Eat Jewish to stay healthy, advises top cancer doctor

Excessive worry is 'bad for your health', says French oncologist Dr David Khayat


The former chairman of France’s National Cancer Institute has said that a traditional Jewish life, with its cycle of indulgence and abstinence, is the healthiest way to live.

In his latest book, French oncologist David Khayat argues that in modern times we worry too much about our daily intake of sugar, salt, fat, meat and alcohol. 

A balanced lifestyle, with meat, wine and sex enjoyed in moderation, is ideal, he said – an approach that aligns with ancient Jewish wisdom.

Speaking exclusively to the JC, he pointed out that the Torah recommends having sex, meat and wine on Shabbat eve. “It’s not that you’re supposed to have sex every day, or that you have to eat meat every day,” he said. 

“But there are special moments, and you have to accept that life is not the same every day.”

Excessive worry is “bad for your health”, the oncologist added, damaging your self-esteem, increasing anxiety levels and making you unhappy. Instead, he advocates a balanced and joyful approach to food.

“We see people that are completely threatened by the fact that they have finally had some French fries,” he said.

“They feel that they’re going to die now, that it’s dangerous. It’s not. You can have French fries today, but don’t eat French fries tomorrow.”

For example, the risk of colon cancer caused by eating processed meat every day jumps only slightly, from 18 per cent to 20 per cent, when the portion is doubled, he said. “The increase is totally negligible.”

Professor Khayat, 64, who moved to France from Tunisia as a child in the 1960s, described his approach as “very Jewish”.

Recalling his family’s Shabbat meals, he said: “Food was a means to express love, more than a means to give you calories. 

“This is very Jewish, very north African Jewish. It influenced my personality, my education, my achievements.” 

Growing up, Shabbat dinners were the only weekly meal during which his “very poor” family could afford to serve meat, he added. “They were superb dinners, the best dinner of the week.”

His mother’s cooking was served communally, without individual plates. “If I left one piece of food that was in the middle of the table, my mother, instead of asking me ‘don’t you like the food?’, she would say ‘don’t you like me?’.”

Railing against health diktats which can foster a collective delusion that death, old-age and illness can be avoided, he added:  “It’s wrong. You’re going to be sick. You’re going to be old and you’re going to die. 

“There is a kind of fantasy where they try to make you forget completely what is going to happen.”

Prof Khayat previously headed a Parisian hospital’s oncology department and formerly chaired France’s National Cancer Institute. His 45-year career saw him receive a flurry of awards for his contribution, including a CBE.

Life should be “honoured”, he said. “Make great souvenirs, great moments, great times of happiness and not just try to make it longer by burning it slowly and slowly. 

“You will die either way. But instead of dying with a smile, you will die without any happiness.”

He stressed the difference between risk and danger. “We know that sharks are very dangerous for human beings, so going into the sea is really dangerous, but is it risky? No, because the chance you will meet a shark is negligible.”

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