical activity on inflammation, on insulin and glucose metabolism, body weight and adiposity. So we’re going to be looking at a number of different things to show what the mechanism is and how are these things working. Because that is something our research and medical colleagues want to know–how does it work. Even if we do get the magic bullet and find that we have a huge impact on progression pre-survival, there are still going to be those who want to know how do we do that. So we’ll be studying all of that.

Caryn Hartglass: The women who are involved in these trials, are they just reporting what they’re doing, or are you recommending that they follow certain guidelines?

Dr. Thomson: So half the women are given kind of the general guidelines on healthy eating and physical activity, sleep, and wellness, and the others are given a more intense telephone counseling to make specific behavioral changes. So it’s kind of a comparison group, there isn’t really a control group. It’s kind of, here’s what we tell people in the standard of care, and here’s the group where we’re going to rev it up a little bit higher and see if that makes a difference. So at the end of the day we can help people.

Caryn Hartglass: So without a control group, when you publish the study, are people going to respond well to it or criticize that you didn’t have a control group?

Dr. Thomson: Yeah, so you have to look at the change by group over time. And we think we’re going to have enough difference across the groups over time that it will be fine. The issue that you have to balance is, you have people who have been diagnosed with, as you know, a disease that does not generally have a great prognosis. So to tell a woman, “We’re having this healthy eating and physical activity study, and we don’t want you to do anything. Just sit on the couch and eat burgers and fries, whatever” is not really ethically the approach we want to take. so what we want to do is say, “Okay, this is the standard of care.” We tell people eat five a day, say 30 minutes of activity a day, you know, the standards that are out there. And then now with this group we’re going to see if it matters if you do more.

Caryn Hartglass: By five a day, that’s five fruits and vegetables?
Dr. Thomson: Yeah.

Caryn Hartglass: I do know a number of doctors who, over time, wanted to show that their approach really had an impact on one illness or another, and because of that fact where they had to have a control, they didn’t want to subject some of the people in their trials to doing something they knew wouldn’t be healthy for them.

Dr. Thomson: Yeah exactly. So we end up with comparison groups instead of two control groups.

Caryn Hartglass: All right, so I’m curious, what is the intensive version of this study?

Dr. Thomson: Well I don’t want to go into a lot of detail in terms of contaminating the comparison, but certainly it’s based on the current recommendations to being physically activity daily, making sure you get enough vegetables and fruit, making sure you monitor your fat intake and your fiber intake, and so all of those things are considered. Then it really is providing women with a higher level of support to motivational interviewing to really make those changes in the world that they live.

Caryn Hartglass: Well sometimes just knowing that there are people out there supporting you can make a tremendous difference in the outcome.

Dr. Thomson: Absolutely! And we’ll be looking at that, and we’ve pretty much designed this so there’s pretty equivalent support in terms of contact with patients and making sure that we care about them and we’re concerned about their welfare, so absolutely that’ll be something that we’ll be able to look at, the number of telephone calls women participated in, or the number of clinic visits they kept. Those sort of things we’ll track, to see if contact also may be influencing the overall outcome.

Caryn Hartglass: Has there been anything in your nutrition research that has surprised you in its outcome?

Dr. Thomson: I think not surprised me as much as frustrated me. A lot of times what happens in dietary trials is we get the healthiest people. So if I hang a shingle and say come be on my diet trail, whom do I get? I get the women who have probably tried to keep a healthy body weight and tried to stay active and tried to eat her vegetables or fruit. And in reality what I want is everyone. I want the burger king to be vegan. I want to get the variety of different approaches people take to their diet and their activity because that’s the real world I want to translate this information to. And so if anything I think my message would be, if you had an opportunity to participate in a lifestyle study, don’t rule yourself out because you think you might not eat very healthy, or you think you might not be very active. You are the exact participant that we want to support in making these changes.

Caryn Hartglass: I’ve never heard that before, but that’s actually a fascinating point, and I can see how people individually make that assumption, “I’m not right for this study because I’m doing all the wrong things.”

Dr. Thomson: Yeah, actually that’s the perfect candidate because more likely to improve their health over time.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, I’d love to participate in one of these lifestyle studies. Where do you find out about them?

