Sugar and Cancer - Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (2023)

Does sugar feed cancer?

  • Sugar and Cancer - Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (1)
    (Video) Does Sugar Feed Cancer Cells?
  • "Does sugar feed cancer?" is one of the most frequent questions we receive as oncology dietitians. While researchers continue to investigate the relationship between sugar intake and cancer, it remains a source of uncertainty and fear for many cancer patients and their caregivers.

    Sugar comes in many different forms, but the simplest form is a single molecule called glucose. All cells, including cancer cells, use glucose as their primary fuel. Glucose comes from any food that contains carbohydrates including healthful foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and dairy. Glucose also comes from refined carbohydrates and added sugars like white breads, pasta, sweets and sweetened beverages.

    The idea that sugar, or glucose, could fuel the growth of cancer cells can lead some people to unnecessarily avoid all carbohydrate containing foods. This approach assumes that if cancer cells need glucose, then cutting it out of one’s diet will stop cancer from growing. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. All of our healthy cells need glucose to function, and there is no way for our bodies to let healthy cells have the glucose they need, but not give it to the cancer cells. Without adequate carbohydrate intake from foods we eat, our bodies will make glucose from other sources, including protein and fat. Glucose is that critical for our cells to survive and function properly. Not consuming sufficient carbohydrates can lead to the breakdown of protein stores in our body, which can contribute to muscle loss and possibly malnutrition. Following a restricted diet with very low amounts of carbohydrates can also cause unintentional weight loss. This can impact the ability to tolerate cancer treatment. Restricting carbohydrates also eliminates foods that are good sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals and immune supporting phytonutrients.

    To date, there are no randomized controlled trials showing sugar causes cancer. There is, however, an indirect link between sugar and cancer. Eating a lot of high sugar foods such as cakes, cookies, and sweetened beverages can contribute to excess caloric intake. This may lead to weight gain and excess body fat. Research has shown that being overweight or obese increases the risk of 11 types of cancers including colorectal, postmenopausal breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer.

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    While it is not necessary to completely avoid sugar, reducing added sugars and consuming nutrient-dense, high fiber carbohydrates may be most effective. Here are some steps you can take to help support your overall health, promote blood glucose control, and maintain a healthy weight.

    1. Choose whole grains like whole wheat bread, pasta, brown rice, or quinoa over refined grains like white bread, pasta and rice.
    2. Limit added sugars. The American Heart Association recommends women should have no more than six teaspoons of sugar per day (25 grams) and men should have no more than nine teaspoons of sugar per day (37 grams).
    3. Balance your plate. Make 50 percent of your plate high fiber vegetables and fruit. Twenty-five percent of your plate should be protein-rich foods and the other 25 percent should be whole grain carbohydrates or starchy vegetables such as peas, corn or potatoes.
    4. Include a lean protein source with each meal and snack like skinless poultry, fish, eggs, low fat dairy, tofu, beans, nuts or seeds.
    5. Consume a diet rich in vegetables and fruit which contain fiber, vitamins, minerals and immune supporting phytonutrients. Choose whole fruit over fruit juices and dried fruit.
    6. Stay well hydrated. Limit sugary beverages such as juice and soda.
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Does sugar intensify cancer? ›

Myth: People who have cancer shouldn't eat sugar, since it can cause cancer to grow faster. Fact: More research is needed to understand the relationship between sugar in the diet and cancer. All kinds of cells, including cancer cells, depend on blood sugar (glucose) for energy.

What sugar is best for cancer patients? ›

If higher glycemic index diets are linked to cancer, would choosing a low glycemic diet be protective and more precisely, would a lower GI sugar be protective? If it were, by looking at the above list, stevia, xylitol and agave would be the best (least bad) sweeteners.

What is the sugar that causes cancer? ›

In 2022, the NutriNet-Santé cohort study reported that adults who consumed higher amounts of aspartame were slightly more likely to develop cancer overall (1.15 times the risk), breast cancer (1.22 times the risk), and obesity-related cancers (1.15 times the risk) than those who did not consume aspartame (4).

