“Maple Syrup, Honey, and Agave: The Sweet Truth Behind the 3 Most Commonly Recommended “Healthy” Sweeteners”

Ok, it really wasn’t my plan to quite so quickly pen a follow-up to last week’s “The SWEET Guide to Navigating Breast Cancer & Sugar”, but the response to that information has been so overwhelmingly positive, I still have A LOT to say/share, and I’m up to my eyeballs in sugar research, so I thought, what the hell, I’ll add this information, and then give the sweetness a rest for a bit.

This week, though, I’m narrowing it down and profiling what I would classify as “the big three” most common sweeteners grandstanded in the social media world (the not-always-so-sciencey part of that world) as the always “healthier”, “better”, “more nutritious” choice, and well, let me just clear some of that up so you can make the best decision for YOU.

Start with “WHAT”?

When you choose a sweetener for its “healthfulness”, ask yourself what sort of “healthy” you’re looking for; weight management, lower or stable blood sugar for diabetes control, reducing breast cancer risk, favorable lipid profiles (i.e. cholesterol, triglycerides), or perhaps simply to support general good health. “Healthy” means different things to different people, so get clear on what you want to accomplish by adding (or removing) a particular sweetener to or from your diet.

In my experience, when someone asks me “Is _____ food “good” for you?”, they’re not asking me if the food confers health benefits, rather, they’re referring to weight, as in, “Will____ food make me gain weight?” 

For those of you in my breast cancer community, I can say with fairly strong confidence that your “what” is risk reduction, yet you may also be managing other medical conditions (like diabetes or heart disease), so don’t forget to include that piece when making your selections.

And finally, there are many variables that can alter your individual response to eating sugar, in any form.

For example:

  • total calorie intake level (or total “load” as we call it in the RD world)
  • type of sugar
  • disease state (i.e. cancer, diabetes, fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome, etc.)
  • genetics
  • ethnicity
  • race 
  • physical activity level

Agave Nectar/Syrup

What’s it made of?

  • Agave nectar/syrup is mainly fructose, with the remainder primarily glucose and inulin (a starchy substance found in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs.) The high amount of fructose, together with inulin results in a low GI (glycemic index), yet because agave is rarely eaten in isolation (it’s consumed WITH other foods), its glycemic rating should be only one consideration in your decision as to whether or not to include agave in your sweetener lineup. 

~~ Calories in 1 teaspoon? 20

What’s its health implication?

  • A recent study on mice suggested that agave nectar/syrup promotes better metabolic responses than sucrose, and a 2014 animal study demonstrated that supplementation with agave fructans prevented bone loss and improved bone formation.  (1, 2)

Honey

What’s it made of?

  • Honey is a combination of glucose and fructose, as well as tiny amounts of “other” carbohydrates. Its actual composition can vary depending on the variety and “type” of flower contributing to a particular honey’s creation. In rat studies, relative to sugar, honey has been demonstrated to promote improvements in risk factors for weight gain, lipid profiles, and triglycerides.

~~ Calories in 1 teaspoon? 21

What’s its health implication?

  • A very small (10 subjects) human study conducted in 2003 concluded that honey increased antioxidant and iron levels, and decreased fasting blood sugar. (3, 4, 5)

Maple Syrup

What’s it made of?

  • Maple syrup is a boiled sap that contains a mix of sucrose and the invert sugars glucose and fructose (the actual amount of each type of sugar varies with the source and the method of production), that result from the heating process.

~~ Calories in 1 teaspoon? 17

What’s its health implication?

  • Up to 53 different types of phytochemicals that are naturally present in maple tree sap have been identified, and a 2011 study suggests that certain extracts from maple syrup may have potential in type 2 diabetes management. (6, 7)

The Take-Away

There you have it, a brief overview of “the big three” sweeteners that are heavily promoted as always the best choice for cooking, baking, tea, and pancakes.

Here’s my take:

The fact that honey and maple syrup both have been shown to contain antioxidant properties makes them my first choice for positively impacting breast cancer at the cellular level; antioxidant activity from any food can help reduce free radical cellular damage. However, they’re not calorie-free (extra calories from ANY food can lead to weight gain, a breast cancer risk factor) and although they’re natural, they’re still sugar, and tend to be found in foods that aren’t typically as nutritionally robust as others; i.e. cakes, cookies, etc.

