Nutrition With Cancer Myths

by Jane Ashley

We all want to eat healthier. But how do we separate truth from fiction? There are so many food myths when it comes to those of us who have cancer or are cancer survivors.

Eat Healthier

Some dietitians and nutritionists specialize in cancer patients. They help people who are losing too much weight, and they help those who need to lose weight so that they can have potentially life-saving surgery. They provide dietary guidelines based on facts — not fads or fiction.
Let’s do a little myth-busting. You’re going to learn that we need a wide variety of foods to stay healthy — including lean meats, beans, fruits, nuts, vegetables, seeds, and whole grains. Variety adds “spice” to our life.

Meat.

There is no evidence that a vegetarian or vegan diet prevents cancer or reduces the risk of recurrence any more than eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, along with moderate amounts of meat.

Eat Slowly

We need protein in our diets. Protein helps our body repair damaged tissues and rebuilt muscle mass lost during cancer treatment. We shouldn’t eat more than 18 oz. of red meat weekly — red meat includes beef, pork, and lamb. It’s fine to eat a nice, juicy hamburger, an 8-oz. beef filet, and some pork tenderloin within a week. If we intersperse our beef consumption with chicken, turkey, fish, and shrimp, we’ll be eating within the recommendations and feel satisfied too. All experts recommend eliminating processed meats.

Milk and Milk Products.

Milk is a good source of calcium (providing 30% of our daily calcium requirement) and protein (1 cup = 8 grams). It’s available in both low-fat and full-fat, depending on which variety your doctor recommends.

However, some people are lactose-intolerant, so they may turn to soy, almond, coconut, or cashew milk. Soy milk, nutritionally, is an excellent choice as a non-milk substitute — it contains the same amount of protein, calcium, and potassium as cow’s milk. Some breast cancer patients may have heard that soy milk and other soy-based products aren’t safe for them to consume. However, soy products (milk, tofu, and edamame) are safe to consume in moderate amounts (1-2 servings daily) for breast cancer survivors.

Almond and coconut milk are not nutritionally equal to cows or soy milk — you should consider them as expensive substitutes for water.

Organic.

You don’t have to feel guilty if you can’t afford to buy organic food products. There is no “compelling” evidence that eating organic foods will prevent cancer or reduce recurrence. The truth is that traditionally-farmed produce has very little pesticide residue — organic farmers may use “organic” pesticides that not necessarily less toxic.

The most important fact to remember is that eating lots of fruits and vegetables (whether organic or not) is one of the healthiest decisions that we can make. We, as survivors, usually don’t eat enough fruits or vegetables. The recommended daily intake is five servings total — combine them however you want — two fruits and three vegetables, or vice versa. One cup of leafy greens is considered a serving. Most vegetable portions are ½ cup.

Superfoods.

The idea that there are “superfoods” is another myth. No amount of juice will cure cancer. You can’t eat enough turmeric to cure cancer. Superfoods are a marketing ploy to get you to buy their company’s product. There is no “magic” berry or “miraculous” root vegetable.
Sugar.

“Sugar feeds cancer” is another myth that continues to be perpetuated. Every cell in our body utilizes glucose. The carbohydrates and sugars that we eat are converted into glucose to provide energy for cells to perform their specific tasks. Both healthy cells and cancerous cells use glucose.

Our only risk is when we consume too much “junk food,” which is usually high in carbohydrates but without much nutritional value. We’ve also become a nation addicted to high-sugar drinks. The consumption of too many sugary drinks and too much “junk food” leads to the development of Type 2 diabetes and obesity — both increase the risk of developing cancer.

Do Not Feel Guilty About Birthday Cake

But sugar, in and of itself, doesn’t feed cancer. Unless we have uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes, we need not feel guilty if we have that piece of cake.

How can we eat healthier?

It’s a simple formula. You don’t have to make a dramatic switch. Make some healthy substitutes over a few months. Here’s what we’re aiming for every day:
• 4-5 cups of fruits and vegetables
• 6 servings of whole grains (swap out white bread and white pasta for whole-grain varieties)
• 1+ serving of beans, nuts, or seeds
• 8 cups of water, unsweetened tea, or unsweetened coffee
• About 50 grams of protein daily even for those over 65
• Fiber — 21-25 grams for women and 30-38 grams for men

Eats Lots Of Fruit And Veggies

It’s easy to stray from good eating habits, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Replace “junk food” with healthier snacks, like protein bars, fruit, and cheese. Learn portion control — eating out of a potato chip bag is a recipe for disaster. Measure out a portion and eat more slowly and savor the flavor. It only takes about three weeks to develop new habits.

To learn more about cancer nutrition and find some healthy recipes, visit CANCER DIETITIAN.

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