Dr. Thomson: So the live trials is actually in the national cancer institute database and I know I’ve had a lot of women contact me by email over the last two years checking their eligibility, trying to find out more about the trial. We’ve been out talking to people at the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition meeting [30:29], we have it on websites. So we’ve been trying to promote it and it seems to be working because we’ve certainly had really favorable recruitments in a very short time period compared to a lot of other trials.

Caryn Hartglass: You know you mentioned wanting to get that broad spectrum of people who eat at Burger King to the vegans, and I’m a long term vegan, but even among vegans, there are unhealthy vegans and healthy vegans–there’s a wide range just in that tiny category. It’s so complicated.

Dr. Thomson: It is, and I always say, we do have our Twinkie vegans.

C: I’m just curious, what do they serve at some of these National Coalition meetings when it comes to food?

Dr. Thomson: You know, that’s another interesting hot topic. I go to a lot of different cancer meetings and it’s a gamut as you know. I will put in a plug–we have a group here at the integrative medicine center where Every year we put on a nutrition and health conference, and it’s one of the few conferences I’ve been to where we have used the break times and the mealtimes to educate. So one break could be like teas of the world, and drink different teas and the benefit of teas, and another might be the dark chocolate and cocoas of the world, and the lunch would be maybe serve up something like salmon with whole walnuts chopped over, glazed with kale, butternut squash, and lime juice. We really do everything in our power to send that message. I think that’s something that’s really important. I have another meeting I’m involved with for the Mediterranean diet and health, it’s going to be in January here in our nutritional sciences department, and again, the message is food matters and you need to use those break opportunities to train people up on how to eat healthy. But, anyone who’s done meeting logistics knows that it adds a level of complexities to what you’re trying to do, but I think people probably learn as much from these breaks at these meetings when you do it right, as they do from the meeting content itself.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, we’ve come a long way but we have such a long way to go because if you go to any kind of anti-smoking conference or lung association something or other, they’re not going to be serving cigarettes and cigars at that meeting. And yet we have so many cancer related or health-related conferences where they’re serving cancer-promoting foods, not health-promoting foods.

Dr. Thomson: I think it’s getting better, but–

Caryn Hartglass: Well I was just at the Head and Neck Cancer cancer conference keynote morning extravaganza event in New York City a few months ago, this was sponsored by the Memorial Sloan Kettering, they were celebrating their 100th year anniversary of the Head and Neck Cancer department, and the break time, I mean it was a disaster! It was white flower food, sugary foods, everything was white and flour, and cream cheese, and it was cancer food.

Dr. Thomson: I think a lot of times the meal times and breaks become an afterthought, and no one is really charged with looking at the nutritional benefit and the huge opportunity to send a health message. I mean, it’s just a huge opportunity! I went to the American Cancer Research, Oral Cancer Research fund meetings in DC in the end of October. they did a fabulous job making sure they were sending the message and walking the talk. So I think you’re right, it’s an important thing we need to evaluate and we need to do it more consistently. I’m just hopeful that the message is out there as I’m going to more and more conferences I’m starting to see that message now. The conferences I’m talking about are diet and cancer, and diet and health, so there’s probably a higher level of awareness than at more generic cancer meetings.

Caryn Hartglass: Sure, well if you’re including diet and cancer in the same sentence then I think that implies there’s a connection.

Dr. Thomson: Right, so you ought to do it right. But really everyone should be. Like you said, these are learning opportunities and we should take advantage of sending the right message.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, I’m very happy you got your research published, and when people Google diet and ovarian cancer they can easily get this summary that states healthy diets do make a difference in mortality and lowering the mortality risk in ovarian cancer. That’s such important and good news.

Dr. Thomson: Yes. Absolutely. And soon we’ll have a large trial that really evaluates this with a higher level of evidence, and I’m looking forward to those trial results.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah me too! I’m looking forward to those results. So I’ll be looking out for them. Thank you so much for joining me Dr. Thompson on It’s All About Food, and I wish you very happy holidays!

Dr. Thomson: Thank you so much! I appreciate the opportunity to talk about something I love.

Caryn Hartglass: I do too.

Dr. Thomson: Take care!

Caryn Hartglass: Take care, bye bye. Okay, let’s take a quick break, shall we? I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food, and we’ll be back in just a few minutes.

