Grilling, Soy and Sugar: Questions on Diet and Cancer

Cutting through diet and cancer headlines and hype isn’t easy for anyone, including your health care providers. They also look for help understanding the evidence and putting the latest studies in perspective.Grilled Steaks

Last month I was in Atlanta, talking about obesity and cancer with dietitians who work with all kinds of people, from kids to seniors, and doing prevention, clinical work, food service and more. Here are a few common questions they asked, reflecting the questions they get from patients, clients and friends.

1.         Grilling: How bad is charring for cancer risk and should we still grill?

AICR’s expert report and updates say there isn’t enough evidence to show that grilled meat increases risk for stomach cancer. But we do know that grilling meat – both red and white – creates cancer-causing substances, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs) to form. Because there are ways to limit these substances forming, we recommend 5 ways you can grill more safely.

2.         Soy: Do we tell women to avoid soy?

Early animal studies seemed to show that compounds in soy foods, called phytoestrogens, may increase risk for breast cancer, and for years, women, especially those with breast cancer, have been counseled to avoid soy. More recent research shows that those phytoestrogens act differently in people than in the animals used in the studies. And population studies have found that women eating moderate amounts of whole soy foods, like tofu, edamame or soymilk, do not have increased risk.

There is some evidence that it may even be protective. A moderate amount of soy is 1 to 2 servings daily – about 1 cup soy milk, ½ cup edamame and 1/3 cup tofu. You can read more about soy, the research and find recipes in our Foods that Fight Cancer: Soy section.

3.         Sugar: Should we counsel our patients to avoid sugar?

It isn’t necessary to completely avoid sugar, but most Americans would benefit from cutting back, especially sugary drinks. Sugar sweetened beverages can lead to weight gain; overweight and obesity and obesity increases risk for 8 cancers, including breast, colorectal and endometrial.

And many highly processed foods, like pastries, snacks and cereals have a lot of added sugar. Those foods contain a lot of calories bite for bite compared to fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains. The more you can choose fresh or lightly processed fruits, vegetables and whole grains, the less sugar you’ll eat. Check out The Many Names of Sugar article to learn how to spot sugar in your food.


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