If you like the flavor and consistency of agave nectar/syrup (it’s “runnier” than honey), there’s no reason not to enjoy it. The GI (glycemic index) of agave nectar is good to know, yet it doesn’t hold too much importance. The GI of a food is determined on a “single food” status, meaning the GI rating is based on how much of a particular food is eaten on its own. That could be meaningful if you were to add agave as a sweetener to your tea or coffee, but enjoying a slice of cake or a sandwich with that tea or coffee renders a shift in the GI.

In the end, regardless of which of these three sweeteners you choose, remember the guideline from last week’s blog; limit daily CALORIES from added sugar (each of these is considered ADDED sugar; they don’t naturally occur in any one food) to 10% or less of your daily calorie intake. For most women, that comes out to 180-210 CALORIES per day from added sugar.

__________________

“You’re a Fancy-Pants Dietitian, I Bet You NEVER Eat Anything Sweet. But In The Event That You Do, What Would It Be?”

Mmmmm, love my extra dark chocolate.

I lean more toward a “crunchy, salty” food preference – although I’m always and forever a chocolate fan – but since starting my post-treatment AI’s, I seem to have a slightly increased taste for sweet. 

For some WHOLE FOOD ideas to manage your sweet tooth, here are my standard “go-to” sweet bites:

  • Medjool dates dipped in unsalted almond butter, often paired with 85% dark chocolate (dark chocolate has LESS sugar.)
  • Dried Turkish figs dipped in unsalted peanut butter OR melted 85% dark chocolate.
  • Frozen bananas dipped in melted 85% dark chocolate.
  • Mission figs dipped in melted 85% dark chocolate; let the chocolate harden, eat.
  • Green and Black’s 85% Cacao Bar straight up, no chaser (only 5 grams of sugar per serving).
  • Any baked good that I make at home. I cut sugar DRAMATICALLY in recipes because I don’t like oversweet treats, and use dates, honey or maple syrup in place of sugar as often as I can.
  • Homemade raw energy balls/bars sweetened with dates and/or honey.
  • Chopped apple, walnuts, cinnamon, honey drizzle heated in the microwave for ~30 seconds.

If you want more nutrition and breast cancer information and updates on programs and services, shoot me an email at cathy@cathyleman.com.

I’ll subscribe you to my weekly newsletter, and as a thank you, send along my “25 Ways To Strike Back At Breast Cancer.”

You can follow me here. . .

Twitter: @cathylemanrd

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/eatwellgetstrong/

Easy. Peasy. 

SOURCES

    1. “Effects of agave nectar versus sucrose on weight gain, adiposity, blood glucose, insulin, and lipid responses in mice. 
    2. “Agave Fructans: Their Effect on Mineral Absorption and Bone Mineral Content”
    3. “Effects of daily consumption of honey solution on hematological indices and blood levels of minerals and enzymes in normal individuals.”
    4. “The Long-Term Effects of Feeding Honey Compared with Sucrose and a Sugar-Free Diet on Weight Gain, Lipid Profiles, and DEXA Measurements in Rats”
    5. “Honey promotes lower weight gain, adiposity, and triglycerides than sucrose in rats.”
    6. “Further Investigation into Maple Syrup Yields 3 New Lignans, a New Phenylpropanoid, and 26 Other Phytochemicals”
    7. “In vitro evaluation of phenolic-enriched maple syrup extracts for inhibition of carbohydrate hydrolyzing enzymes relevant to type 2 diabetes management”

 

 

“A SWEET Guide To Help You Navigate Breast Cancer & Sugar.”

Sugar, in all its stark white, sparkling glory is an enormously popular, widely misunderstood, and hotly-debated topic in the breast cancer world.

Rarely a week passes when I don’t hear or read “Sugar feeds breast cancer” proclaimed with absolute certainty. People appear to accept this declaration as truth, yet I ask; does it really? With October host to the annual convergence of breast cancer awareness AND Halloween, I think now is the perfect time for sprinkling sweet words of wisdom to my readers about this ubiquitous ingredient we love to hate and debate.

