Cancer and Sugar
At almost every appointment of an Israeli oncologist, the following questions are asked:
• Does sugar affect cancer growth?
• Is it true that there is a connection between them?
• Is it true that sugar feeds cancer, and if I eat sweets, the tumor will develop or grow faster?
• Will giving up sweets help my treatment?
All oncologists unequivocally answer that such a connection has not been scientifically proven. Although there were indeed studies of this issue and articles on this topic were published, the scientists themselves in their articles cannot confirm the unambiguous effect of sweets consumption on the growth of cancer.
For more details, we suggest you to read the article by Ayelet Stein Gur-Arie, a professional nutritionist at the Clinic for Symptom Treatment and Supportive Therapy of the Sheba Cancer Center, Israel.
Cancer and Sugar
I have heard many times that people avoid eating foods that contain sugar in all its forms because “it nourishes cancer cells and encourages their cultivation.” It is not uncommon for patients to tell me that they avoid certain foods because they have heard that avoidance is beneficial to treatment.
In my opinion, everyone is free to decide for himself what to eat and what to avoid, but when a person avoids a large group of products because they contain a certain ingredient, it is important for me to understand where the ban came from. Everyone who avoids sweets, without exception, says they have read about it on the Internet or heard from another non-professional.
The main problem of nutrition of cancer patients is involuntary and even dangerous weight loss. Weight loss beyond a certain level weakens the person and may even lead to discontinuation of cancer treatment. When a person avoids favorite, healthy foods, buys expensive special foods, and avoids the existing variety of fruits (especially in summer), this is a very broad rejection. And then the question arises – Is it justified?
Here I want to debunk some of the myths that exist about “white gold”.
Does sugar nourish cancer cells?
Many sites inform that the consumption of sugar causes the rapid growth of cancer cells. But this is partial and inaccurate information. Cancer cells, like any healthy cell in our body, need glucose to survive. After we eat, the food undergoes a digestive process, during which the components of the food are broken down into the constituent parts of the food: carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
Carbohydrates are made up of groups of sugars, crystallized in different lengths, and during digestion they are broken down into individual units of a monosaccharide called glucose. Carbohydrates of any type, even if they come from whole wheat, whole rice, or white sugar, will enter the bloodstream as glucose. Glucose travels through the digestive tract, is absorbed into the bloodstream, and through the bloodstream can reach every cell in the body, including brain and muscle cells.
Glucose is the “fuel” of our body, and it is necessary for almost all processes in the body. When the intake of available sources of glucose in the diet is avoided, the body is forced to use other components and convert them to glucose. Thus, the body breaks down protein, and instead of using it to build and strengthen the body, the protein will be “wasted” in its breakdown into energy components.
Therefore, the fact that cancer cells consume glucose is not a reason to stop sugar consumption altogether, because sugar is also needed for the survival of other cells in our body. Stopping glucose intake does not affect the growth rate of cancer cells in a 1: 1 ratio.
Cancer and sugar – what’s the connection?
Excessive sweets consumption has been linked to cancer risk, but this is an indirect link. Excessive consumption of sweets leads to overweight and obesity, factors that are clearly associated with an increased risk of cancer.
Therefore, consuming large amounts of sweets is not recommended at any stage in life. Consuming large amounts of sugar over time can contribute to the occurrence of various diseases, including cancer.
Nowadays, there are many processed foods that are high in sugar, such as sweet drinks, industrial baked goods such as commercial cakes and cookies, waffles, and various candies. All of these sources of processed sugar are foods that you should definitely not eat or seriously limit the intake.
Unlike these foods, there are foods that contain sugar, but they can and should be added to the daily menu: fruits contain many vitamins and minerals, and their peel also contains fiber, which makes a great contribution to our digestive system. The recommended amount of fruits, without any other recommendations, is 3 per day, and not all at once, but distributed by the hours of the day. Even a slice of homemade cake can be a great dessert or snack in between meals. Homemade cake does not contain preservatives, baking stabilizers, flavors, food colors and many other ingredients that are added to commercial cakes. Fresh fruits and homemade baked goods are packed with healthy and recommended ingredients.
Bottom line: All cells need glucose to survive. Avoiding sugar does not directly affect cancer cell survival. Excessive sweets consumption is also discouraged, and consumption of sugary processed foods, such as sugary drinks and commercial baked goods, should be reduced. Of course, caution should be exercised depending on the general nutritional status of the person. Recommendations may vary depending on the patient’s situation, so a dietitian should be consulted.
Is brown sugar healthier than white?
I will never forget how in our first year of study in the specialty “Nutrition” we listened to the lecture “Destroying the myths about nutrition.” When the lecturer asked us young students if brown sugar was better than white, we all answered in the affirmative. But the truth is not so simple … Firstly, there is an opinion that any brown or dark product is always better than a white product. We have to be careful with generalizations – whole grain bread is certainly superior in health benefits to white flour bread, whole rice and brown bread are also healthier and better than white rice. But brown sugar and white are not.
The reason whole grain bread and whole rice are better than the “white” option is because they contain the fiber in the skins, and they have many benefits, including vitamin and mineral fortification, long-term satiety, and intestinal health.
Sugar comes from the cane stalk, which is refined and processed into crystalline grains, and this is the already familiar white sugar. In the process of refining white sugar, a by-product appears called molasses or honey in Hebrew. Honey is a concentrated dark syrup. To make brown sugar, add some honey to the white one. The amount added determines the color of the sugar and its moisture content. Honey contains minerals that are important for our health, but in very small quantities. Brown sugar, however dark it may be, will not be a source of a particular vitamin or mineral due to its insignificant amount. Brown sugar can be superior to white in baked goods due to its varying texture.
Conclusion: Using brown sugar instead of white is not an advantage. The level of minerals added from the honey syrup is negligible. Well, and, like everything in life, you have to think about the dose …