Do phytates fight cancer?

Jennie writes:

“I read a book on plant-based diets that which cliams that the phytates in whole grains kill cancer cells. Do whole grains really fight cancer?”

Ironic, isn’t it? In some corners of the nutrition world, the phytates in grains and legumes are reviled as “anti-nutrients.” In other circles, they are heralded as cancer killers.

In fact, both are true. Phytic acid in nuts, whole grains and legumes can bind to minerals like calcium and magnesium and reduce absorption of these minerals.  This effect can be greatly diminished by soaking, sprouting, or cooking these foods. But if you’re not soaking or sprouting your grains, don’t worry.  It’s unlikely to lead to mineral deficiencies.

In fact, the health benefits of phytic acid from whole grains and legumes appear to be much more significant than any downside.  In addition to building strong bones, lowering cholesterol, and removing heavy metals from your body, phytates may help prevent cancer (colon cancer in particular).

It’s worth pointing out that there are a lot of things that kill cancer cells.  But killing cancer cells in a petri dish and impeding the progression of cancer in a living organism are two entirely different things. Phytates are not effective chemotherapy. But they have been found to reduce the effects of actual chemotherapy in cancer patients.

Sugar and Cancer: What’s the Connection?

Whenever I talk about cancer and diet, I try to debunk the myth that eating sugar makes cancer grow faster. I explain that all cells, including cancer cells, use glucose (sugar) to fuel their metabolism. Cancer cells often have an accelerated metabolism and utilize blood glucose at a faster rate than other cells. But it’s a gross over-simplification to say that consuming sugar will make cancer grow faster or that eliminating sugar will slow the growth of a tumor.

So imagine my surprise to see a recent headline in Newsweek about a new study published in the prestigious science journal Nature.

Despite the provocative headline, however, this study has absolutely nothing to do with how sugar from foods affects cancer cells. The research explores how some cancer cells differ from healthy cells in the way that they metabolize glucose. This is undoubtedly important to cancer researchers. But it does not add to, subtract from, or change in any way what we know about the interaction of diet and cancer.  

The link between sugar consumption and cancer risk is more indirect.  Excessive sugar consumption often leads to obesity, which increases cancer risk. But it’s the excess body fat that is the problem, not the source of the calories that caused it. 

This is important to cancer researchers, but it doesn't change what we know about diet and cancer. Click To Tweet

There are a lot of good reasons to limit our consumption of added sugars.  Limiting these empty calories can make it easier to maintain a healthy weight. A diet that’s lower in added sugars is also likely to be higher in nutrients. Both can help to reduce your risk of cancer and/or improve your chances of beating it.

But the last thing a cancer patient (or survivor) needs is to stress about whether eating too much sugar may have caused their cancer or made it more aggressive. Neither is true.

See also:

Can the Right Diet Prevent Cancer?

Diet Recommendations for Cancer Survivors

 

Onyx Sorghum: Superfood or Nutrient Zapper?

Photo by Jennifer Blackburn for the National Sorghum Producers

Q. I’ve been seeing ads for Onyx Sorghum, specifically its use in certain cereals. This supposed “miracle” grain apparently contains a lot of antioxidants. However it looks like the high tannin content might affect iron absorption. Could this whole grain fit into a healthy and balanced diet or might it do more harm than good?

A. Sorghum is a whole grain that we’ve hearing more about lately.  Onyx (or black) sorghum is a special type of sorghum that is a dark red or black color intead of the usual pale beige.  It was created by plant geneticists at Texas A&M, who used traditional cross-breeding techniques and not genetic modification to create the richly hued grain.

As with berries and other plants, the pigment that gives onyx sorghum its distinctive color also happens to be rich in antioxidants. However, some of those antioxidants are in the form of tannins, bitter compounds that are also found in tea, coffee, wine, and other plants.  Tannins, in addition to acting as antioxidants can interfere with the absorption of iron and other minerals. Do the benefits outweigh the potential downsides?