Before we dive in, let me make one thing clear. When I write about nutrition and food, the first thing I do is hit the research. I’m a dietitian. I have a bachelor of science degree in nutrition. I will say this until the day I leave this earth – nutrition is a science, not an opinion. While everyone rightly deserves their own opinion about nutrition (and food), I’m not “everyone.” I’m a nutrition professional AND a breast cancer survivor. I have a professional obligation to write from the science, and a personal obligation to share evidence-based nutrition information that serves the breast cancer community. I take both very seriously.

That said, I asked myself what non-sugar-coated nutrition information would be most helpful for someone newly diagnosed with breast cancer, feeling frustrated and confused because she couldn’t get a straight answer about whether sugar helps or harms, and grappling with “must I completely avoid sugar to keep the cancer from growing?” or “is it even possible to eat sugar and be as healthy as I can right now?” between the time of diagnosis and start of treatment.

What would someone want to know, who perhaps doesn’t give a rats ass about the science, but did hear (somewhere) that sugar does indeed drive cancer growth? Someone who wants a definitive and reliable answer, yet because overwhelm and impatience have become forces of nature, and an inability to focus has rendered the inclination to sift through pages of (conflicting) online nutrition information as appealing and effective as herding cats, she just wants to be told what to do.

Start Here. . .

There are literally hundreds of studies and reams of information on sugar and breast cancer; there’s no way I could possibly cover it all in this single blog. I’ll continue to write about this topic, but for today, here are my goals:

  • Provide a quick “Carbohydrates 101.”
  • Give you a tiny taste of the current research/science.
  • Provide a sweet guide to help you put this information into practice.

A Little Carbohydrate Background

Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients (protein and fat are the other two) necessary in the diet to support energy, growth, and life, and include a wide range of starches, sugars and fiber. Some sugars are NATURALLY OCCURRING, like the sugar found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and some dairy products. Other sugars, such as high fructose corn syrup, are produced commercially and then ADDED to foods.

“Carbohydrate” is a category that includes a wide range of starches, sugars (both naturally occurring and commercially produced), and fiber. There are many types of sugar, which are classified by chemists according to their chemical structure, i.e. monosaccharides (single, simple sugars) and disaccharides (two simple sugars joined together), and several forms of sugar, i.e. glucose, fructose and galactose, which come together to create even more forms of sugar, like the lactose in milk (glucose + galactose), and the maltose found in molasses (glucose + glucose.)

The concern for newly diagnosed and metastatic patients is that sugar “feeds” cancer, making it grow faster and uncontrollably, hastening its potential and/or further spread throughout the body. For patients undergoing treatment, there may be concern that sugar interferes with chemo and/or radiation. For women without a breast cancer diagnosis or are “NED” (no evidence of disease) post-treatment, the concern is that sugar will “cause” a cancer diagnosis or recurrence.

A (very small) Taste of The Current Research

  1. Including “naturally occurring” sugars in your diet from fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy (i.e. PLAIN cow’s milk versus chocolate or other “flavored” milks which have ADDED sugar) is an eating pattern you can feel comfortable about. These naturally sweet (or “savory” whole grain) foods not only provide energy-rich carbohydrates, they’re loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals versus only the empty calories of most added sugars. (1)
  2. Sugar does indeed feed cancer cells, as well as ALL of your other cells. Every cell in your body uses glucose (the “broken down” form of carbohydrate) for energy. Even on a no/low carbohydrate diet, your body transforms protein and fat into usable glucose (blood sugar) to support the function of your brain (which can use ONLY carbohydrate for energy) and all your other tissues.
  3. Because cancer cells are especially “hungry and hyperactive,” they consume glucose more quickly than non-cancerous cells. With the help of a radioactive compound very SIMILAR to glucose that allows detection of the metabolic activity (hungriness and hyperness) of cancer cells, medical professionals are able to see this phenomenon during a PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan.
  4. Cells use sugar like cars use gasoline. Normal cells use a reasonable amount of gas, but because cancer cells divide at faster rates than normal cells, they’re gas (sugar) guzzlers. (2)
  5. Compelling epidemiologic studies have shown that dietary sugar intake has a significant impact on the development of breast cancer, but the data is inconsistent and the mechanism is unclear. One proposed mechanism for how sugar impacts breast cancer is through inflammation (obesity is a strong driver of systemic inflammation.) In one study, sugar did accelerate and promote the development of breast cancer in mice fed the equivalent of the average sugar consumption by the American population – 70 pounds/person/year according to this particular study – through changes in metabolic signaling pathways and the expression and production of certain proteins linked to the inflammatory response. Takeaway: sugar DID NOT DIRECTLY cause breast cancer, rather, it exerted influence on a particular signal and pathway involved in promoting its development. (3)
  6. Another very small study, again, done on mice and only certain types of breast cancer cells in culture and for select chemo medications, indicated that sugar may interfere with the body’s response to and effectiveness of chemotherapy, calling for further investigation to achieve definite outcomes and practices for real-life applications. (4)
  7. When carbohydrates are eaten, the body increases its output of insulin to help return post-meal blood sugar levels to normal. Failure of insulin levels to return to normal after the blood sugar is cleared indicates insulin resistance and high levels of insulin remaining in the blood. Insulin resistance can result from obesity and inactivity; insulin resistance is associated with higher breast cancer recurrence risk. (5)

