By Tammy Fansabedian, Registered Dietitian
Do any of these sound familiar? Making sense of all the information on nutrition and cancer that comes our way is difficult. We all have well-meaning friends and family who want to tell us about what their friend’s coworker did to cure “this”, and we are bombarded by the media about products that will cure “that”. These messages are often conflicting, confusing and, unfortunately, incorrect. This misinformation can lead patients and family members to make unnecessary and sometimes harmful decisions about their nutrition and health.
Your healthcare team provides you with only information that has been researched and proven. This is often called “evidence-based”. Here are some common nutrition myths and the facts behind them.
Sugar and Cancer Growth
Lately, one of the most frequent questions I get asked by patients is about sugar and cancer “growth”. The myth is that sugar, a carbohydrate, will make the cancer grow faster than any other nutrient. The truth is that yes, cancer cells do use sugar for energy, but so do all of our healthy cells. Sugar doesn’t make cancer grow faster and depriving it of sugar doesn’t slow the growth.
Eating a lot of refined sugar is not good for our health in part because these foods may cause weight gain. But it’s also important to think about your health status. If you are in treatment and having trouble eating and maintaining your weight, you may not want to restrict your diet even more. It is OK to rely on oatmeal with brown sugar or liquid supplements (like Ensure®) if that’s all you can keep down. These foods are providing you with so many other nutrients like protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals that you need.
Are Organic Foods Better For You?
Organic foods are grown without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and are often more expensive than conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables. The cost of organic produce may cause us to buy, and therefore eat, less fruits and vegetables.
There is no research that shows that eating organic foods reduces the risk of cancer. Studies also show that there is no significant difference in the nutritional quality between conventionally grown and organic products. There are so many health and cancer-protecting benefits from the vitamins, minerals and fibre in any form of fruit and vegetable that it would be a shame to restrict intake for the sake of only being able to buy a small amount or selection of the organics.
Ultimately, deciding to buy organic food is a choice. It may be based on personal beliefs including farming sustainability, but it shouldn’t be based on the basis of gaining more nutrients or reducing cancer risk. Whatever you choose, be sure to wash your fresh produce well!
Alkaline versus Acidic Foods
Some people believe that cancer cells cannot survive in an alkaline environment (the opposite of acidic), and therefore we should eat foods that are more alkaline and not acidic. Unfortunately, most of the “acidic” foods that would be cut out are foods that provide many of us with much-needed protein, like meats and dairy.
More importantly, there are a few key facts that are being overlooked by removing or reducing acidic foods from your diet. There is no evidence to support the fact that eating only alkaline foods will prevent cancer or any other diseases. Our bodies tightly regulate our levels of acidity and we are simply not able to change it by the foods that we eat – and that’s probably a good thing! Cancer cells may not be able to survive in an alkaline environment but neither can our healthy cells.