Sugar and cancer treatment: 4 things patients should know
Kellie Bramlet Blackburn
There are many myths surrounding sugar and cancer treatment. But what do cancer patients really need to know about sugar to make sure they’re getting the best diet during treatment?
We spoke with Erma Levy, a dietitian at MD Anderson, to find out.
Eating dessert won’t make your cancer spread
“Many people think that sugar will make your cancer spread, but that’s not technically true,” Levy says.
Every cell in your body uses sugar, and that includes cancer cells. But that doesn’t mean sugar will make your cancer spread.
“The danger in sugar is that it’s basically empty calories. It would be better to consume vitamins and nutrients that help your body stay strong during cancer treatment,” Levy says.
You don’t need to cut all sugar from your diet
Eliminating all sugar from your diet is difficult and unnecessary.
“You don’t need to take an all or nothing approach,” Levy says. “It’s best to consume no more than the recommended amount of sugar each day and to try to take in less sugar if you need to.”
The American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and nine teaspoons per day for men.
Levy says it’s more important to focus on consuming less added sugar than natural sugars, like those found in fruits and grains.
That’s because added sugar – which is found in drinks and processed or prepared foods -- can lead to unwanted weight gain, which can cause other health problems.
Artificial sweeteners aren’t necessarily healthy
Artificial sweeteners should be limited, Levy says. These synthetic sugar substitutes may contain zero calories, but that doesn’t mean they’re healthy.
They offer no nutritional benefit, and they could have negative health effects.
Some studies done in laboratory animals have found links between artificial sweeteners and cancer, but there’s no proof that they can cause cancer to develop or spread. Regardless, it’s best to avoid artificial sweeteners or consume them in moderation.
Natural sweeteners don’t offer as many benefits as you may think
Natural sweeteners like honey, dates, coconut sugar and maple syrup are often thought of as healthy alternatives to sugar. Yet the health benefits aren’t big enough to make a difference in your diet, Levy says.
“These natural sweeteners do contain some antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, but it’s really small amounts. They won’t have a big effect on your health,” Levy says.
“The most important thing for cancer patients is to limit the amount of sugar in your diet and focus on getting the nutrients you need to stay strong during treatment.”