When it comes to foods and eating habits that help prevent cancer, there’s a lot of misinformation floating around.
"Unfortunately, these rumors have led to many common myths about the foods you should and shouldn’t eat to promote good health," says Mary Ellen Phipps, wellness dietitian at MD Anderson.
So, we asked Phipps and other MD Anderson nutrition experts to bust the most common food and diet myths to help you maintain a healthy weight and prevent diseases like cancer.
Here are their top eight food myths.
Food myth #1: 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. “Fat is also required for absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K, which help keep you healthy,” says Stephanie Maxson, senior clinical dietitian in MD Anderson's Integrative Medicine Center. Maxson recommends eating fats from plant foods like avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds most often. “Just remember,” Maxson warns, “calories, whether from carbohydrates, proteins or fats, that are not burned will be stored as body fat.”
Food myth #2: Frozen produce isn’t as healthy as fresh produce.
Truth: “In some cases, frozen produce may actually be more nutritious than fresh produce,” Phipps says. 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,” Phipps explains. Another nutrient-rich option is local, in-season produce.
Food myth #3: Juice cleanses or detoxes are good for you.
Truth: “Your body naturally cleanses or removes harmful toxins that could put your health at risk,” Phipps says. “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 valuable nutrients, like fiber. And fiber is what makes a plant-based diet good for lowering your risk of several types of cancer.
Food myth #4: Eating only “superfoods” prevents cancer.
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,” Phipps says. “But a balanced diet that includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes (like beans or lentils) is what supports good health.”
Food myth #5: Eggs are an unhealthy choice.
Truth: Eggs have gotten a bad rap for far too long. “While they’re relatively high in cholesterol, cholesterol in food has little influence on the cholesterol in your blood,” Maxson says. And, cholesterol in your blood is what leads to health problems. On the flip side, eggs actually have health benefits. “They’re a great source of choline, which can be good for memory and brain function, and omega-3 fats, which can help to reduce chronic inflammation,” Maxson says.
Food myth #6: Eating late at night causes weight gain.
Truth: Time of day has little to do with your weight. “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,” says Katie Bispeck, research dietitian in Behavioral Science at MD Anderson.
Food myth #7: If you exercise, you can eat whatever you want.
Truth: Exercise alone won’t fend off weight gain that could increase 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,” Phipps says. “The combination helps you maintain a healthy weight so you can reduce your chances for certain cancers.”
Food myth #8: Steer clear of carbs.
Truth: To stay healthy, your body needs foods that provide energy. “This includes carbohydrates,” Maxson says. But you need to choose your carbs wisely – some types are healthier than others. “Eat carbs from whole grain sources, like brown rice, oats or whole wheat bread, or starchy vegetables, like sweet potatoes, fresh corn or peas,” Maxson advises. Limit foods with refined carbohydrates like white bread and sweets. “Just remember: it is recommended that carbohydrate food sources take up no more than one-quarter of your plate,” Maxson says.
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.