Wheat Field

Myth Busting Cancer Nutrition with Oncology Dietitian Carol Sullivan

We sat down with Carol Sullivan, Senior Clinical Oncology Dietitian, to bust common misconceptions about how your diet can help, or hinder, your risk of cancer. Miss Part I of our interview? Be sure to read it here

FLIK: Nutrition is so confusing. I feel like there are mixed messages all over the media and there’s constantly new research in the news.

Will eating Cheerios give me cancer?

C: The first problem with the whole Cheerios issue is that the environmental working group, their reports found that in the samples that they looked at of oats and Cheerios had 1.3 parts per million of glyphosate. [The Environmental Protection Agency’s limit on glyphosate residue is 30 PPM], so the Environmental Working Group was a little bit misleading when they uncovered this because they actually used parts per billion. They reported it as 1,300 PPB, which translates to 1.3 PPM.

FLIK: That’s so frustrating. What’s the message here – what do you tell your clients about that?

C: I would say that yes, there’s a small amount of glyphosate or weed killer in probably all of our commercial grain products. But, if you can switch to organic, that’s probably going to decrease the amount of any potential pesticide if you’re really that concerned.

FLIK: Are we saying that you’d have to eat the equivalent of how many pounds of Cheerios [or other conventional grain product] every single day for the rest of your life to get to the point where you could potentially develop cancer?

C: Exactly. It’s all about the dose. Cheerios are safe. I’m saying it. They’re safe.

FLIK: Does sugar really feed cancer cells? 

C: This one is so challenging because there’s a lot of fear-mongering on the internet about sugar feeding cancer cells. The simple answer is yes, cancer cells use sugar for energy. But the bigger answer is, what you are eating – the sugar in your diet, the carbohydrate in your diet, whether it’s from whole grains or starchy vegetables or fruit or table sugar – that does not have an impact on cancer cell growth directly. The microenvironment of cancer cells does not understand exactly what you are putting into your mouth. It’s more complicated than that.

Keto Plant Foods

FLIK: What about the ketogenic diet?

C: I think the ketogenic diet is being way overhyped, for sure. So the research on the ketogenic diet right now is just so thin. Really the only area [within the cancer world] where it seems very plausible that the ketogenic diet might be helpful is for brain cancers. There is a lot of buzz right now about cancer being a metabolic disease and the ketogenic diet being able to slow and halt cancer cell growth, but there just isn’t enough research out there – for us being evidenced-based practitioners – to really implement this diet and suggest it as a real tool for fighting someone’s cancer.

We want to be so open. I mean, can you imagine how incredible it would be if it were true, that the ketogenic diet allowed people to live five years longer with a terrible cancer. That would be incredible, you know? We want that to be true, but that’s not what we’re seeing.

FLIK: Typically there are not a lot of vegetables, you’re definitely not getting a lot of fruit, and if all of these phytochemicals are going to help prevent cancer and red meat potentially is going to cause it… it just doesn’t seem to make sense.

C: Yep. 100% agree.

Tofu Vegetable Fajitas 4

FLIK: Can red wine reduce our risk for cancer?

C: That comes from the resveratrol in the red grapes. So there are some studies on resveratrol in animal studies showing that resveratrol can actually cause cancer cell death. The problem with resveratrol as a supplement, even if you took it of the red grapes – red wine aside – is that we don’t absorb it very well. But no, red wine can’t reduce our risk of cancer.

FLIK: Will diet soda give me cancer?

C: The literature actually doesn’t point to artificial sweeteners causing cancer. However, we know that there’s mounting evidence that artificial sweeteners may not prevent weight gain and could actually increase hunger and a propensity for sweets and even alter the gut microbiome. Some artificial sweeteners can still elicit a blood glucose and insulin response. [These indirectly could cause cancer.]

FLIK: Is there anything else you’d like to add? C: I should probably say something about soy because soy has a pretty bad reputation. Soy has been studied in relation to cancer risk and now we know that soy, if anything, is probably protective – soy in the whole-food form. So as soybeans, as edamame, as soymilk, as tofu can actually bind to estrogen receptors and probably prevent real estrogen from getting into the cell, so it can be protective in that way for estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer.


For more information about this article or others, please email us at FLIKblog@compass-usa.com.