A SWEET Guide To Help You Navigate Sugar Challenges

  • Aim to keep your ADDED sugar intake to 10% or less of the TOTAL calories you eat daily:
    • For example, if you eat 2,000 calories per day, all the calories you eat from ADDED sugar for the entire day would equal 200 calories. Remember, that’s CALORIES not grams, there’s a difference (see below.)
  • Added sugars are found in:
    • candy, cookies, cake, pie, brownies, muffins, sweet rolls and pastry, ice cream, sorbet, gelato, sweetened beverages like juice-drinks, fruit punch, sports drinks, sweetened iced tea, bottled smoothies, soda and coffee drinks, cereals, some breads, ketchup, barbeque sauce, spaghetti and tomato sauces, flavored milks (plant-based and cow), flavored yogurt, protein and cereal bars, salad dressing, canned baked beans (this is NOT a definitive list – check your ingredient labels!)
  • 1 gram of sugar has 4 calories:
    • If a food label shows 5 grams of sugar in one serving, that food gives you 20 calories of sugar (5 grams x 4 calories.)
  • When choosing packaged foods, look at the “ingredients” label.
    • If you see any of the following terms, you’ll know there is ADDED sugar: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, trehalose, turbinado sugar.

What 200 calories/day of Added Sugar Looks Like

Breakfast

  • 1 packet instant maple and brown sugar oatmeal; 12 grams sugar (48 calories from sugar)
  • 1 cup vanilla almond milk; 13 grams sugar (52 calories from sugar)

Lunch

  • 2 tablespoons honey dijon dressing; 5 grams sugar (20 calories from sugar)
  • Mixed greens salad with 1 ounce candied walnuts and 2 tablespoons dried cranberries; 9 grams sugar + 13 grams sugar (88 calories from sugar)

Surprise! You’re already at 208 calories from sugar and your day’s not even over.

This example isn’t meant to prevent you from eating ANY added sugar, rather, to give you an idea of how added sugars can creep in without you being aware. This is an easy fix!

Fix It Like This. . .

Choose plain instant oatmeal and add 1 teaspoon honey, use plain (no-sugar-added) vanilla almond milk. Add olive oil and balsamic vinegar to your salad, raisins vs dried cranberries (raisins have natural vs. added sugar) and non-sugared, toasted walnuts.

Sources

  1. “Does Sugar Feed Cancer?” 
  2. “Does Sugar Feed Cancer? It’s Not That Simple.”
  3. “Dietary sugar induces tumorigenesis in mammary gland partially through 12 lipoxygenase pathway”
  4. “Modification of dietary sugar on the chemotherapeutic potential in breast cancer”
  5. “Obesity, Insulin Resistance and Insulin”

If you want more nutrition and breast cancer information and updates on programs and services, shoot me an email at cathy@cathyleman.com.

I’ll subscribe you to my weekly newsletter, and as a thank you, send along my “25 Ways To Strike Back At Breast Cancer.”

And you can follow me here:

Twitter: @cathylemanrd

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/eatwellgetstrong/

Easy. Peasy. 

“The Real Truth About Altering Reality When You Travel”

I began last Friday like I do every Friday when I’m not traveling, at my “Yoga Flow” class.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

I actually began my day with an amazing cup of coffee (#grateful), courtesy of (in my opinion) the best invention in the universe; autobrew. I’m not naturally a morning person, so the “carrot” waiting in the kitchen helps me navigate the darkness, ridiculously early hour, and temptation to stay cozy beneath my comforter.

