Last Updated on April 12, 2016 at 10:51 AM
Health In Focus
  • Prostate cancer and breast cancer are one of the commonest cancers afflicting men and women respectively.
  • A recent study reveals an increase in the risk of both the cancers with increased consumption of processed carbs and sugary drinks.
  • Healthy carbohydrates, such as legumes and nuts, offer a protective role in cancer prevention.
  • The quality of carbohydrates consumed is more important than the quantity.
While the demand and trend of processed foods and sugary beverages are increasing day by day, a recent study conducted at New York University gives us a reason beyond weight management to stay away from such foods- the association of processed carbohydrates with increased cancer rates.
Highly Processed Carbs Linked to Increased Risk of Prostate, Breast Cancer

The study was conducted by a team led by Nour Makarem, a Ph.D. student at the New York University, by researching the health records of 3200 volunteers whose diets were being scrutinized through food questionnaires since 1991. The food intake of the volunteers was categorized according to glycemic index (the number that indicates the effect of a particular food on blood sugar) and glycemic load (quantity and quality of carbs in a particular food). Thereafter, the incidence rate of cancer was compared to food intake, after adjusting other risk factors for cancer. About 565m subjects out of 3200 were diagnosed with cancer during the study period.

The findings of the study were presented at American Society for Nutrition Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting during Experimental Biology 2016 in San Diego.

Processed Carbs Linked with Higher Cancer Rates

Regular consumption of processed carbs or 'bad carbohydrates' such as pizzas, burgers and sugary beverages was found to be associated with almost twice the incidence of prostate cancer.

Regular consumption of foods with high glycemic load was associated with 88% increase in prostate cancer risk.

The research team found that men who consumed sugary beverages twice or thrice a week showed three times the risk of developing prostate cancer as compared to those who did not consume any.

Good Carbs Linked with Protection from Cancer

The research team observed that there also seemed to be an association between higher consumption of good carbohydrates and lower risk of breast cancer. Further research revealed that it was the consumption of carbohydrates with a low glycemic index, for example, legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, that showed a 67% lower incidence of breast cancer as compared to the consumption of foods high in glycemic index like white bread, white potatoes, and baked products.

This signifies that the quality of the carbohydrates consumed is more important than the quantity.

Makarem rightly said, "One of the most important findings here is that the type of carbohydrate-containing foods you consume can impact your cancer risk. It appears that healthy carbohydrate sources, such as legumes, tend to protect us from cancer, but non-healthy ones, such as fast foods and sugary beverages, seem to increase the risk of these cancers."

Consumption of legumes like peas, lentils, and beans, was associated with a 32% lower incidence of prostate, breast as well as colorectal cancers.

Limitations of the Study

There are a few limitations to the study:
  • 99% of the subjects studied were Caucasians. In order to generalize the results, an ethnically and geographically diverse sample must be researched further.
  • There are multiple risk factors that have been found associated with prostate and breast cancers and it is difficult to categorize diet as the most important one as this study does.
  • Technical studies are required to understand the mechanism behind the association.
  • The study hasn't been published as yet in any peer-reviewed journal.

More Reasons than One to Switch Over to Healthy Carbs

The study does not show a definite causative link but nevertheless shows an association. Moreover, many studies conducted in the past have shown that malignant (cancerous) cells thrive on sugar (glucose). Chronic intake of refined foods results in high insulin levels which in turn affect tumor cell proliferation.

Another study conducted at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center revealed that eating foods with a high glycemic index like white bread, cornflakes, and bagels, is associated with a higher incidence of lung cancer.

Even if it is difficult to ascertain and say that particular foods are directly responsible for cancer or various other factors like overall calorie intake or obesity are the real causes, it is a fact without a doubt that fiber-rich foods and healthy carbs are a better alternative to processed carbs and sugary beverages. While health experts and doctors have vehemently supported this dietary modification for weight management and diabetes control and prevention, this recent study gives us another reason to stay away from bad carbs.

Source: Medindia

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