There are plenty of myths related to cancer nutrition care. Some people say that you will have to avoid some food due to their potential bad impacts on cancer. Is it true?
Let’s take a look at the common myths and the facts behind them.
#1 Does Sugar Really “Feed” or Cause Cancer?
Myth: I cannot take white rice because it is sugar and sugar feed cancerous cells.
Fact: ALL cells in our body use sugar (glucose) for energy to function. We cannot control which cells use glucose and which do not.
According to the Cancer Research UK, cutting out sugar doesn’t help treat cancer or slow down the growth, and sugar doesn’t directly cause cancer or speed up the growth of cancer cell.
#2 Does Sugar Cause Cancer or Speed Up Its Growth?
Myth: Sugar “feeds” cancer cells as they require lots of energy to grow faster than usual.
Fact: Too many sugary foods in the diet could lead to weight gain, and there is strong evidence that overweight or obesity increases the risk of a number of different types of cancer.
Avoiding all carbohydrate foods will deprive energy for healthy cells which is necessary for recovery. Instead of choosing foods that are high in added sugars, it is recommended to opt for complex carbohydrates such as rice and bread, which contain other essential nutrients such as fibre, vitamins and minerals.
If you have trouble eating and maintaining your weight during the treatment, you can take oatmeal or liquid supplement, as these foods also provide other nutrients such as protein, fats, vitamins and minerals. Follow the advice of dietitian on the appropriate amount to be consumed.
#3 Should I Avoid Dairy Products as Milk Contains Hormone Which Can Cause Cancer?
Myth: Milk should be avoided because it contains hormones that can cause cancer.
Fact: There is no data to suggest that hormones present in milk can survive in digestion or produce components that would have biological effects. Besides, hormone receptors in humans do not recognize cow hormones and cannot produce effects in humans.
Milk and dairy products are good sources of protein. You can still take milk and dairy products unless you are having lactose intolerance or lactose sensitivity which may cause you to be bloated or diarrhoea.
#4 Can Ketogenic Diet Beat Cancer?
Myth: Ketogenic diet is good for cancer patients as the low carb, high protein ketogenic diet cuts out carbohydrates to starve cancer cells of glucose.
Fact: Based on Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, the ketogenic diet is a medical treatment that should only be undertaken with a dietitian (usually for epilepsy), regular blood monitoring and medical support due to the potential side-effects. In the wrong patient and in certain circumstances, this diet can be dangerous.
There is currently no evidence that the ketogenic diet alone will treat brain tumours or any other type of cancer. Therefore, you should talk to your health professional before embarking on it unsupervised.
#5 Can I Take Alkaline Diet to Beat Cancer?
Myth: Alkaline diet can make the pH of the body or blood more alkaline (less acidic), making it hard for cancer cells to live.
Fact: pH of the blood is maintained within a very narrow range by your kidneys, regardless of the diet. Only urine pH may be affected by diet. If kidney function is normal, the body maintains optimal blood pH regardless of diet. If you consume alkaline diet, any extra acid or alkali is removed through urine, so all you will change is the pH of this waste product.
Although the alkaline diet does encourage fruits and vegetable intakes like other healthy eating patterns, according to the British Dietetic Association, it is not supported by any evidence for its effectiveness and safety. American Institute of Cancer Research also stated that altering the cell environment of the human body to create a less-acidic, less-cancer-friendly environment is virtually impossible.
To beat cancer, you should choose more plant-based foods for overall health. Many acidic foods are also nutritious and beneficial for recovering.
#6 Should I Only Take Organic Food When Having Cancer Treatment?
Myth: Organic food is free from chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which are the potential carcinogens for cancer, hence it is good for cancer patients.
Fact: There is no evidence showing that eating organic food can reduce the risk of cancer (cancer-protective). Research showed that there is no significant difference in terms of nutritional quality between conventional and organic grown food. Benefits from fruits and vegetables outweigh the risk of residues.
The selection of organic food is based on individual preference. Most importantly, wash your fresh produce thoroughly and also cook thoroughly during preparation to prevent foodborne illness.
#7 Should I Avoid Chicken and Eggs During Cancer Treatment?
Myth: Chicken and eggs should be avoided as they increase the risk of cancer.
Fact: You should not avoid chicken and eggs. Research showed that eating eggs does not increase the risk of ovarian and prostate cancer. Eggs are rich in protein and B vitamins, which is beneficial for immunity level, maintaining body weight and improve metabolism.
However, it is suggested to take fully-cooked eggs. Avoid half-boiled eggs which may contain bacteria that increases the risk of infection.
#8 Breast Cancer Survivors Should Avoid Soy?
Myth: Isoflavones in soy can act like estrogen in the body, and increased estrogen has been linked to certain types of breast cancer.
Fact: Soybean contains isoflavone, which is a plant-based estrogen. They sound the same but actually, they are different. In an animal study, rodents process soy differently from human, and the same results have not been seen in human.
Major population studies show that eating 1 to 2 standard serving of soy daily does not increase a woman’s risk for cancer recurrence, and does not show harmful interaction with anti-estrogen medications. Another study showed that estrogen effects of soy seem to either have no effect at all or to reduce breast cancer risk (especially in Asian countries, where lifelong intake is higher than the US). This may be due to isoflavones can actually block the more potent natural estrogens in the blood.
From the studies above, it can be concluded that the health benefits of soy appear to outweigh any potential risk. Eating traditional or whole soy foods such as tofu, tempeh, edamame, miso, and soymilk may lower the risk of breast cancer, especially among Asian women.
In addition, soy foods are excellent sources of protein, especially when they replace other, less healthy foods such as animal fats and red or processed meats. Soy foods have been linked to lower rates of heart disease and may even help lower cholesterol.
The AICR considers the consumption of one to two servings of whole soy foods per day safe for the general public and breast cancer survivors but doesn't recommend the use of soy protein isolate supplements.
#9 Can I Take Supplements During Cancer Treatment?
Myth: Cancer patients should consume supplements to obtain more nutrients that are harder for them to obtain from diet due to therapy.
Fact: More supplements does not mean that it is better. There are many other untested active plant compounds that are widely available in dietary supplements. Also, many things out on the shelves that really have not been thoroughly investigated on how they will interact with anything that you eat, or certainly any treatment that you're undergoing. This may affect the patient's treatment by influencing how their body metabolizes their treatment plan. It could possibly cause unexpected side effects, poor response to treatment or, even worse, hospitalization. Therefore, always speak to your oncology team before taking any supplement.
Then, what should be avoided during cancer treatment?
When you have low white blood cell, make sure you follow the food safety:
- Cook all your food and avoid any raw food to reduce the risk of foodborne illness and infection
- Avoid these raw food:
- Sashimi (Raw Salmon)
- Unpasteurized milk
- Half-boiled EggRe
- Raw veggie
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- British Nutrition Foundation (2018). FAQs: Cancer – Nutrition Myths. Retrieved August 20, 2020, from https://bit.ly/34BPyaR
- Larsson, Susanna C., Leif Bergkvist, and Alicja Wolk. "Consumption of sugar and sugar-sweetened foods and the risk of pancreatic cancer in a prospective study–." The American journal of clinical nutrition 84.5
- Malaysian Dietitan Association (2020). Nutrition And Cancer; Myth Or Fact. Retrieved August 20, 2020 from https://bit.ly/2EEPJrb