If you Google the word “cancer” your search returns quite literally millions upon millions of web pages, YouTube videos and online articles. Availability and variety of cancer literature is vast and quite overwhelming, but how much of it is accurate?
There are plenty of empirical, fact-based resources about cancer, but there are just as many, if not more, spreading myths about this disease. As it can be hard to distinguish fact from fiction, this blog will aim to debunk two of the most common dietary myths surrounding cancer by discussing what the reality of research has shown to be true or in the case of these myths, not true.
Myth 1: “Superfoods” prevent cancer
The list of foods that “prevent cancer” including foods such as beetroot, blueberries, garlic and green tea, goes on and on. Despite some websites claiming differently, according to scientific research these “superfoods” do not prevent cancer and therefore may not be as necessary as some people think.
However, this is not to say that you shouldn’t be thinking about how you fuel your body. Certain foods such as fruit and vegetables are healthier than others. A handful of blueberries or a mug of green tea can certainly be included as part of a healthy balanced diet, but the choice of the specific fruit or vegetable eaten is not as vital as some sources may claim. There is evidence to suggest that those who eat fruit and vegetables have a 5 -15% lower risk of developing cancer than those who do not consume any of these foods, but there is no particular “superfood” we should be eating to lower our risk. We should be including a broad range of fruit and vegetables in our diet to make sure that we are consuming a variety of vitamins and minerals that are important for our health.
Myth 2: Cancer growth is facilitated by sugar
Some sources claim that sugar feeds cancer cells, leads to the growth of tumours and therefore should be excluded from a cancer patient’s diet completely. Although we all are aware that sugar should be limited in all people’s diets, there is no evidence to suggest that there is a specific type of sugar that stimulates tumour growth.
All of our cells, whether cancerous or not, use glucose (a form of sugar) for energy. When compared to normal cells, cancer cells are faster growing and therefore have a higher demand for this fuel. There is some evidence to suggest that cancer cells use glucose and produce energy in a slightly different way to normal healthy cells. Although this may imply that sugar acts as a fuel source to cancer cells and therefore “feeds cancer”, there is no evidence to suggest that it is simple sugars (from cakes and sweets) that specifically feed cancer cells, as opposed to any other type of sugar such as glucose from complex carbohydrates. Although the body is smart and adaptable it does not choose which cells receive what type of fuel. The body converts the food that we eat into glucose, fructose and other simple sugars that are taken up by all types of tissue when they require energy.
Whilst it is highly advisable to limit sugary foods and substitute these choices with complex carbohydrates as a part of an overall healthy diet, there have been no studies to show that eating sugar will increase your risk of cancer or cause the cancer to grow more rapidly.
There are many inaccurate sources available regarding what we should and should not eat after a cancer diagnosis. If you have any concerns, it is advisable for you to speak to your oncologist or a registered dietician prior to making any changes to your diet, as some of the recommendations may be detrimental to your treatment.