Jun 29, 2013

Does sugar cause cancer?

Joanelle asks… Jenny:  You have a wonderful site and personality…however, I am confused….Please forgive this question, but may I ask how often you eat sweets….I don’t dare eat sugar  …….more than twice a week…I don’t have sugar, but they say that it causes cancer…Tumors feed on sugar…so they say on the vegan site…You said you bake a lot , so concerned and how do you stay so thin ..when you bake all the time….SMILE and thank you…

My Response…

I eat sweets every day but always in moderation. Plus I bake all my own with less sugar and calories than store-bought. As for staying healthy, it may be the way I eat them that keeps me in good health. I’ll get to that in a moment. But first, the idea that sugar causes cancer would be terrifying if it were true. I will tell you what my research has shown: Our bodies need glucose, or simple sugar, for energy. The cells in our body grow, divide, die, and are replaced as part of a natural process. Sugar feeds every cell in our body — even cancer cells. If you were to cut every bit of sugar out of your diet, your body would make sugar from other sources, such as protein and fat, for survival. Starving all of your cells of sugar won’t kill or prevent cancer, but it will deprive your healthy cells of a necessary source of energy. I think part of the confusion is about sugar and obesity. Research shows that eating sugar doesn’t necessarily lead to cancer but it can lead to obesity and that is a risk factor for several cancers.

The other issue with sugar is insulin. While sugar does not “feed” cancer cells, a lot of sugar can cause our bodies to produce too much insulin, and insulin can rev up cell growth including cancer cells. Too much insulin also causes inflammation, which can lead to other health problems. Knowing all that, it’s smart not to over indulge in sweets and to know when and how to eat them. When you eat sugar and carbs, there are three things that can help reduce the amount of insulin produced by the body  – they are protein, fat, and fiber.

I primarily eat sweets right after a meal, which will always contain protein, fat, and fiber. I never eat sweets by themselves, not even an apple between meals, without also having fat, protein, or fiber with it (usually a few nuts – they contain all three!). Besides having sweets in moderation, here are the other ways I manage having sugar:

  1. No sweets on an empty stomach.
  2. No fruit juice first thing in the morning. In fact, I rarely drink fruit juice and when I do, I dilute it with water. In the morning, I opt for green tea followed by a breakfast with protein, fiber, and healthy fat.
  3. No commercial soft drinks. I occasionally get China Cola (no HFCS) and always dilute it with Perrier. A four-pak of China Cola lasts me one or two months.
  4. Sweets only after a meal or with added fat & protein.
  5. I never eat store-bought sweets or pastries.
  6. I always bake my own with less sugar, often adding whole grains and nuts so there’s already some fat, fiber, and protein there.
  7. When presented with a decadent dessert, I either share or have 2-3 bites to savor and leave the rest.
  8. Cookies and milk is my favorite dessert… my own healthy cookies with 1% milk! (fat & protein)

Back to the sugar/cancer issue… I’m not a medical expert but I do a lot of research and I cannot find any qualified authority that says sugar causes cancer. Dr. Timothy Moynihan, a cancer specialist at Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota, debunked this popular misconception in a recent article, saying, “Sugar doesn’t make cancer grow faster. All cells, including cancer cells, depend on blood sugar (glucose) for energy. But giving more sugar to cancer cells doesn’t speed their growth. Likewise, depriving cancer cells of sugar doesn’t slow their growth.”

2 Comments on "Does sugar cause cancer?"

  1. Laurie

    Hi Jenny,
    I read many times that it was better to eat fruits before meals. Indeed their vitamins, minerals, and fibers are much more absorbed by the body that way since it takes time to digest them. If we eat fruits after meals, a lot of nutrients are wasted. What do you think?

    • Jenny

      I’m not an expert but I don’t see why you would lose nutrients no matter when you eat fruit because the body still has to digest them. I understand that fruit is digested faster than proteins and fats and some people who eat fruit after a meal feel bloated because it creates a “traffic jam” in the stomach because the digestive system can’t get to the fruit while it’s working on the meal. Perhaps people choose to eat fruit before a meal or have it alone to avoid that bloated feeling, although I often eat fruit for dessert with no problem. I would not eat fruit before a meal because I believe a slower blood sugar rise is better and having fruit which provides sugar would spike your blood sugar, but that’s just my own opinion.

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