Does Sugar Feed Tumors?

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If you’re a cancer survivor chances are that you’ve had a health professional, friend or acquaintance tell you to avoid sugar because “sugar feeds cancer cells.”

Google “sugar and cancer” and over 88 million hits come up. No wonder there’s a lot of confusion about this topic – for health professionals and everyone else.

This was the topic of a teleconference I attended today for Registered Dietitians working in oncology. I’ll bottom line the information and share some interesting facts.

1.            Sugar feeds every cell in the body. So yes, sugar does feed cancer cells, but we could not live without sugar or glucose in our blood.

2.            Insulin Resistance may be the real concern. When you aren’t able to move sugar from the blood into the cell with normal levels of insulin, that is considered insulin resistance and your body has to make more insulin. Insulin resistance is associated with increased risk of certain cancers.

3.            It is important to focus on the big picture of your diet and eating habits. Your food choices should be empowering, not a source of stress after a cancer diagnosis.

Here’s what the presenter suggested you can do to limit high insulin levels:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise and be physically active
  • Eat it whole – choose less processed foods
  • Avoid “naked carbs.” That is – don’t eat high carbohydrate foods by themselves. Be sure to include foods with some protein and/or healthy fat along with high carbohydrate foods. (nuts and fruit; Bean and vegetable salad with dressing)
  • Eat small, frequent meals. This can keep blood sugar stable and keep hunger and fatigue in check. But emphasize the smaller size of meals and snacks if you are eating more often.

The New American Plate is a great model for keeping meals and snacks balanced. One of the final slides of the presentation noted that our goal is not to eliminate any food groups (such as grains or other starchy foods) but to make better choices in all of them.

If you are a health professional and want to learn more about insulin resistance, diabetes and cancer risk, visit our Health Professionals and Educators eCommunity and read AICR’s InDepth The Diabetes-Cancer Link.


    Author: Alice RD

    Alice G. Bender, MS, RDN, is the Director of Nutrition Programs at AICR. She helps put the science of cancer prevention by providing tips and tools to choose nutritious and delicious foods. Alice has guided thousands of individuals to healthier lives through diet changes and choices.

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