Sugar and soy: dispelling the 2 biggest food myths about cancer

Don’t blame sugar

Maria Erdman

Maria Erdman

Glucose feeds all cells in the body, and cancer cells use more blood sugar than do less active cells. But that doesn’t mean eating sugar (or not eating sugar) influences how rapidly cancer spreads, says Upstate registered dietitian nutritionist Maria Erdman.

Sugar’s impact on the body and how it is processed is complicated. Erdman generally cautions people against eating too much added sugar because of the risk of obesity or diabetes, regardless of whether they have cancer.

She also favors natural sugars, such as those found in fruits, over foods that have added sugars. That’s because foods with added sugars typically lack nutrients. Even so, Erdman points out, a person who eats a healthy, plant-based diet can still afford the occasional sweet indulgence.

Don’t ban soy

Erdman says most recent research shows that soy foods, eaten in moderation, can be part of a healthy diet.

The worry that soy foods might cause or worsen breast cancer arose because soybeans contain phytoestrogens, plant estrogens similar in some ways to human estrogens. High levels of human estrogen have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

Recent research shows eating two or three servings of soy foods, such as tofu, edamame or soy milk, per day is fine and may be protective, even for patients with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers, Erdman says, adding that research is not conclusive about the use of soy extracts or soy protein supplements.

Layout 1This article appears in the summer 2016 issue of Cancer Care magazine.

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