July 3, 2017

Experts dispel the myths around diet and cancer

Experts in the fields of diet and nutrition addressed the public about the role of diet in cancer at a free talk hosted by the Irish Cancer Society and the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI) on Thursday, 29 June.

The Decoding Cancer event, Diet and Cancer: Separating Facts from Fiction, saw Prof Mike Gibney, Professor of Food and Health at the UCD Institute of Food and Health, and Fiona Roulston RD, Dietitian Manager at St Luke’s Radiation Oncology Network, Dublin address some of the common questions concerning how what we eat can have an impact on preventing and treating cancer.

Diet can do little to reduce the baseline risk of cancer. However, a poor diet, over a prolonged period, can increase the risk of certain cancers, especially if not offset by the cancer-reducing benefits of exercise.

Diet can play a direct and pivotal role in the success of treatment. Patients therefore need to maintain adequate nutrition to maximise their likelihood of a successful treatment outcome. Research clearly shows that weight loss is a significant and specific independent negative prognostic factor.

Common myths around nutrition and cancer include:

  • Superfoods can prevent or treat cancer: When it comes to cancer there is no such thing as a “superfood”. Our dietary needs and cancer risks are best mitigated by an overall mixed, varied and balanced diet.
  • Cancer is an “acidic” disease and switching to “alkaline” foods will have an impact on it: This is an ill-informed fad and many of the foodstuffs proposed to modify pH are quite acidic in composition.
  • Specialist diets such as the ketogenic diets, “clean” eating, juicing etc will overcome cancer: Several of these myths are pervasive at the moment especially due to celebrity endorsements. Such diets may be harmful as they impact nutrient balance and may affect those who need specialist support maintaining overall nutritional requirements.
  • Sugar feeds cancer: Sugar levels or glucose are a vital element of normal cellular functioning. Reducing energy intake, for example, through portion size reduction as part of an overall weight management strategy may be recommended instead. 

WATCH Decoding Cancer: Diet and Cancer - Separating Facts from Fiction