Transcribed by Julienne Wey, 1/11/2015


Hello everybody! This is the second part of “It’s All About Food.” Thank you for joining me, I’m Caryn Hartglass, and it is December 9, 2014.

Okay, I’m going to enjoy this next part; I get to talk about all the things I’ve been reading about that I’m either excited about or concerned about or scared about, and I thought I’d share some of those thoughts with you. So you may have heard in the news or in the blog or somewhere in the media about this one North Carolina farmer, Craig Watts, who raises about 720,000 chickens, and he actually invited an organization, an animal welfare group, Compassion in World Farming, to document the conditions at his farm. You may know that one of the crazy things about factory farming today is that people are not allowed to go in and see what’s going on and many of us have been saying the reason for that is if we could see what was going on, if factory farms had glass walls, people wouldn’t want to eat the animals that are being raised there for food, because the conditions are filthy and horrific and the animals are just treated horribly.

So this one very brave farmer let this organization in, there is a video that you can watch which is a summary of the things they discovered; it’s at Compassion in World Farming, their website is Interestingly, surprisingly, I don’t know, Purdue came in–so this farmer worked, he was contracted out and raised chickens for Purdue and there are all kinds of rules they have to follow in order to do this–right after this exposé and said, “We’re going to audit you now.” And everyone is saying they’re doing it as kind of in response to what happened. But I think this is really an interesting opportunity; Nicholas Kristoff in the New York Times wrote about it in the Opinion pages last week. He’s a brave source, he brings up a lot of interesting topics… Sometimes I think he may be a wannabe vegan because he brings up these things we need to be talking about, but I come to a different conclusion when I read stories like this, when I learn about stories like this.

The group, Compassion in World Farming, the people who did this exposé and video, their conclusion is that factory farming needs to end–I totally agree with that. But, they believe that we can create a better chicken that’s treated better and a better chicken we can ultimately slaughter and eat. I always like to go by a phrase my dad uses very often: “If you can’t solve the problem, you eliminate it.” And I believe eliminating eating chickens and all animals is really the solution to this problem. the thing is it’s been getting worse over the years where people are trying to find more ways to profit from any business, and from the livestock business, the way to profit, the way to make more of what you’re selling is unfortunately to confine these animals in very, very horrific conditions. It’s just the nature of the beast! And I would just like to see factory farming end, and we don’t need to eat these poor animals. If you look at the video, I don’t know how anybody could want to participate in the eating of these animals when you see what they go through. They have these raw, red bellies, and some of them are so weak they can’t stand up. One of the good things that’s come out of this so far is that, Purdue used to label their chickens as “humanely raised,” and they recently settled the suit with the Humane Society of the United States to remove that line from some of their packaging.

So it makes you wonder. Well, I don’t wonder. I just don’t trust these guys. Now, one thing about chickens, not just the horrific conditions that these sentient animals go through, but in order to raise chickens, we need to feed them, and everything’s linked to everything else, okay, follow me with this. We raise food, plants, for these animals to eat, and we grow the food with herbicides and pesticides, and we put arsenic in the animal feed, and there’s also arsenic in some of the pesticides, and this gets concentrated in the chicken, and then later on, the chicken manure is used as fertilizer. You know where I’m leading with this? The fertilizer is often used to grow rice. And a couple of years ago, there was a study that came out that talked about arsenic in our food and rice had a tremendous amount, and more than what was recommended that we consume, or at least the limit, though there are no federally-regulated limits of how much arsenic we can get in our foods.

Well, consumer reports just came out with a news study recently, last month in fact, and I think it’s great. there’s some good news on there and some not so good news. They’ve done more comprehensive tests on how much arsenic is in certain foods. So what do we learn from this? Well, basmati rice from India, Pakistan, or California, and sushi rice, from the United States, have the lowest levels, of what they call inorganic arsenic compound. And that’s compared with other kinds of rice. That’s like, more than half, of what’s found in other rice products from Texas and Louisiana as an example, which have quite a bit more. So there’s a way to have rice and avoid a significant amount of arsenic. But there’s a lot of things that you do want to avoid, and the sad thing is this impacts children a great deal, and children especially that are on gluten-free diets. Because many of them go to rice products and that includes babies too; they’re fed rice cereals, and this can be really detrimental because they can get very high doses of arsenic in their little baby bodies. And brown rice, we all love brown rice, but the problem is brown rice tends to have more arsenic in it because the arsenic tends to concentrate in the exterior part of the rice.