 

Continue reading “Onyx Sorghum: Superfood or Nutrient Zapper?” >

Losing weight will shorten your life? Not exactly.

A new study finds that people who lost more than 15% of their body weight over a five year period were actually more likely to die than those who didn’t lose weight. What’s more, the biggest losers were more likely to die than people who gained 20% during the same period.

How can this be? We’re constantly bombarded with headlines about the obesity epidemic and how it’s shaving years off our life span. Are you really better off remaining overweight than losing weight? 

Poor health causes weight loss, not the other way around. Click To Tweet

This latest study does not distinguish between intentional and unintentional weight loss, nor did it take into account the cause of death. People who are terminally ill tend to lose weight. But there's a world of difference between losing weight due to serious illness and intentionally losing weight.

Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss

One way to see this quite clearly is to distinguish between the loss of total body weight and the loss of body fat. The loss of total body weight may be associated with increased mortality. But the loss of body fat is associated with increased life span.

Another way to separate out the effect of wasting disease is to distinguish between intentional and unintentional weight loss. Previous studies have shown that while unintentional weight loss is associated with increased risk of death, intentional weight loss can reduce mortality by 15%

The Bottom Line(s)

Actually, I have three bottom lines for you

Bottom Line #1. Losing excess body fat will improve your health.

Bottom Line #2. Losing weight slowly will increase the percentage of body fat you lose.

Bottom Line #3. Losing a modest amount of weight and keeping it off will do more to improve your health than repeatedly losing and gaining large amounts of weight.

Need help with sustainable weight loss? That’s what the Weightless program is all about. Enter your name and email below, and I’ll send you an email when registration for the next group opens!

Fact Check: Three quarters of Americans are chronically dehydrated

Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisI got an email this morning from a blogger asking me to contribute to a post he was doing on ways to drink more water.

“My reason for doing this post,” he wrote, “is the scary fact that 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated and it’s probably the same in most countries. The hope is to create “dehydration awareness” and provide inspiration for how others can drink more water.”

(He also happens to operate a website in which he sells lots of water-related products through affiliate links but I’m sure that’s neither here nor there…)

I declined to participate in the post but I was curious about the claim that three-quarters of Americans are chronically dehydrated. A quick Google search shows this exact claim repeated all over the web (although not by any terribly reliable websites).

Where do these “facts” come from?

Continue reading “Fact Check: Three quarters of Americans are chronically dehydrated” >

How Bad for You is Lowfat Milk?

Karina writes: “I am a fan of low-fat dairy. I prefer skimmed milk and fat-free yoghurt. But lately, people have been telling me that low-fat dairy is “bad for you ” and full fat is better. When I ask why, they say it’s something to do with how the fat is removed. Another person says most of the nutrients are in the fat. What is your take on it?” Continue reading “How Bad for You is Lowfat Milk?” >

Trend Alert: What’s the deal with ginger shots?

Leah writes: “I’ve been hearing a lot about ginger shots as way to boost health and nutrition. Would they be good for everyone? What are the upsides and downsides of daily consumption?”

Fresh ginger juice can make for a zingy little pick-me-up. Will it detox your organs, kill cancer cells, or melt away fat? No. But ginger does have some legitimate health benefits. Continue reading “Trend Alert: What’s the deal with ginger shots?” >

NYT protein piece generates more heat than light

imagesThere’s been a lot of buzz this week about a column in the New York Times on the potential consequences of eating “too much” protein.

Well columnist Roni Rabin worries that the popularity of protein powders, drinks, and bars are “making it possible to effortlessly consume protein in amounts that far exceed dietary recommendations.”

She goes on to write that “the vast majority of Americans already get more than the recommended daily amounts of protein.”

But are they really? The Institutes of Medicine–a relatively conservative bunch–recommends that we get between 10 and 35% of our calories from protein. For a 150 pound adult, that translates into a range of 55 to 180 grams of protein per day. Continue reading “NYT protein piece generates more heat than light” >