Bust those diet and cancer myths

Microscopic picture of cancer cells. [Courtesy]
Myth 1: Acidic foods make cancer cells grow/spread faster

What is factual? An acidic environment increases risk of cancer and makes cancer cells grow faster. Some lab studies have shown that cancer cells thrive better in acidic environment. However these are cancer cells grown in petri-dishes and can’t be compared to what happens in the human body. Human blood is usually slightly alkaline regulated by the kidneys with a very narrow healthy range pH of between 7.35 and 7.45. If the blood’s pH was to fall out of this normal range it can be fatal because human body cells can’t survive in acidic environment.

It isn’t about the food. The foods we eat can’t change this normal pH. However, the body can become acidic, a condition known as acidosis, if organs like lungs and kidney aren’t functioning properly. All the foods you eat whether acidic or alkaline will eventually take up the pH of your stomach which is very acidic with a pH of 1 to 4. As the food gets into the small intestines where most nutrients are absorbed into the blood, the pH changes and becomes slightly alkaline like the blood. There are no foods that can make your blood acidic or more alkaline than it already is. Concentrate on eating a balanced diet instead of worrying about which foods are acidic.

 Myth 2: Sugar feeds cancer

Sugar is found in many of the foods we consume including grains, root vegetables, legumes, honey, table sugar, fruits and some vegetables. All foods that contain carbohydrates will eventually break in the body into glucose or blood sugar which feeds every cell in the body; both normal cells and cancer cells. Many cancer cells have many insulin receptors which makes them take in more blood glucose compared to normal cells. We can’t control which cells uses glucose and which doesn’t. Even though avoiding or reducing intake of added sugar has many health benefits, what matters is the overall carbohydrate intake. Concentrate on having healthier carbohydrates like whole grains and legumes instead of obsessing on table and added sugars.

Myth 3: Juicing helps slow cancer growth

Both fruits and vegetable juices are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients which are important for health. However, juicing can’t cure cancer or help stop multiplication of the cells. Cancer and cancer treatment can greatly weaken the immune system making one prone to infections from things that would otherwise not affect them. Vegetables grown using pesticides and herbicides or those grown in unsanitary conditions can impact negatively on a cancer patient’ health if juiced without thorough cleaning. Some raw vegetables contain anti-nutrients like oxalic acid in spinach which reduces absorption of nutrients in the juice and increase risk of kidney stones.

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During intensive treatment like chemotherapy and radiation therapy, many patients can’t meet energy and nutrient requirements due to common treatment side effect. Juicing can significantly reduce intake of other foods which can create a deficiency of macro nutrients. As part of a healthy diet, proper juicing can be a great way of increasing your micronutrient intake.

 Myth 4: Wheat makes cancer cells grow faster

Gluten, the protein in wheat which gives it its characteristic elasticity has been blamed for many health problems including increased risk of cancer. Whole grain wheat is a great source of energy, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Scientific studies have shown that there is no association between gluten and increased risk of most cancers. However, there is an exception with intestinal cancers only in people with celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects one in a million people. Even in celiac disease, gluten is not associated with increased risk of other cancers.

 Connection between cancer and wheat products

Available wheat products are usually made from highly refined flours with lots of added sugar and saturated fats. Excess intake of such foods increases the risk of many chronic conditions and excessive weight gain which is a risk factor for many types of cancers. Taking whole wheat products as part of a healthy diet doesn’t put you at risk of any chronic condition including cancer neither doesn’t make cancer cells grow any faster than they already are.

Myth 5: Cancer patients should avoid red meats and dairy products

Several studies have linked increased red meat intake to heightened risk of some cancers like colon and rectal cancers. People who take animal product in large quantities too often leave very little room for plant based foods. In such cases, they don’t get to experience the health and protective benefit of compounds like antioxidants and phytonutrients from plant based foods, increasing their risk of chronic conditions like cancer. In 2005, WHO classified red meat as probably carcinogenic based on limited evidence between its consumption and increased cancer risk?

Studies have shown that reducing intake of red meats and increasing intake of plant based foods can reduce a person’s risk for some types of cancer like colon and rectal cancers.

Eaten as part of a healthy diet, and in moderation, red meats and dairy products can be a great source of high biological value protein and micro nutrients like iron, zinc, B vitamins, calcium, phosphorous and magnesium. Cancer patients often have high protein requirements due to effects of cancer and its treatment and animal based foods can be a great source of this nutrient. 

Myth 6: Supplements can stop faster progression

A healthy diet with a variety of foods from different food groups is adequate to help you meet all your macro and micro nutrient requirements. However, nutrient supplements can play an important role in health especially during periods of deficiencies.  

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