Now some people have gotten around this by rinsing the rice before they cook it, or cooking it in a lot of water and draining it and rinsing it, but you lose nutrition when you do that. So there seems to be all of these compromises that we have to go through. So what? What’s the good news? The good news is, they also tested other grains, and pseudo-grains, as we call them, and the good news is, amaranth, millet, quinoa, al have significantly less of this inorganic arsenic than the rice. Now I just want to clarify something, you don’t need to be a chemist to understand this, but a lot of these articles talk about arsenic and they talk about the two main chemical types, inorganic and organic. When we talk about organic from a chemical perspective, we’re not talking about the department of agriculture’s definition, the USDA talking about how we grow our food, we’re talking about chemical terms here. And organic arsenic is talking about how the arsenic itself is hooked up in a chemical molecule. So there are two kinds, organic and inorganic, and apparently it’s the inorganic forms that are considered to be the most harmful, although it’s also believed that the organic form can change into inorganic. So they both aren’t good. But some of these reports specifically call out organic or inorganic.

I’m just so glad this test was done, because when I first discovered this information about arsenic in rice, I kept saying, “Well we’re all scared about rice now,” but what about all the other grains? And I was thinking they probably all have high levels of arsenic, and the good news is that they don’t. So double whammy here. This is another reason not to raise chickens in factory farms and feed them food that has been grown with pesticides containing arsenic, and not to add arsenic to their feed, and they do that because–and also to pink feed as well– it’s supposed to promote growth and prevent disease. And disease is a big item in factory farms because the animals are confined, they’re all very close together and they’re in a very filthy situation so it’s very easy for the disease to spread. So what we do is feed them all sorts of toxic chemicals to kill those diseases, and when we eat them or if we at least get plants that are grown with manure from these animals, we get toxic chemicals on our food.

All right so I’m looking at the end of this lovely report, and when we’re talking about how many parts per billion arsenic is in some of these foods, the rices that they’ve compared are typically in the range of fifty to 150, and 50 being not so bad and 150 obviously being pretty concentrated. The other grains, amaranth is at 6.2, barley 10.4, buckwheat 5.6, bulgar 8.4, farro 7.3, millet 12.1, polenta grits 4.2, and quinoa 12.5. These are significantly lower. And so that’s a nice thing! Nature provides us with a variety of foods, and now we’ve been hearing terrible things not only about arsenic in rice, but many people are concerned about wheat and gluten–sensitivity, celiac disease–there’s a whole host of reasons people are choosing to stay away from wheat, and now we have these reasons to stay away from rice, or at least some of the rice. There are still some pretty good, innocent and nutritious grains for us to eat. Some of my favorites are millet and buckwheat, and polenta–love polenta.

Now let’s talk about quinoa for a minute, shall we? And quinoa has a very low level of arsenic in it, that’s great, quinoa is very nutritious. Quinoa’s become a very sexy grain, it’s very high in protein and we see more quinoa available, it’s become very mainstream, you can find salads with it, and it’s often served instead of rice, and it’s delicious! It’s great because it cooks, quickly too, and you can sprout it! You can eat sprouted quinoa, like a sprouted quinoa tabouli instead of using a bulgar wheat, and you can do lots of wonderful things with quinoa. One of the things to keep in mind when you’re preparing quinoa is you need to rinse it, of course, a few times, before you prepare it, otherwise it will have a very bitter taste, because of the coating that’s on the quinoa that’s quite bitter.

