Does Sugar Feed Cancer?
One question I often hear from cancer patients and survivors is does sugar feed cancer? I believe it’s important to understand the role sugar plays in cancer so that you can reduce your risk.
How Much Sugar Can I Eat?
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) doesn’t provide a recommendation for the number of grams of sugar that is recommended for your daily limit. But they do recommend you Avoid sugary drinks and limit consumption of energy-dense foods. Translation: Don’t drink soda pop or other sweetened drinks and avoid sweets and baked goods and other junk food.
The most strict of the national health organizations for sugar limits comes from the American Heart Association. They advise you to limit the amount of added sugar to 100 calories (25 grams) per day for women, which is 6 tsp per day and 150 calories (38 grams) for men or 9 tsp per day.
Given the strong connection between sugar and cancer, I suggest you to adhere to the strictest recommendations and limit your added sugar to a maximum of 6 tsp per day (9 tsp per day for men). In order to follow this, it’s important to understand what is added sugar?
What is Added Sugar?
Added sugar is sugar that is added during manufacture of a food. This is different from naturally-occurring sugars. Here are some examples.
Example Number 1: Soy Beverage
Here you see 2 types of soy beverage. One is unsweetened (no sugar has been added) and vanilla flavoured to which sugar has been added.
As you can see from the ingredient list, the vanilla flavour soy milk contains “Organic Cane Sugar”. This is an added sugar. Yes, it still counts if it is organic, that is not a free pass.
As you can see from the nutrition facts panel the numbers compare as follows:
When tracking your added sugar content for the day, you would count 0 added sugar for the unsweetened. Even though, it contains 4 g of carbohydrate, this is naturally occurring sugar and not added sugar.
If you were to drink 1 cup (250 ml) of vanilla soy beverage you would count 8 g of added sugar. This is just under 2 tsp.
Target Added Sugar Limit: 25 g per day
Amount remaining after 1 cup Vanilla Soy beverage: 17 g
Example Number 2: Yogurt
Pictured you see 2 containers of yogurt. One is unsweetened plain and the other is vanilla.
The plain yogurt contains 6 g of sugar. This is naturally occurring sugar. This is not counted in your limit of 25 g per day of added sugar. The vanilla yogurt contains 14 g of added sugar. This doesn’t appear on the label, but you can figure it out by comparing the plain and sweetened versions (20g-6g). This 14 g will count against the goal of 25 g of added sugar per day.
Example Number 3: Juice and Fruit Flavoured Iced tea
The American Heart Association guideline would tell us that only the 20 g of added sugar in the fruit flavoured green tea is counted against the limit of 25 g of added sugar per day. It’s good to exercise some judgment not to overindulge in foods that are naturally sweet such as this unsweetened grape juice.
Other Foods With Added Sugars
As well as flavoured soy beverage, yogurt and flavoured beverages other foods with added sugars include: cereals, sauces, condiments, baked goods and pretty much any processed foods.
Limiting Sugars Added to Food
While there is plenty of information on the internet about the various natural sweeteners and which is best, keep in mind, no matter which one you choose, you still need to track and limit the amount that you use.
This includes: table sugar, raw sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave, stevia, brown sugar, molasses, corn syrup and others. Every teaspoon that you add to your food is just over 4 g of sugar.
I recommend you track your added sugar intake for 3 typical days. Write down the food you eat and use the nutrition facts panel to determine the amount of added sugar. Average your 3 typical days of intake to determine if you need to make changes to your diet. You will need to make changes if you intake exceeds the recommended maximums of 25 g per day for women and 38 g per day for men.
I can work with you one-on-one over the phone or in person. I can help you to improve your diet so that you feel you are doing everything you can to be cancer free. Get in touch today.
Webinar on Sugar and Cancer
To watch a webinar the discusses the latest research on sugar, soy and IV vitamin C for cancer, watch Hot Topics in Cancer Nutrition by Jean LaMantia, RD hosted by Dietitian Central. You can earn 1 CEU for watching this webinar.
References for Sugar and Cancer
National Cancer Institute: Obesity and Cancer Risk
Dietary sugars: a fat difference. J Clin Invest. 2009 May;119(5):1089-92. Hofmann SM and Tschöp MH.
Additional Reading for Sugar and Cancer
Explore the connection between sugar, visceral fat in cancer in my blog post on Fat and Cancer
Strategies to reduce the sugar-cancer connection:
Nutrition Action. Sugar and Diabetes, November 2, 2012. Bonnie Liebman.
Nutrition Action. Sugar and Visceral Fat, July 4, 2013. Bonnie Liebman.
Sugars 101 This Article will tell you how much fructose is in a variety of sugars, from agave at 84% fructose to cane sugar at 100% glucose and everything in between.