When it comes to cancer and diet, myths have a way of getting in the way of the facts. So we talked with Rebekah Culp, dietitian at Novant Health Cancer Institute in Charlotte, to set the record straight about misconceptions she’s heard from patients.
Soy is bad for breast cancer? Not true.
Many patients often ask Culp if it’s safe for them to eat soy, which was once thought to contribute to breast cancer. Research shows, however, that whole soy foods (like soy milk, tofu and edamame) are beneficial.
“Whole soy foods contain isoflavones, a phytonutrient that helps fight cancer,” she said. “But, just as we limit other processed foods, we do want to limit processed soy, including soy lecithin, soy flour and isolated or textured soy protein.”
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Juice cleanses are a good idea? No.
Instead, listen to your body and ensure your diet includes plenty of protein, whole grains and fiber —much of which is lost when juicing or blending fruits and veggies.
Refined sugar feeds cancer? False.
Refined and added dietary sugars have been linked to chronic inflammation, which can lead to the formation of diseases from diabetes to cancer. However, sugar does not seek out and feed cancer, specifically, nor does it make cancer grow faster, Culp said.
In fact, glucose, another word for sugar in your body, provides energy for all of the body’s cells — including brain cells, skin cells and cancerous cells. Without it, our bodies would not be able to function.
So, sugar is not “evil” – we simply eat too much of it, primarily in highly-refined carbohydrate foods and sodas. On the other hand, the natural sugars in fruits and vegetables are paired with vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting antioxidants — as well as fiber, which helps slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream.
“What the research also shows is that, if we're consuming a lot of extra sugar, we're probably consuming a lot of extra calories, which can cause excess weight gain,” she said. “And being overweight has been shown to increase our risk for a variety of cancers.”
Red wine helps fight cancer? Well…
“To see benefits from drinking red wine, you’d have to drink quite a bit, and at that point, you could be causing harm in other areas, like your liver,” Culp said. “Basically, when it comes to alcohol, the risks really outweigh the benefits.”