Should cancer patients avoid carbohydrates? ›

In theory, higher carbohydrate intake could provide the glucose necessary to support the unique metabolism of cancer cells. Higher carbohydrate intake may also stimulate insulin secretion, which not only accelerates glucose uptake by cancer cells, but also stimulates the rapid reproduction of cancer cells.

What is the number 1 cancer fighting food? ›

"Cancer-fighting foods"

The list is usually topped with berries, broccoli, tomatoes, walnuts, grapes and other vegetables, fruits and nuts. "If you look at the typical foods that reduce cancer risk, it's pretty much all plant foods that contain phytochemicals," says Wohlford.

What stops cancer cells from growing? ›

Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) block chemical messengers (enzymes) called tyrosine kinases. Tyrosine kinases help to send growth signals in cells, so blocking them stops the cell growing and dividing. Cancer growth blockers can block one type of tyrosine kinase or more than one type.

What starves cancer cells? ›

Hence, glucose starvation sensitizes cancer cells against various stresses and may induce apoptosis in cancer cells. Studies reveal that 72 hours of starvation reduces glucose levels by 41% and IGF-1 levels by 70%, while IGFBP1 increases 11.4-fold.

What food feeds cancer cells? ›

Processed meat includes bacon, ham, lunch meats, meat jerky, hot dogs, salami, and other cured meat products. Any amount of processed meat and more than around 18 ounces of fresh meat per week are most strongly linked with a higher risk of cancer.
  • Meat.
  • Fish.
  • Poultry.
  • Shellfish.
  • Dairy products.
  • Eggs.

What do cancer cells need to survive? ›

Cancer cells have the same needs as normal cells. They need a blood supply to bring oxygen and nutrients to grow and survive. When a tumour is very small, it can easily grow, and it gets oxygen and nutrients from nearby blood vessels.

Is diet Coke linked to cancer? ›

No, artificial sweeteners in diet or zero-sugar fizzy drinks don't cause cancer. Some drink companies use artificial sweeteners in place of sugar.

Does diet Coke cause cancer? ›

The artificial sweeteners and other chemicals currently used in diet soda are safe for most people, and there's no credible evidence that these ingredients cause cancer.

What are 3 cancer causing agents? ›

Certain chemicals, including benzene, beryllium, asbestos, vinyl chloride, and arsenic are known human carcinogens, meaning they have been found to cause cancer in humans.

Does cancer feed on sugar and carbs? ›

Sugar “feeds” ALL of the cells in the body, NOT cancer cells alone. All carbohydrates are converted into a form of sugar (glucose specifically) by the body before it can used by cells. Glucose does not “feed” cancer cells any differently than healthy cells. It is not possible to “starve” cancer by not eating sugar.

What foods should you avoid when fighting cancer? ›

Since people with cancer often have compromised immune systems, consider skipping foods that carry the risk of foodborne illnesses, including:
  • Lightly cooked or raw fish, such as sushi.
  • Soft-cooked eggs or foods that contain raw eggs, such as homemade mayonnaise.
  • Unpasteurized cheeses and dairy products.

What fruits should cancer patients avoid? ›

You may also want to avoid certain fruits based on your symptoms. For example, citrus fruits may irritate mouth sores and worsen the feeling of dry mouth. Lastly, whole fruits like apples, apricots, and pears are hard for some people with cancer to eat due to mouth sores, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, or nausea.

What are cancer starving foods? ›

You eat leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, beans, and olive oil. There are also berries, fatty fish, and poultry. You can sip a glass of red wine a day -- some research shows it's good for your brain and body.

What foods help cancer go away? ›

What are cancer-fighting foods?
  • Apples.
  • Berries.
  • Cruciferous vegetables.
  • Carrots.
  • Fatty fish.
  • Walnuts.
  • Legumes.
  • Grapes.

