Cancer Myth

Sadly, cancer has touched most of our lives in some way or another. The truth is that about a third of the most common cancers can be prevented through healthy eating, regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.

However, there are a lot of myths surrounding just what healthy eating choices look like with cancer.

Karen Collins, registered dietitian with the AICR, busts some of those myths in a recent article in Environmental Nutrition newsletter.

Does sugar "feed" cancer? All cells in the body use sugar for fuel, and many (but not all) cancer cells take up blood sugar more rapidly than healthy cells. However, avoiding sugar doesn't necessarily protect against cancer, because blood sugar comes from carbohydrate foods too. When all carbohydrate is limited, the body has mechanisms to keep blood sugar within a relatively narrow range. Chronic high blood sugar, however, may increase cancer risk by prompting higher levels of insulin and certain growth factors. Also, high sugar intake can promote weight gain and perhaps lead to changes in gut bacteria and inflammation. The best bet is to keep blood sugar and insulin levels controlled with a healthy weight, regular exercise and a healthful diet that avoids big loads of carbohydrate at once, particularly sugars and refined grains.

Does going gluten-free reduce cancer risk? Gluten is a protein in wheat, rye and barley that poses no risk to most people. For people who have celiac disease, gluten creates damage in the intestines that could increase risk of cancer, which makes following a gluten-free diet essential. Emerging research suggests that some people without celiac disease may experience digestive tract pain, headache or fatigue that improves when gluten is avoided, but this sensitivity has not been linked to cancer risk. Unnecessarily avoiding gluten can result in reducing consumption of whole grains and their anti-inflammatory, cancer-protective fiber and phytochemicals.

If plant-based diets are recommended, should I follow a vegetarian diet? Diets heavy on red meat, refined grains, and sweets are linked with greater risk of cancer. However, vegetarian diets are simply one way of creating eating habits that focus on whole plant foods. Plant-rich eating that allows fish, poultry, meat and dairy foods a smaller portion of the plate -- as seen in the Mediterranean and Asian diets - is also linked with lower cancer risk.

Does it eating lots of produce to reduce cancer risk? Studies show the biggest drop in cancer risk comes from moving from Americans' typical low consumption of fruits and vegetables to at least five servings (about 2 1/2 cups) per day. More than this likely helps further reduce cancer risk, and may help some people satisfy hunger while limiting calories for a healthy weight.

Q and A 

Q: After acute inflammation of the gallbladder and pancreas, I was advised a lot-fat diet. Do these organs distinguish between good and bad fats? 

A: Fats in all forms, (healthy or unhealthy), require emulsification or a breakdown into smaller particles and digestion in order to become usable in the body. That process involves the gallbladder and pancreas. As food moves from the stomach into the small intestine, where the majority of fat digestion occurs, hormones stimulate the gall bladder and pancreas to release digestive juices. Large, complex fat globules in the small intestine are emulsified by bile from the gallbladder and then acted on by pancreatic enzymes. Therefore, any fat consumed in the diet will stimulate secretions from the gallbladder and pancreas, regardless of how healthy the fats are. Still, for the small amounts of fat you can eat, prioritize healthy ones: vegetable oils, such as soybean, canola and olive, nuts, seeds, avocados and omega-3-rich fish. -- Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter.


This recipe for Hibachi Steak Salad, from Eating Well magazine, is reminiscent of a Japanese steakhouse experience in salad form.

Hibachi Steak Salad 

1 1/2 pounds boneless strip steak, trimmed

1/2 teaspoon salt, divided

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

2 medium summer squash and/or zucchini, cut into 2-inch pieces

1 medium onion, sliced

1 tablespoons toasted (dark) sesame oil plus 2 teaspoons, divided

1/3 cup mayonnaise

4 teaspoons rice vinegar

2 teaspoons reduced-sodium tamari

2 teaspoons ketchup

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1 1/4 teaspoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

8 cups chopped romaine lettuce

Place a grill basket on one half of a grill; preheat to medium-high. Season steak with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Toss summer squash and/or zucchini and onion in a large bowl with 1 tablespoon oil and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Transfer the vegetables to the grill basket. Cook, stirring once or twice, until tender and charred, 8 to 10 minutes. Oil the other side of the grill rack and grill the steak, turning once, 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium rare. Let rest on a clean cutting board for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine mayonnaise, vinegar, tamari, ketchup, ginger, sugar, garlic powder and the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a small bowl. Arrange lettuce on a platter. Slice the steak into 1/2-inch thick strips. Top the lettuce with the steak and vegetables. Serve with the dressing. Serves 4 (about 3 cups each).

Per serving: 376 calories, 13 g carbohydrate, 25 g protein, 25 g fat, 68 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 609 mg sodium.