Myth or Fact?
Cancer feeds on sugar.
This popular thought is actually a
MYTH. This misconception may have originated from a medical test that uses
glucose (sugar) to trace cancer cells. Glucose is a great tracer since
all tissues in your body absorb glucose- including cancer cells! Due to
the rapid growth of cancer cells they tend to glow brighter on imaging
tests. For this reason, some believe that cancer cells grow faster on
sugar. All cells, including cancer cells, depend on blood sugar (glucose)
for energy. We get that blood sugar from all foods containing carbohydrates,
including starchy vegetables, fruits, whole grains and dairy sources.
Additionally, our body can release its own glucose for energy.
Although there is no strong evidence that directly links sugar to increased
cancer risk, there may be an indirect risk. Consuming large amounts of
sugar is typically associated with an increase in calorie intake, which
may lead to excess weight and body fat. Research suggests that excess
body fat can increase risk of many cancers. According to the American
Heart Association, Americans consume an average of 22 teaspoons (or 350
calories) of added sugar per day. Data from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines
for Americans demonstrates that it can be hard to meet nutrient needs
while staying within calorie limits if you have >10% of your total
daily calories from added sugar. In other words, higher intake of sugar
in the diet may cause inadequate consumption of foods shown to have cancer-fighting
Sugar-containing foods aren't always obvious. Major sources of sugar
include sugar-sweetened beverages, processed snacks, sauces, pasta sauce,
and even salad dressing. One way to decrease excess sugar in our diet
is by reading food labels and looking for hidden sugar found in many processed
products. The most obvious clue to know if something is high in sugar
is if the word “sugar” is listed as one of the first ingredients.
However, it does not usually come that easy and that’s because sugar
is often designated under different names. Here are some sneaky names/pseudonyms
for sugar to look out for:
- Fructose (sugars from fruit)
- Lactose (sugars from milk)
- Sucrose (made from fructose and glucose)
- Maltose (sugar made from grain)
- Glucose (simple sugar)
- Syrup (brown rice, maple)
- High Fructose Corn Syrup
- Cane sugar
- Fruit concentrate
Bottom line: When consumed in small amounts, sugar can fit into a balanced,
healthy diet. If you are experiencing a sweet tooth, try getting your
sugar fix from naturally sweet fruits rather than processed foods. Alternatively,
instead of buying sweetened beverages and foods such as flavored cereals,
yogurts, dressings, and sauces, try sweetening your own foods in order
to control the total added sugar content in your meal or snack. A little
goes a long way!
With Halloween around the corner, sugar seems to surround us. Some ways
to decrease candy consumption during Halloween can be:
- Buy candy that you don’t particularly enjoy, that way you are less
tempted to eat them!
- Pass out other items rather than candy
- “Out of sight, out of mind”- bring excess candy to coworkers,
- Be mindful of the candy you consume throughout the day; mindless snacking
is often the culprit of overconsumption
- Make sure you get enough food throughout the day so you’re not hungry
while passing out candy!
- Donate extra candy to schools, homeless shelters, hospitals, and more!
Corinne Glazer, RDN
Clinical Outpatient Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Torrance Memorial Medical Center