Anyway, after “coffee and contemplation” – my personal version of meditation and grounding – I headed to yoga. I love this class; a hybrid of power, balance, strength, and flexibility, led by an instructor par excellence.

Before class, the most excellent instructor and I were chatting about how I’d missed the previous week because I was out of town, and my perfectly adequate on-the-fly hotel weight routine that stood in for her class, but didn’t, really.

Which led to her sharing the one crumb of knowledge I’m convinced would change every traveler’s experience FOR LIFE, were it to become as routine as surveying the mini-bar or programming the hotel room safe.

She said, “I always feel so much better if I work out when I travel. I always think “I’m on vacation!” and eat and drink more than I should, then I feel terrible. Even if I just do 30 minutes on the treadmill, or some yoga stretches in the room, I feel better.”

That’s it! The (1) secret to returning from any amount of travel and time away from your normal routine without feeling as if you’ve been turned completely inside out and back again. For most clients I work with, the biggest challenge is navigating that merge back into the flow after veering dramatically off course, so doesn’t it make sense to stay as close as possible to your “normal?”

I’m not talking about being virtuous or perfect. I am talking about living true to your health values and being in alignment with the habits and behaviors that make you feel your best, especially if you’ve recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and are facing the rigors of treatment in your very near future. Every day (including travel days) that you get stronger in advance of your surgery, chemo or radiation, you build reserves to help you come out on the other side with potentially less negative physical impact.

Less than two weeks after my diagnosis, I headed to Delaware for my nephew’s wedding and a quick trip to meet friends in Washington DC. One of my best friends was diagnosed just ahead of an eagerly anticipated trip to Ireland. Another friend who lives in Manhattan was on a business trip to Chicago when she got the call from her doctor confirming her diagnosis. Breast cancer doesn’t care what your travel plans are, it shows up uninvited and unplanned regardless of whether your bags are packed or not.  

When heading out of town with a breast cancer diagnosis tucked next to your 3-ounce liquids, it wouldn’t be considered unusual to also bring along an “escape reality” mindset. I vividly remember pacing the terminal at Washington Dulles airport, wracked with anxiety over what awaited me once I landed back at Midway. The wedding and whirlwind DC trip had temporarily held the reality of my diagnosis just under the line of hysteria, but once we touched down in Chicago I wouldn’t be able to deny it; it would be show time.

After time away spent deliberately altering your reality with alcohol, food and no physical activity, you may find yourself careening down the slippery slope of “I just can’t seem to get back on track.” The problem lies not so much with the actual reality-altering, but rather the black and white thinking that is, “I’ve blown it. My weight is up and I’m eating everything sugary and fatty I can get my hands on – and I’m stressed. It’s pointless to try and get in shape now.”

Weight gain is a risk factor for increasing recurrence risk, and sub-optimal nutrition doesn’t do your immune system any favors. Once you get that diagnosis, the countdown begins – and every minute counts. Travel plans are typically made well in advance, a breast cancer diagnosis plan isn’t. Take this opportunity to create one; your optimal outcomes will thank you.

“29 Foods to Help You Manage Breast Cancer Stress”

Stress is insidious.

It weasels in even when you think you have a handle on it, wreaking havoc on your sleeping patterns, waking hours productivity, and at the cellular and hormonal level, your body’s immune system and regenerative ability.

There’s all sorts of stress to contend with on a daily basis; traffic stress, late-for-work stress, forgot-our-anniversary-now-you’re-really-mad-at-me stress. It can be endless.

Every person copes with stress in their own way, and we all perceive stress differently. For example, that thing stressing out your best friend may not raise even a blip on your stress radar, and vice versa. But the thing guaranteed to trigger a massive stress response in anyone?

Hearing “It is breast cancer.”

It’s an experience I can only describe as feeling like your brain is stuffed into a box in a separate room, completely detached from your body, yet still trying desperately to keep up with and process the information being relayed.

So what actually DOES happen to your body when you’re exposed to the complex phenomenon of stress? Your body’s wondrous physiology behaves in a fairly coordinated manner by activating something called a “stress response,” a series of reactions involving hormones, behavioral changes, and alterations in the functioning of your autonomic system (the mechanism by which body processes like breathing and heart rate work without conscious effort.)