What are cancer Superfoods? ›

Broccoli and its cruciferous cousins — cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale and collard greens — have long been associated with a reduced risk of cancer thanks to a molecule in each of these veggies that inactivates a gene that plays a role in a variety of cancers, according to the AICR.

What triggers cancer cells to grow? ›

Most cancer-causing DNA changes occur in sections of DNA called genes. These changes are also called genetic changes. A DNA change can cause genes involved in normal cell growth to become oncogenes. Unlike normal genes, oncogenes cannot be turned off, so they cause uncontrolled cell growth.

What makes cancer cells grow so fast? ›

New gene faults or mutations can make cancer cells: grow faster. spread to other parts of the body. resistant to treatment.

Is oatmeal good for cancer patients? ›

Oatmeal provides numerous nutrients that can help your body during chemo. It boasts ample amounts of carbs, protein, and antioxidants, as well as more healthy fats than most grains. It also helps regulate your bowels because of its beta glucan, a type of soluble fiber that feeds the good bacteria in your gut ( 2 , 3 ).

What is the most active in fighting cancer cells? ›

CD8+ T cells are the most prominent anti-tumor cells.

How can I stop cancer cells from growing naturally? ›

  1. Don't use tobacco. ...
  2. Eat a healthy diet. ...
  3. Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active. ...
  4. Protect yourself from the sun. ...
  5. Get vaccinated. ...
  6. Avoid risky behaviors. ...
  7. Get regular medical care.

Is peanut butter good for cancer patients? ›

Resveratrol – this antioxidant has been shown to cut off blood supply to growing cancers and inhibit cancer cell growth. Found in both raw and roasted peanuts, as well as peanut butter, resveratrol has exhibited evidence for cancer protection, as well as promise in treating Alzheimer's and diabetes.

Does cancer feed on fat? ›

As a result of oxygen's impact on biosynthesis, cancer cells growing in oxygen-limited environments are strongly dependent on the import of fats from the environment. This creates a crucial vulnerability for cancer cells, such that cutting their supply of imported fats may slow or stop cancer growth.

What is the best diet to prevent cancer recurrence? ›

Eat fruits, especially whole fruits with a variety of colors. Limit or avoid red meat (beef, pork, lamb) and processed meats (foods like hot dogs, sausage, and luncheon meats). Select foods made with whole grains rather than refined grains and sugars. Avoid sugary beverages.

What is the best way to survive cancer? ›

The recommendations for cancer survivors are no different from those for anyone who wants improved health: Exercise, eat a balanced diet, maintain a healthy weight, get good sleep, reduce stress, avoid tobacco and limit the amount of alcohol you drink.

Which is more harmful Coke or Diet Coke? ›

Diet Soda is Just as Bad as Regular Soda

Despite being low or zero calories, diet coke offers no nutritional value whatsoever. Diet Coke is not a healthy drink but if it helps you to reduce your calorie intake by simply switching from regular coke to diet coke, then it can support weight loss.

Is diet soda worse than regular soda? ›

While it may seem like a healthier choice, a growing body of evidence shows that artificially sweetened diet sodas aren't any better than their regular sugar alternatives.

Why is Diet Coke more harmful than regular Coke? ›

It leads to more weight gain

It's simple: while diet soda doesn't contain real sugar or calories it does contain a lot of additives and artificial ingredients including sweeteners. These ingredients are full of unnatural chemicals that can cause your body to crave more high-calorie and sugar-laden foods.

Which is worse sugar or aspartame? ›

Both sugar and artificial sweetener are addictive. But artificial sweeteners may be likelier to make you get hungry, eat more throughout the day and develop diabetes. Sugar is OK in limited amounts and in the context of a healthy diet. (Eating a cookie you've made yourself is fine.

Can Splenda cause cancer? ›

In addition, studies evaluating metabolites—the products of sucralose as it is broken down and metabolized by the body—were also found to have no carcinogenic potential. Overall, sucralose has been found to have no potential for carcinogenicity or genotoxicity, even at high doses.

