Sugar and Cancer Myth Copy

Written by Lori Bumbaco, MS, RDN, CSO, LDN, Oncology Dietitian

We know that the food we eat plays a vital role in our health.  Eating a diet that includes whole grains, fruit, vegetables, beans while low in sugar is recommended.  Does eating any sugar at all cause cancer?  Do we need to avoid it altogether?

Before answering the question about whether sugar causes cancer, let’s review the theory behind the question.

Cancer cells usually grow quickly, which takes a lot of energy.  In order to accomplish this, cancer cells use a lot of glucose.  Glucose is the simplest form of any carbohydrate that we eat, and is highest in sugary food, like dessert.

Here’s where the myth that sugar feeds cancer was born: if cancer cells need lots of glucose, then cutting sugar out of our diet must help stop cancer growing and could even stop it developing in the first place.  Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. There are several reasons why the statement “sugar feeds cancer” does not correctly explain the relationship between sugar and cancer.

First, cancer cells also need lots of other nutrients too, such as amino acids and fats; it’s not just sugar they crave.  If we stop eating all nutrients, how would we survive?

Second, all our healthy cells need glucose too, and there’s no way of telling our bodies to let healthy cells have the glucose they need, but not give it to cancer cells.

Third, a severely restricted diet that eliminates carbs could damage our health in the long run.  Quality carbs like fruit and whole grains supply a hefty dose of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and cancer fighting compounds.

It is important to know that there’s no evidence that following a “sugar-free” diet lowers the risk of getting cancer or improves the chances of surviving if you are diagnosed.

Experts believe that too much sugar in an unhealthy lifestyle may promote excess amounts of fat in our bodies.  The excess fat could lead to developing poor blood sugar control, high amounts of inflammation and certain hormones in our bodies.  When this occurs, some cancer types may be more likely to develop.  In fact, obesity is a known risk factor for 13 different types of cancer.

The bottom line is that eliminating sugar will not stop cancer in its tracks.  We can, however, pursue a healthy lifestyle that includes quality food in order to create an environment in our body that is not conducive to cancer.

Watch for more information:

Learn more about the types of sugars and what amount experts recommend as part of a healthy diet in this edition of the Nutrition Newsletter.