I often get phone calls from consumers looking for nutritional advice related to specific illnesses. It’s not uncommon for someone to start a conversation by explaining that some family member has cancer and they want advice on which produce items will help their recovery.
I always recommend these people talk to their doctors. But in my discussions I also find some confusion over the 5-a-Day message. Consumers hear fruits and vegetables associated with cancer and determine that somehow if you have cancer, fruits and vegetables will cure you.
The truth is the 5-a-Day effort, even in its original incarnation associated with the National Cancer Institute, is about preventing cancer, not curing cancer.
Obviously good nutrition is important for cancer patients. But often, either as a result of the cancer or of the treatment for cancer, the patients have a compromised immune system.
It is standard for patients given bone marrow transplants, for example, to be forbidden all fresh fruits and vegetables as bacteria and other pathogens are common on these foods. People with normal immune systems shake this off. But for people with a compromised immune system, such bacteria could be deadly.
From a marketing perspective, it is a nightmare as it causes confused messages: How can you tell the public at large that fruits and vegetables are healthy, while telling a sub-set of the population to proceed with caution?
Yet the truth is that people with compromised immune systems should eat canned produce and pasteurized juices.
People rarely die from ingesting E. coli. It is E. coli combined with a compromised immune system that kills you.