Does Sugar Feed Cancer? It's not a simple question!!

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Many people have heard the statement that "sugar feeds cancer". I have had patients whose friends, family or other source told them to completely avoid sugar. I've even heard some well-intentioned, but somewhat misguided health professionals tell this to patients!

This series of posts will hopefully set the record straight regarding what we know about sugar and cancer.

The Facts About Sugar and CancerCancerDietitianGraphic.jpg

Our bodies need sugar, specifically glucose, for energy. Every cell of our body, especially the brain, needs glucose to live. The sugar that we need comes from 2 places. One is from the carbohydrate that we eat.

When we eat carbohydrates (either complex carbs, like whole grains or simple carbs like syrups), our body digests them and breaks them down into glucose for the body to use.

The second source of glucose is actually from our body. Our body will make the sugar we need if we don't get enough from our food. 

Therefore, even if you cut out all intake of sugar or other form of carbohydrate, your body will make the sugar you need from fat and protein. This is not the ideal situation for your body, as it can cause your body to go into a stressful state. There is a certain amount of carbohydrate that is important for healthy cell function.

Cancer cells use sugar for energy just like the rest of our body. Cancer does have a higher metabolism than other cancer cells, which is why it takes up sugar at a faster rate and therefore causes the "glow" or "light up" on a PET scan. But there's nothing about the cancer that "feeds" on sugar more than any other cell in our body.


At this point, it has not been shown that eliminating dietary sources of sugar and carbohydrate actually results in slower growth of tumors. It does result in your body having to work extra hard to make the glucose that it needs to function.

Sugar and Insulin

When we digest and absorb sugar from different types of foods, our bodies produce insulin to process the sugar. This is a normal and essential part of metabolizing food. However, if you eat too much sugar or carbohydrate, it results in a large amount of insulin being produced.

Insulin tells our cells to grow. Too much insulin can tell our cells to grow too much. Some people think that too much insulin could cause cancer cells to grow more. There's not enough research right now to fully understand how insulin and cancer are related, but we know that too much sugar, and too much insulin is not good for our health.

Bottom Line

Simply put, sugar does feed cancer. BUT, sugar (glucose) also feeds the rest of your body. For those who are going through treatment, remember that your healthy cells need energy especially during this time. Avoiding sugar completely will not help treatment, but it could leave your healthy cells low on energy.

My next post will address the various sources of sugar and how you can make the healthiest choices when it comes to your risk for disease. More from me later!

- Julie

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1 Comment

Thanks for this informative article Julie! As you know we get that question a lot as well and it's nice to have the facts!

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Julie Lanford MPH, RD, CSO, LDN published on June 24, 2014 10:10 AM.

Recipes from Cancer Survivor & Chef, Chuck Hayworth! was the previous entry in this blog.

The Mystery of Sugar: How Your Body Digests It and the Difference Between Simple Sugars and Complex Carbs. is the next entry in this blog.

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