UB dietitian explains messiness of nutrition, cancer

Release Date: March 27, 2024

“Diet does have a role in some cases, but it’s been really difficult to navigate a ‘this food is related to this thing’ or ‘this nutrient is related to that particular risk factor.’ ”
Danielle Meyer, registered dietitian nutritionist
University at Buffalo

Editor’s note: Danielle Meyer is no longer at the university.

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Danielle Meyer is a food science nerd. It’s why she loves to bake — it’s a science, after all. And it’s why she enjoys educating University at Buffalo students as director of the undergraduate program in nutrition science in the School of Public Health and Health Professions. Meyer is also a board-certified specialist in oncology nutrition, and she’s pursuing her PhD in nutrition science at UB.

She has the credentials — and the passion — to talk about all things food. Want to really get her going? Ask her about the much-maligned potato.

In the latest episode of the University Communications podcast Driven to Discover, Meyer discusses what inspired her to focus on food science — it all started with a lemon — and how her path to becoming a registered dietitian wasn’t like that of most people in her profession. She initially wanted to be a genetic counselor, but that involved physics and calculus, which weren’t her best subjects.

Listen to the episode on Buzzsprout.

Meyer also delves into how people can make sense of food amidst the “noise” of fad diets and social media influencers, and the role that the Western diet, especially how our food is prepared, plays in the increasing number of Americans under 50 who are being diagnosed with cancer.

It’s a topic that’s all too personal to many people, including Meyer, who earlier this year lost her brother to colon cancer. He was 46.

Meyer admits that science doesn’t yet have the best answer for why so many Americans under 50 are getting cancer, particularly colon cancer.

“Diet does have a role in some cases, but it’s been really difficult to navigate a ‘this food is related to this thing’ or ‘this nutrient is related to that particular risk factor.’ And we haven’t really been able to find really conclusive evidence for a lot of that,” Meyer says.

She points out as well that “we can’t divorce just diet when it comes to our cancer risk.”

As a specialist in oncology nutrition, Meyer finds herself frequently dispelling myths, especially the one that suggests that sugar feeds cancer cells. “The sugar and cancer question is a really sad oversimplification of a really complicated science,” Meyer explains.

In this episode, she gives a refreshingly honest and non-judgmental take on food in all its varieties. She explains why one of the best aspects of working with cancer patients is being able to tell them it’s OK to eat ice cream.

And she’s very frank about her own diet as a mom of two “sports-age” boys.

“It is not awesome,” she says, before reassuring listeners that dietitians like her aren’t peering with a judging eye into other shoppers’ carts at the grocery store.

“We genuinely don’t care,” Meyer freely admits. “You do you because I am doing me. And sometimes that means, yeah, it’s a bad day, then it’s chocolate cake for dinner because that’s what my day is going to call for. But it’s not an everyday thing.”

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