Food myths: 8 truths to help lower your cancer risk
Eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight are key to reducing your cancer risk. Our expert helps you separate the good advice from the food myths.
There's no shortage of information on foods and eating habits. But how do you separate fact from fiction?
"With so much information out there about diet, my patients are often confused, overwhelmed and sometimes misinformed about healthy eating," says Lindsey Wohlford, employee wellness dietitian at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
We asked Wohlford to talk about some of the most common food and diet myths she hears. Getting the facts can help you maintain a healthy weight and prevent diseases like cancer.
Here are her top food myths.
Myth: Eliminating sugar will "starve" cancer cells
Truth: Sugar feeds all cells in the body, including cancer cells. Even when carbohydrates or sugar are not available, your body will make sugar from other sources, like protein or fat, to ensure your body and brain can function properly.
So eliminating sugar in the diet is not only challenging, but will not completely eliminate it from our body. The most important thing is to limit sugar to prevent weight gain which increases cancer risk. Focus on avoiding added sugars and choosing quality carbohydrates from whole food, plant-based sources.
Myth: Eating fat makes you fat
Truth: While fat contains about twice as many calories as carbohydrates or protein, it helps you feel full longer, which can reduce snacking. You also need fat to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, which help keep you healthy. Wohlford recommends eating fats from plant foods like avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds most often. Just remember, calories, whether from carbohydrates, proteins or fats, that are not burned will be stored as body fat.
Myth: Frozen produce isn’t as healthy as fresh produce
Truth: In some cases, frozen produce may actually be more nutritious than fresh produce. Frozen produce is chilled within a few hours of being picked, which locks in nutrients at the height of ripeness. Produce begins to lose nutrients soon after it’s picked, making frozen produce a great option at certain times of the year. Another nutrient-rich option is local, in-season produce.
Myth: Juice cleanses and detoxes are good for you
Truth: Your body naturally removes harmful toxins that could put your health at risk. Drinking only fruit and vegetable juices can cause headaches, low energy and nausea and it can be dangerous if continued for too long. Plus, removing just the juice from whole fruits and vegetables strips out nutrients like fiber. And fiber makes a plant-based diet good for lowering your risk of several types of cancer.
Myth: You can prevent cancer with “superfoods”
Truth: While eating a healthful diet may help to reduce your cancer risk, loading up on just one or two “superfoods” isn’t going to protect you from the disease. These foods are great additions to your diet. But a balanced diet that includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes (like beans or lentils) is what supports good health.
Myth: Eating late at night causes weight gain
Truth: Time of day has little to do with your weight. But, that's only if your late-day eating doesn't put you over your calorie needs. Whether you eat your largest meal at midday or late in the evening, what you eat, the calories you consume and your activity level are more important than the time of day you’re eating.
Myth: If you exercise, you can eat whatever you want
Truth: Exercise alone won’t fend off the weight gain that increases your chances for developing cancer. Exercise can help you to maintain a balance between the calories you eat and the calories you burn, so you still need to eat a balanced diet. The combination helps you maintain a healthy weight so you can reduce your chances for certain cancers.
Myth: Steer clear of carbs
Truth: To stay healthy, your body needs foods that provide energy. That includes carbohydrates. But you need to choose your carbs wisely. Some types are healthier than others. Choose carbs from whole-grain sources like brown rice, oats or whole wheat bread, or starchy vegetables, like sweet potatoes, fresh corn or peas. Limit foods with refined carbohydrates like white bread and sweets. Just remember: Carbohydrate food sources should take up no more than one-quarter of your plate.
Now that you’re armed with food truths, learn to stick to a balanced diet. You can start by following these guidelines to help you reduce your cancer risk.