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Cancer Prevention Foods with Dr. Rula: Fact or Fiction?

It has been estimated that only 5% of all cancers are due to genetics which means that up to 95% of cancers have a lifestyle and environmental component.  The fact that many cancers are preventable is important to remember.  Our diet has been one of the top lifestyle issues related to cancer with an estimated 35% of cancers being related to our food.  There is a lot of misinformation out there about what foods cause cancer, so this is a good opportunity to separate fact from fiction.

Sugar causes cancer.

Many of my patients are incredibly fearful that sugar will cause or feed their cancers.  I try to calm this fear because we do not have any evidence that there is a direct link between eating some sweets and cancer risk.  We do have some evidence that eating a very high carbohydrate diet may increase the risk of some cancers but as with everything, it is all about balance.  Having an occasional sweet will not change your cancer risk.  VERDICT:  FICTION

Soy causes cancer.  

Soy is probably one of the foods I get the most questions about from my cancer patients.   Soy foods contain isoflavones that act as a phytoestrogen in the body.   Since high estrogen levels contribute to cancers, it was thought that these phytoestrogens would also promote cancer.  For years, breast and prostate cancer patients were instructed to avoid all soy.  However, recent literature reviews have shown that eating whole soy foods may lower the risk of many cancers.   For example, breast and prostate cancer patients that eat soy foods have a lower risk of cancer recurrence.  I recommend that people eat up to 1-2 servings a day of whole soy foods like tofu, edamame and soy milk.  It is best to minimize processed soy like soy isolates since we don’t know if these foods have a different effect in our body. VERDICT:  FICTION

Coffee causes cancer.

It has recently been found that coffee contains acrylamide a chemical that has been linked to cancer. This got coffee drinkers worried that their coffee was making them sick.     A 2017 study looked to assess any link between coffee consumption and cancer risk and found that drinking two cups of coffee a day was associated with a lower risk of many types of cancers.  So, if you are not sensitive to caffeine, go ahead and enjoy your coffee. VERDICT:  FICTION

Red meat and processed meats cause cancer.

Red meat includes beef, lamb and pork (yes – pork, it is not the “other white meat”).    Processed meats are any meats that go through any type of curing, smoking or salting, or have any added chemical preservatives. Processed meats include foods like hot dogs, bacon, ham and sausage.  Both red meat and processed meat consumption has been linked to cancer risk.  With this evidence, I advise my patients to limit their consumption of these foods to no more than once a week.   VERDICT:  FACT

Vegetables and Fruits lower the risk for cancer.

Your mother was right; eating fruit and vegetables is good for your health.  That evidence is growing that eating a diet that is high in vegetable intake lowers the risk for many different cancers.  I recommend to my patients that they get at least 5-9 servings of vegetables and fruit (emphasis on vegetables) daily.  VERDICT:  FACT

Eating a healthy diet is a powerful tool to help ward off cancer. Food not only has the power to heal us but also the power to make us sick. There are many foods that are not only delicious but are good for you as well.  So, eat foods that love you back!


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