2004-07-15 / Medical

"Carbs Cause Cancer"—Stories Get It Wrong

"Carbs Cause Cancer"—Stories Get It Wrong

Early news reports of a study published several months ago in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute have drastically and dangerously oversimplified that study’s conclusions. My colleagues and I are concerned that misleading head-lines like "Carbs Cause Cancer!" will further confuse and frustrate a public that is trying to make simple healthful decisions every day.

Two important points need to be made about the JNCI article, in which researchers analyzed data from the ongoing Women’s Health Study.

1. The study concluded only that diets with high glycemic loads – that is, diets rich in processed foods like white bread, white rice and other foods made from refined grains (cakes, cookies, chips, etc.) as well as other high-glycemic foods like potatoes and corn – were associated with increased risk of colorectal cancer. The carbohydrates at the lower end of the glycemic scale, such as vegetables and pro-ducts made from whole grains, were not associated with increased risk.

(In fact, hundreds of studies have shown for years that diets rich in a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans are consistently associated with lower cancer risk in general, and lower colorectal cancer risk in particular.)

2. No single study, however large or well conducted, is capable of mandating dietary change, let alone eliciting sweeping pronouncements like "Carbs Cause Cancer!" These results must first be compared to past research and must inspire investigations that are better able to address the many specific questions that the current study only raises.

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