Is zero sugar soda better than regular soda? ›

The good news is that most experts agree that beverages sweetened without sugar can lead to better short-term outcomes than beverages with sugar, as you can see from this recent meta-study CNN previously reported.

What is the biggest cause of cancer? ›

Leading risk factors for preventable cancers are smoking, getting too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds, being overweight or having obesity, and drinking too much alcohol.

What bacteria can cause cancer? ›

Helicobacter pylori

Some of these changes could lead to cancer over time, especially cancer in the lower part of the stomach. H pylori infection is also linked with some types of lymphoma of the stomach.

What are triple negative cancers? ›

Triple-negative breast cancer is a kind of breast cancer that does not have any of the receptors that are commonly found in breast cancer. Think of cancer cells as a house. The front door may have three kinds of locks, called receptors— One is for the female hormone estrogen. One is for the female hormone progesterone.

Does sugar feed colon cancer? ›

A new study suggests that excess consumption of fructose can promote both obesity and colorectal cancer.

Is chocolate good for cancer patients? ›

The consumption of chocolate with a greater cocoa content may contribute to the improvement of the nutritional status and functionality among older cancer patients in palliative care. The consumption of white chocolate was associated with improved oxidative stress.

Which fruit is good for cancer? ›

Citrus fruit, like grapefruits and oranges, may have a role in preventing certain cancers. One large study in Japan found that people who had citrus fruits or juices 3-4 days a week were less likely to get cancer than those who had them 2 or fewer days a week.

Is yogurt good for cancer patients? ›

Some studies have suggested that certain elements of milk and yogurt, including calcium and vitamin D, have anti-cancer properties. Other studies have tested different elements in these foods, including branched chain amino acids, and suggested they may help cancers form and grow.

Is Banana OK for cancer patients? ›

A starch found in bananas can reduce some cancers by more than half, according to a 20-year trial. The international study, which included researchers from the University of Leeds, has shown a major preventive effect from resistant starch among people with high hereditary risk of cancer.

Is avocado good for cancer patients? ›

Avocados are high in healthy fats, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, potassium and fiber. This makes them rich in antioxidants and nutrients that are essential in a healthy diet and have been shown to have anti-carcinogenic properties.

Are grapes good for cancer? ›

Grapes are a rich source of the antioxidant resveratrol. Studies show that resveratrol has the potential to possibly stop cancer from starting in the breast, liver, stomach and lymphatic system.

What foods should cancer patients avoid? ›

Since people with cancer often have compromised immune systems, consider skipping foods that carry the risk of foodborne illnesses, including:
  • Lightly cooked or raw fish, such as sushi.
  • Soft-cooked eggs or foods that contain raw eggs, such as homemade mayonnaise.
  • Unpasteurized cheeses and dairy products.

What causes cancer cells to grow? ›

Most cancer-causing DNA changes occur in sections of DNA called genes. These changes are also called genetic changes. A DNA change can cause genes involved in normal cell growth to become oncogenes. Unlike normal genes, oncogenes cannot be turned off, so they cause uncontrolled cell growth.

Which nuts fight cancer better? ›

Walnuts. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, all nuts appear to have cancer-preventing properties, but scientists have studied walnuts more than other types. Walnuts contain a substance called pedunculagin, which the body metabolizes into urolithins.

Does broccoli help fight cancer? ›

“With broccoli, specifically, there is a high amount of a phytochemical called sulforaphane, which is a cancer-fighting plant compound that has been linked to reducing the risks of prostate cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer and oral cancers.”

Why does a healthy person get cancer? ›

The main reasons are genetics and certain environmental or behavioral triggers. The tendency to develop some types of cancer is believed to be inherited — that is, the genes you were born with might carry a predisposition for cancer.

Does stress cause cancer? ›

While plenty of research has shown that stress can cause cancer to grow and spread in mice, studies haven't shown a clear link between stress and cancer outcomes in people. But it's difficult to study stress in people for several reasons, including challenges with defining and measuring stress.


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