All right, quinoa’s great isn’t it? Well, every food has its story. Have you noticed how the price of quinoa is just outrageous these days? I remember when I first started buying quinoa, it was still quite pricey at $3.99 a pound, and now I’ve seen it up where it’s like $6.99 a pound, and I really can’t afford it anymore! It’s expensive! But the problem is bigger than that. We live in a global society and it has its advantages and disadvantages, and food is a big part of that. So quinoa, for a long time, has been grown in the Andean highlands of Bolivia and Peru, and there are many different varieties of quinoa, although we’ve seen only a few here in the United States unfortunately you may have heard this, but because we’re really loving quinoa up here, the farmers that are making it are getting a lot more money for it, that’s good, they’re able to buy cars and better houses, and send their kids to school, but it’s becoming more and more difficult for the locals in Bolivia and Peru to afford it. I can’t afford it, they can’t afford it, and it’s something they’ve been growing up with and living on for hundreds of years, maybe even longer! And they can’t afford it anymore because of the exports. What we eat here in the United States and many other countries has such a tremendous impact on other countries, poorer countries that are growing a lot of our food; for a long time this has been the case with sugar and coffee and tobacco which is in the food, but commodity products like cocoa and coffee and sugar. Farmers that have land, when they know people want to buy things, they’ll grow what people want to buy and what can be exported, and that leaves less land available to grow nutritious food, especially for the people that are growing those products in their own countries. And quinoa is the new kid on the block that is causing some of these issues. So what do we do? Do we not eat quinoa?

I don’t really know what the solution is. One of the solutions would be to grow it where we need it. So why can’t we grow some in the United States? Some people have been trying, it’s kind of difficult, I think we’ll see more quinoa grown around the world. But another problem is the countries that have been growing it for a long time, want to protect it, want to protect their seed, and they don’t want to share it, because they don’t want this food that’s been such an important part in their culture and such an important part of their economy to be taken away from them. So there are issues with sharing, and I don’t really know what the answer is there, but I think it would be nice if we were able to grow certain varieties of quinoa here and not have as much of an impact on those who might want to buy that food that they’ve been eating for so long, and not be able to afford it now.

Okay so that goes into, what other foods are like this? And are you familiar with maca? I remember a number of times, I learned about maca. It’s a root, and we get it here processed into a powder. I think I first heard about it from Brendan Brazier, the incredible athlete from Canada, I’ve had him on this program a number of times, he’s a really nice guy, and he does excellent work. He frequently talks about adding maca to the diet for health reasons, and it helps athletes, especially in being able to heal quickly so they can do more workouts. It has all kinds of benefits, and it’s grown in Peru–where quinoa is also grown. Apparently it’s becoming another hot item outside of Peru, they’re exporting a lot of it, and the price is going outrageously up, where it might’ve been $20 a pound, and now it’s $30 a pound. The country has some control; for example, they don’t export fresh maca. What they do is they process it in the country and export it out, and they do that intentionally to keep that processing work in their own country. It’s just incredible what we do as humans, and people are actually smuggling this maca out and bringing it to Bolivia to be processed and then shipping it over to China, where they’re really interested in it apparently, because it’s supposed to have aphrodisiac-type properties amongst other things. So there’s this issue with maca. I haven’t used it in a long time, I remember I bought a bag of maca powder and put it in some smoothies a really long time ago, and then I sort of just forgot about it. It just went bad in my refrigerator… And looking at this now, I feel really bad about it because it’s such a valuable food these days and some people would probably kill for it. And Peru doesn’t want to share the seeds, they don’t want to share the ability to control these native species, and it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with maca.

Whew! Can you believe it? Every food has its story. And something that I believe in is, it’s best, as much as we can, to eat locally. So we’ve heard about a lot of these different berries, some exotic berries from tropical areas that are so high in antioxidants, and they’re really expensive; people really capitalize on this and sell all kinds of bottled drinks. You know we can get these nutrients from foods in our own area. We don’t have to go and buy these expensive, exotic foods for the most part. So I say stick locally to standard foods and don’t go with these crazy trends to try foods that are supposed to be the “magic cure,” because they’re not going to be the magic cure. They might provide some excellent nutrition, but the best way to really be healthy is to eat a whole, minimally processed, plant-based diet, organic, avoid the things in a box, and maybe even like what Steve Meyerowitz was saying, do a couple of juice fasts to give your body a break from time to time; that’s it. I don’t think we need to have these superfoods that may even totally disrupt in a negative way the economy of another country. Do we need to do that?

Well here we go, one last thing before I go. I love millet, and I just posted a new recipe on It’s a cereal using millet, and we don’t have to eat wheat or rice at all, or as often as we do, there are some wonderful grains out there, so I say meet millet! Get to know your millet and check out the recipe that we just provided on How about that? I think we’ve come to the end of another show. So, I want to wish you a very very delicious week. Bye bye.

Transcribed by Julienne Wey, 1/24/2015

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