Back to that concept of coping mechanisms, one very good (universal) solution for managing breast cancer stress, is to eat a stress fighting diet. Not, mind you, a macaroni-and-cheese-at-every-meal kind of stress fighting diet – that’s more of a stress numbing diet – and perfect fodder for another blog post.

The diet I’m talking about is one that confers powerful stress reducing benefits that: improve brain functioning, prop up your immune system, lower blood pressure, promote optimal circulation, reduce free radicals and other toxins, minimize cortisol and adrenaline levels, the stress chemicals that trigger our fight or flight response.

Yes, food can do all of that.

“Now, more than ever, eating nutrient-dense food to support your body’s ability to handle stress at the cellular level is essential for your overall well-being. Not only that, eating for stress reduction and management helps reduce recurrence risk and revs up your energy levels.” – Cathy Leman, MA, RD, LD

Here’s a list of 29 foods that get into your cells and do the good work!

Happy eating. . .

  • Vitamin C fruits and veggies
    • Green and red peppers, potatoes, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, tomatoes, kiwi, cauliflower, cabbage, onions
  • Vitamin E foods
    • Dry roasted sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, safflower oil, wheat germ, green leafy vegetables
  • Polyphenolic foods
    • Chocolate, tea, coffee
  • Complex carbohydrate foods
    • Barley, rye, oats, whole wheat
  • Omega 3 foods
    • Walnuts, ground flax seeds, fatty fish, chia seeds, canola oil

Want more breast cancer nutrition, fitness and lifestyle inspiration and information that you can’t get here? Go to www.cathyleman.com and subscribe to my newsletter!

“3 Breast Cancer Diets That Harm Not Heal”

Loss of control.

That feeling shows up front and center on the heels of a breast cancer diagnosis so darn quickly I feel as if the doctor delivering the “It is cancer” news should in the same breath say, “For the rest of your life, please prepare to surrender any assumptions that you ever held even a modicum of control over your health – you foolish woman.”

Feeling like you’ll never regain your equilibrium, you search desperately for the first thing that hints even slightly of an ability to ground and balance you.

For many women, that “first thing” is food.

This topic is one of my areas of expertise, one I’ll continue to write broadly about, but today I address how a well-intentioned effort at “helping” can be misguided at best, dangerous at worst, and share wisdom for finding true nutritional balance laced with compassion and understanding.

The “F*#! You” Diet

Also known as the “What The Hell” diet, this is the nutrition plan you choose once you’ve determined that it really doesn’t matter what you eat because everything causes breast cancer, that healthy diet you (sort of) ate before your diagnosis failed you, and honestly, you simply no longer give a f*#!

It takes every ounce of energy to wrap your mind around the fact that you actually have breast cancer, and the upcoming surgery and treatment is stressing you out so much you tranquilize yourself with your favorite “foods-that-never-fail-to-comfort”; heavy on the sweets and chips, hold the broccoli.

It takes too much energy to cook, grocery shopping is impossible to squeeze in between the ridiculous number of medical appointments now crowding your calendar, and even if you were to consider preparing a meal, you suddenly have cooking amnesia. What in the world could you possibly make, as distracted as you are by your diagnosis?

It would require a preternatural act of God to muster up the concentration necessary to chop, stir, heat, measure and blend – who could possibly cook at a time like this? Besides, you’re so angry about the whole thing, that time alone in the kitchen could very well result in shattered glass, busted dishware, and an unhealthy obsession with that pantry shelf where you hide all the junky snacks.

Take out, drive through, and microwave meals become your staples, and there isn’t enough ice cream on the planet to calm you down. 

___________

WISDOM: Chances are, even before your breast cancer diagnosis, you turned to food to soothe, support, and save you. While it’s true food can serve as a reliable, readily accessible, cheap and legal way to feel better fast, it wasn’t a healthy solution before your diagnosis, and it’s even less so now. Research shows that nutrition has a positive impact on treatment outcomes and in reducing risk of recurrence, so that “everything causes breast cancer” adage just doesn’t hold up.

You have every right to be angry, yet taking that anger out on yourself through a full-on “Eff-U”approach to eating is a classic example of cutting off your nose to spite your face. You may FEEL better (briefly) after pounding down an entire pound cake, but is it possible that the relief comes more from the distraction the cake provides? Of course! It’s so much easier to push reality to the edges of your mind when you’re busy shoving forkful after forkful of food into your mouth.

