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CancerResource: FAQs

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Healthy or Harmful?

The summaries below are designed to separate fact from fiction on various hot nutrition topics.

Are Dietary Supplements Good Substitutes for Nutrients in Food?

The short answer is no. Supplements are not a replacement for whole foods in your diet. Most research indicates that protective nutrients in food are far preferable to pills. Supplements may not be well-absorbed by the body, and, in high doses, may be potentially harmful.

What about Phytochemical Supplements?

Skip these supplements, AICR recommends, and instead fill your plate with plant-based foods. Phytochemicals are substances in plant foods that seem to have various roles in cancer protection, such as protecting body cells from damage, acting as antioxidants and affecting cancer-associated hormones.

Scientists have identified hundreds of phytochemicals that play a role in health and believe there are thousands more. Each vegetable and fruit has its own phytochemical profile. Broccoli’s combination is different from that of cherries, leeks or zucchini, cucumbers, carrots or tomatoes. So eating large amounts of a variety of healthful plant-based foods will give you an arsenal of cancer protection; phytochemical supplements are no substitute.

Can a Macrobiotic Diet Prevent Disease?

There is no evidence that a macrobiotic diet can cure or prevent disease. Because it is based on grains, vegetables, seaweed, beans and various soups, a macrobiotic diet requires care and planning. Many physicians recommend patients on macrobiotic diets take a complete multi-vitamin including vitamin B12, to ensure they obtain all the nutrients they need.

Should I Only Eat Organic Foods?

The term “organic” is defined as plant foods grown without pesticides or weed killers. There are many reasons you may wish to choose organic, but it is not known whether organic foods help reduce cancer risk more than their non-organic counterparts. If you do opt for organic, remember that organic cookies, chips and other snacks can contain exactly the same amount of calories, fat and sugar as conventional brands.

Is Soy Harmful?

No, human research shows that eating moderate amounts of soy foods does not increase cancer risk. The majority of studies on soy and cancer link to breast cancer. Human studies show that consuming moderate amounts of soy foods does not link to increased risk of recurrence or death among breast cancer survivors.  Read more in AICR’s Foods that Fight Cancer™: Soy.

Will a Vegetarian Diet Protect Me?

A vegetarian diet may be a healthier alternative to Western diets, but there is no clear evidence that a vegetarian diet is more protective against cancer than a mostly plant-based diet containing small amounts of meat and dairy foods. A vegetarian meal plan should include a variety of foods, including many different vegetables and fruits, whole grains and protein alternatives to meat (such as beans, eggs, tofu, fish or small amounts of low-fat cheeses).

 Does Sugar Feed Cancer?

The belief that sugar in the diet somehow preferentially “feeds” cancer is very common among patients, but the truth is more complicated. All cells, including cancer cells, in our body use sugar (glucose) from our bloodstream for fuel. We get that blood sugar from foods we eat containing carbohydrates, including healthful vegetables, fruits, whole grains and low-fat dairy sources. Some glucose is even produced within our bodies from protein.

The connection between sugar and cancer is indirect. Eating a lot of high-sugar foods may mean more calories in your diet than you need, which lead to excess weight and body fat. It is excess body fat that has been convincingly linked to greater risk of several types of cancers.

Should I Take Fiber Supplements?

The AICR/WCRF expert report and its updates found strong, consistent evidence that diets high in fiber help protect against colorectal cancer. That means enjoy meals containing plenty of vegetables, whole grain, beans and fruits, not fiber supplements.


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