Nutrition: Fighting Cancer With Food with Sally Scroggs

WebMD Live Events Transcript

The opinions expressed in this transcript are those of the health professional and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD University: "Stories of Survivors: Your Breast Cancer Guide." Joining us now is dietitian and health educator Sally Scroggs, MS, RD, LD. Before we get to our member questions, can you tell us about the nutrition work you do at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center?

Scroggs: Specifically I work in the Cancer Prevention Clinic. And a cancer prevention clinic is unique in a cancer facility. I see general population and I also see patients that are at high risk for cancer or perceived high risk. The cancer prevention clinic is also where the genetic counselors see patients, and they may send patients to talk to me. The undiagnosed breast clinic is associated with the Cancer Prevention Clinic, so I will see patients that will come through there. These patients may receive a breast cancer diagnosis. The majority of the patients do not. And I am able to review their risks and give them guidance in reducing the risk of breast cancer.

Also, some patients that come through our clinic are survivors; these are some of my most favorite patients. Their goals are reducing their risk or recurrence or reducing their risk of another type of cancer. So basically I see general population, patients at risk for cancer, and survivors.

Member: Cancer feeds on sugar, but does cutting sugar out of the diet help fight cancer?

Scroggs: Sugar is a carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are supplied in our diet from fruits, vegetables, whole-grain starches, beans, and dairy products. They provide us our source of energy. And these complex carbohydrates also provide nutrients and phytochemicals. Most health authorities recommend no more than 10% of our total calories come from sugar or refined carbs, as these foods are typically empty calories. An example: soda pop has sugar and empty calories vs. a piece of fruit which has sugar, complex carbohydrates, nutrients, and phytochemicals. When the body takes in these foods, the whole body will utilize these sources of nutrients as well as the cancer. So reducing sugar to 10% of the calories can be beneficial because you will introduce nutrients, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that can reduce the risk of cancer as well other diseases including heart disease and complications from obesity.

Member: There are so many different myths. Someone told me online that the myth about sugar feeding cancer is not true.

Scroggs: Well I hope that I just answered that but I need to clarify. Sugar is a carbohydrate. It's a source of fuel or energy. Your whole body system needs carbohydrates as well as all cells, including cancer cells. A healthy, balanced diets includes the majority of the calories coming from carbohydrates, therefore you can't cut out carbs 100%. That would only leave you with fats, protein, and alcohol. So one certainly can make healthier choices by reducing simple carbohydrates to 10% or less of total calories.

Member: It's important to me to make sure I'm getting the right nutrients as I am recuperating from surgery. What should I focus on?

Scroggs: Surgery creates stress in the body. You have to heal, you have to recover, and you want to reduce your risk of infection. A balanced diet will do this. Protein is especially important. This can come from meats and dairies, but it can also come from a plant-based diet with beans providing protein in combination with grains so you can receive all the essential amino acids for tissue repair. In addition, the other foods in a balanced diet provide the energy source, nutrients, and ability to make enzymes to help with protein utilization.

A second concern after surgery is typically blood loss and low iron stores. Again, beans, dark green vegetables, dried fruits (raisins, apricots, prunes) are good sources of iron. A more available iron source would be from animal meats -- beef, chicken, or fish, for example. The body is pretty amazing in that when iron stores are low it will better absorb iron introduced from foods and the best bang for the buck would be red meats. But poultry and fish are also good sources. For better absorption, make sure ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is available. So, for example, having orange juice with a meal or strawberries for dessert will enhance iron absorption.

Member: Is it true that certain vitamins, like E, can interfere with chemo and radiation?