TODAY'S PAPER
51° Good Morning
51° Good Morning
NewsHealth

Q&A: Mayo Clinic says soy can reduce the risk of breast cancer in women

Readers asked questions about which foods cancer survivors should avoid and what expiration dates on food packages really mean.

FOOD AND CANCER SURVIVORS

QUESTION: I understand there is a link between soy products and cancer. What other foods and drinks should cancer survivors avoid?

ANSWER: The American Cancer Society says that “so far, the evidence does not point to any dangers from eating soy, and the health benefits appear to outweigh any potential risk.”

Some studies have found that rodents exposed to a very large quantity of isoflavones — a compound found in soy — had an increased risk of breast cancer, but those results can’t be extrapolated to humans, in part because people process soy differently than rodents, and because the doses of isoflavones given to the rodents were high, the cancer society said.

Instead, studies have shown that soy can reduce the risk of breast cancer in women, according to the Mayo Clinic. You may want to avoid soy or isoflavone supplements because of their elevated levels of isoflavones, registered dietitian Katherine Zeratsky says on the Mayo Clinic website.

There are, though, some foods that cancer survivors — and anyone concerned about cancer — should avoid or eat in moderation, said Gina DeLuca, outpatient dietitian at the NYU Winthrop Hospital Center for Cancer Care in Mineola.

Obesity increases the risk of some types of cancer, and foods high in calories and saturated fat can cause weight gain, DeLuca said. Most saturated fat comes from animal products; plant-based fat from food like olive oil and avocados is better.

A note to our community:

As a public service, this article is available for all. Newsday readers support our strong local journalism by subscribing.  Please show you value this important work by becoming a subscriber now.

SUBSCRIBE

Cancel anytime

You also want to avoid processed meats, including hot dogs, sausages and processed cold cuts, which have been linked to breast, colon and other cancers, she said. In general, limit or avoid highly processed foods, because “certain preservatives and additives have been identified as potential carcinogens,” she said.

“We want to go more with the whole foods,” DeLuca said.

Alcohol also can increase the risk of some cancers, and the risk rises with the amount of alcohol you drink, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nutrition advice may be different for people in cancer treatment. Some people undergoing cancer treatment lose weight, and some types of high-calorie food may be recommended to promote weight gain, DeLuca said. But there is no one-size-fits-all advice.

“They definitely want to have conversations with their own health care team because nutrition for oncology care is so individualized,” she said.

EXPIRATION DATES

QUESTION: What do expiration and shelf-life dates on food mean?

ANSWER: The federal government does not require expiration dates for any food, except for infant formulas.

“This is totally up to manufacturers other than baby formula,” said Kathleen Carrozza, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Stony Brook Medicine. “The shelf life has more to do about the quality of the product rather than food-borne illnesses.”

Some common date terminology and their meanings are, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

•    “Best if used by/before” refers to when a product will have the best taste and quality.

•    “Use by” is the last day recommended for peak quality.

•    “Sell by” indicates to a store how long to display a product for sale.

None of those phrases refer to food safety — except when “use by” is on infant formula, the USDA says.

Carrozza said misunderstandings about what these dates mean leads to “huge waste” because consumers throw out food that is perfectly safe to eat and also may still taste good.

“I eat my yogurt when it goes beyond” the expiration date, she said. “If it’s a day or so past the best-by date, it’s fine. Texture-wise it may get a little thinner or have a watery consistency.”

Of course, if products go too far past the expiration dates, they may not taste good. Go with your nose and taste buds.

Confusion about expiration dates contributes to about 20 percent of food waste, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA said in May that it supports an effort by a group of food companies and industry organizations to standardize the use of “best if used by” to mean that a product is of optimal quality. Studies show that it’s the best indication to consumers that a product does not have to be thrown out after the printed date as long as it is stored properly.

More important than expiration dates is proper refrigeration, Carrozza said. You can get a food-borne illness if you leave products such as meat or milk unrefrigerated, because that can cause bacteria to grow, she said.

Answers to health-related questions will appear periodically. If you have questions you’d like answered, email them to Newsday reporter David Olson at david.olson@newsday.com.

A note to our community:

As a public service, this article is available for all. Newsday readers support our strong local journalism by subscribing.  Please show you value this important work by becoming a subscriber now.

SUBSCRIBE

Cancel anytime

Health