Does cancer love sugar?

Pile of sugar cubes

Is the following sentence true or false? Cancer feeds on sugar. The answer is tricky. The idea that sugar leads to cancer or causes cancer to grow more quickly is a myth that has been around for decades. The truth is, every cell in our body must have sugar, or glucose, to grow — whether it is a healthy cell or a cancer cell.

Before you go eating an extra helping of Auntie Em’s pecan pie this holiday season, you should know there is a link between sugar and cancer. Too much sugar leads to weight gain, weight gain can lead to obesity, and obesity has been linked to many types of cancer as well as other diseases.

Don Stevens, M.D., a leading oncologist with Norton Cancer Institute, says, “There are now very good studies that demonstrate how important good nutrition is in both reducing the risk of cancer and in surviving after the diagnosis of cancer. I tell my patients sugar isn’t evil and that you cannot ‘starve’ a cancer without doing real damage to your normal cells and organs.”

So how much sugar is safe? The American Heart Association says the average woman should eat no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar a day. For men, it’s 9 teaspoons a day. But we eat way more than that. An article I read in Forbes magazine said the average American eats 3 pounds of sugar a week. You’re talking literally tons of sugar in a lifetime! 

You don’t have to be a sweets-eater or a soft drink guzzler to consume too much sugar. Sugar is tucked away in many canned products and processed foods. Just look at the ingredient labels of the things you eat and drink. If sugar is one of the first ingredients, you can bet there’s a lot of sugar in that product. And sugar can be hidden as other names like fructose, sucrose and other ingredients that end in “ose.”  

Unrefined sugars are certainly better for you. Honey, molasses and maple syrup have healthy antioxidants that can actually protect you from cancer. You have to remember, though, that extra calories, even in the good things, add up. Dr. Stevens says it goes back to common sense.

“Most of us need to focus on making better food choices. We need to eat more fruits and vegetables and be as active as possible,” he said. “Remember, our weight (and therefore our health) is the result of the quality and quantity of calories we put in our mouth.”