Can you list three non-food ways to manage your anger without sending your blood sugar skyrocketing and your GI tract into spasms?

Example: Acknowledge the anger and panic; order a stand-up punching bag pronto.

  1. ____________________________________________
  2. ____________________________________________
  3. ____________________________________________

The “Beyond Perfection” Diet

Every. Single. Bite. Must. Be. Squeaky. Clean. You’ve taken nutritious eating to an extreme; even organic isn’t quite organicky enough.

This is the nutrition plan you choose when you just know that the healthier and cleaner your diet is, the better off your health, treatment outcome, and recurrence risk will be. How dare breast cancer even consider ever again invading your body (once you’ve had that surgery and whatever treatment lies ahead) with the ironclad, super-clean diet you’ve adopted.

Your refrigerator and pantry are packed with maca and matcha, greens and grains, berries and broccoli, and you’ve determined the exact ratio and variety of whole foods necessary to maintain the perfect level of alkalinity required to keep breast cancer at bay.

You’re devouring every nutrition and cancer book you can get your hands on, counting macros, measuring antioxidant levels of local versus imported red grapes, and undertaking an exhaustive comparison of all varieties of rooibos tea.

Regardless of whether you’re at a party, a restaurant (who knows what’s really in that food?), or simply the grocery store, if you can’t get the “perfect” clean food – you simply won’t eat – you’re too terrified that one bite of a conventional carrot will send your cancer everywhere.

This is POISON, just POISON!

Funnily enough, all of that reading has failed to turn up the word “orthorexia”, the one term that offers a slightly different perspective, and something to consider in chasing diet perfection. 

_____________

WISDOM: Let me be perfectly clear. There is NOTHING wrong with the intention to uplevel your nutrition at this time; in fact, I highly recommend it. The trouble comes when an obsession with perfection overrides the sensibility of simply nourishing your body well enough to withstand treatment and improve outcomes. Nutrition isn’t as black and white, good food/bad food-focused as the cancer nutrition books and websites would have you believe, so working to find the gray that allows you to actually live your life is a worthy endeavor.

While exciting research continues in the discovery of certain foods that confer promising benefits for breast cancer risk reduction and potentially even prevention, here’s the most important thing to remember: “No single food or meal can cause or prevent cancer, and no “diet” is bulletproof. Increase fruits and vegetables (conventional is fine if organic isn’t in your budget), eat more plant-based proteins like beans, legumes, soy, nuts and seeds, add whole grain options like brown rice and whole-wheat pasta, and don’t forget to serve yourself an enormous helping of satisfaction and enjoyment with your meal.”

The “Supplements as Food” Diet

Eat actual food? No. Absolutely not.

This is the nutrition plan you choose once you’ve determined that you simply can’t trust food to keep you healthy. With your breast cancer diagnosis, you’re living proof. You’ve been advised by your ___________________(fill in with questionable website, book, unscrupulous practitioner, etc.) to drink a certain tea, blend and consume a special powder, swallow a particular combination of supplements, and fast every other day.

Food is the enemy, and the breast cancer cure lies in spending time (not to mention untold sums of money) preparing special tinctures and potions. The mixing and monitoring and timing of things takes your mind off the impending surgery and treatment, and you feel confident that this is the best approach to nourishing your body – regardless of what your oncologist or breast surgeon thinks.

Enjoying a restaurant meal with friends is out of the question, you’re dropping weight faster than you care to think about, and your energy is flagging. But hey, this plan is supposed to keep the breast cancer away and that’s enough “evidence” for you.

_____________

WISDOM: Right now, you are quite possibly the most vulnerable to nutritional chicanery you’ve ever been. The term “snake oil” wouldn’t be a stretch to describe some of the unscrupulous recommendations easily available with the click of a mouse and the entering of a credit card number – and they’re looking for YOU!

Don’t be fooled. Actual food, with its synergy of nutrients and health properties can never be replaced with a supplement regimen. There’s nothing wrong with learning which supplements may complement your nutritional regimen, but in the end, please remember there’s a reason they’re called SUPPLEMENTS. . .they’re the supporting cast, not the diet lead.