Dispelling nutritional myths for cancer patients

Myth #1: Sugar feeds cancer

Sugar gets a bad rap, no secret of it. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends individuals reduce the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages and foods with added sugar in their diet to help prevent cancer.1 Typically, when a diet is sugar-focused, it is lacking in the fruits, vegetables, and phytonutrients our bodies need. However, it’s important to remember that Zucker isn’t the sneaky spy he’s projected to be. Sugar can’t tell which cells are cancerous and then feed only those cells; it nourishes all cells in the body. Individuals who reduce their sugar intake during treatment and lose weight as a result may cause additional harm to their bodies. An unintentional weight loss of even 5% increases a patient’s risk of mortality.2.3

In addition, many patients may feel that they cannot be malnourished if they are overweight. However, an unintentional weight loss of only 5% over 6 months is a risk factor for precachexia.2.3 Sarcopenic obesity is often overlooked because the patient has a coat of fat that masks reduced muscle reserves.3 This is a classic case of how a book’s cover can be misleading. Survival times may be shortest in people with obesity and sarcopenic weight loss.3 Meeting with a dietician early during treatment can help patients correct early weight loss before it becomes more serious, such as: B. delays in treatment.

The final result: Once a patient has received a cancer diagnosis, they should maintain their intake of fruits, vegetables and phytonutrients and avoid unexpected weight loss. A decline in quality of life and survival can occur with as little as a 5% weight loss.

Myth #2: Soy must be avoided after a breast cancer diagnosis

Just ask someone who has breast cancer: The word soy evokes all sorts of emotions. However, real soy foods like tempeh, tofu, edamame and miso differ from their highly processed cousins, soy protein isolates.3.4 Many studies show that eating whole soy products can reduce the risk of cancer.5

A recent April 2022 meta-analysis found that consumption of soy isoflavones reduced the risk of breast cancer in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women.6 It’s just another reason to stop the soy angst and consider using whole soy foods as a plant-based protein option.

The final result: Whole soy foods (edamame, tofu, tempeh, miso, etc.) may reduce cancer risk.

Myth #3: Cancer patients should go vegan and only eat organic foods

Following a vegan survivorship lifestyle is similar to the square-and-rectangle rule we learned in school. A square is always a rectangle, but a rectangle isn’t always a square, is it? A vegan lifestyle can be a healthy lifestyle for some people that offers survival benefits. But a vegan lifestyle is not necessarily recommended for everyone. Eating plants (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and beans) takes precedence over an organic, vegan, paleo, or vegetarian lifestyle.1.3

To become a certified organic farmer, a farm must submit applications, pay fees and undergo routine testing.7 All of these requirements increase costs, which are typically paid for by the consumer. Research shows relatively little difference in polyphenolic compounds and vitamin content when comparing organic and inorganic foods. However, these differences appear to be insignificant and have yet to show a change in patient outcomes.3.8

The final result: Eating more plants is the priority.

What Can Dietitians Do to Help?

Patients and providers alike have an idea of ​​what a nutritionist should be or what a nutritionist offers. As a result, both caregivers and patients often put up barriers and tell themselves they already know what to do. The reality is that nutritionists have so much to offer. You are not here to judge what or how a patient is eating. Most of them came into this profession to help others. The training they’ve received helps them spot subtle cues that can make a big difference in how patients feel or tolerate treatment.

Many patients’ symptoms can be improved with simple changes in their diet and diet. Dieticians, who are board-certified specialists in oncology nutrition, are trained to look for signs of malnutrition and treatment-specific side effects.

Bottom line: Take advantage of having an oncology nutritionist on your team (the sooner the better!). Nutrition as a science is constantly changing and evolving. As nutritionists, we do our best to stay abreast of changing trends, research, and practical applications.


1. How to prevent cancer: 10 recommendations. American Institute for Cancer Research. Accessed June 16, 2022. https://bit.ly/3N0EmXX

2. ONC: Nutrition and the adult oncological patient. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Evidence Analysis Library; Oncology Guidelines. 2013. Accessed June 16, 2022. https://bit.ly/3MX4Qtd

3. Voss AC, Williams V, eds. Oncological Nutrition for Clinical Practice. 2nd ed. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2021:24-25.59.

4. 10 myths about surviving breast cancer. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://bit.ly/3MX4l2A

5. Douglas CC, Johnson SA, Arjmandi BH. Soy and its isoflavones: the truth behind the science in breast cancer. Anticancer Drugs Med. Chem. 2013;13(8):1178-1187. doi:10.2 174/18715206113139990320

6. Boutas I, Kontogeorgi A, Dimitrakakis C, Kalantaridou SN. Soy isoflavones and breast cancer risk: a meta-analysis. in vivo. 2022;36(2):556-562. doi:10.21873/invivo.12737

7. McEvoy M. Organic 101: five steps to organic certification. US Department of Agriculture. December 14, 2020. Accessed June 16, 2020. https://bit.ly/3QplhSe

8. Cordeiro B. Do GMOs cause cancer? The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. June 2014. Accessed June 16, 2022. https://bit.ly/2Bk4mM7

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