RESEARCHERS INVESTIGATING THE RELATIONSHIP between mortality risk and carbohydrate intake among head and neck cancer patients found that while the total amount consumed is influential, it’s not the whole story. The consumption of complex carbohydrates versus refined carbohydrates could also play a role.

A study published in the September 2018 issue of the International Journal of Cancer assessed head and neck cancer outcomes in relation to a patient’s carbohydrate intake before and during cancer treatment.

Between 2008 and 2012, 414 newly diagnosed head and neck cancer patients at University of Michigan hospital clinics filled out questionnaires about their current diets. The researchers used nutrient databases to estimate the average carbohydrate, protein and fat intake per day for each patient. Seventy patients died from all causes during a follow-up period of 26 months, with 42 of those deaths attributed to head and neck cancer.

Compared to participants with the lowest total intake of carbohydrates, individuals with the highest intake at the start of the study were significantly more likely to die of all causes—and head and neck cancer, specifically—during the 26-month follow-up period.

Mix It Up

Sugary drinks are the leading source of added sugar in the American diet. “If you want to cut back on sugar, first look at what you’re drinking,” says Karen Collins, a nutrition adviser for the American Institute for Cancer Research. Try adding a squirt of lemon or lime juice to plain seltzer or club soda, Collins suggests. It will give you a hint of flavor but with a fraction of the sugar.

Foods that are a source of complex carbohydrates were associated with reduced risk of mortality, while foods that contain simple carbohydrates were associated with increased risk. This suggests that both the type of carbohydrates and the amount are important factors, says oncology dietitian Anna Arthur of the Carle Cancer Center in Urbana and an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who led the study.

“Rather than avoiding all carbs, you should choose complex carbs such as whole grains, beans, fruits and veggies,” says Arthur. “Avoid simple carbs such as refined grains, sweets and desserts, and sugar-sweetened beverages.”

Chai Hot Chocolate

A warming, comforting beverage that isn’t packed with sugar.

  • 4 cardamom pods, cracked
  • 1 (4-inch) piece cinnamon stick
  • 4 whole cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon anise seed
  • 2 to 4 (¼-inch) slices fresh ginger, peeled
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 black tea bags
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups unsweetened almond or soy milk
  • 3 tablespoons agave syrup or honey, or to taste

Put cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, anise seed and ginger and 2 cups water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. When water simmers, cover and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add tea bags, cover and steep for 4 minutes. Remove tea bags, cover, and steep brewed tea with spices for 20 minutes. Strain to remove spices. Return spiced tea to saucepan.

In small bowl, whisk cocoa with ¼ cup of hot tea until dissolved, then add it to tea. Mix in vanilla, and almond or soy milk. Heat over medium-high heat until steaming. Divide among 4 mugs and sweeten to taste individually.

Reprinted with permission from the American Institute for Cancer Research.