Part 4: Does Sugar Feed Cancer?

Part 4: Does Sugar Feed Cancer?

I believe what you eat makes a difference in your cancer risk. I believe food and lifestyle changes have the ability to affect your immune system, to reduce chronic inflammation and to act on cancer cells directly. I focus my work on empowering cancer survivors to become cancer thrivers by giving them the evidence-based tools so they can make informed decisions about their diet and lifestyle choices and take back the power cancer has taken from them.


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 you can make the best choices about whether to include sugar in your diet, what type of sugar you consume and how much. For that reason, I am continuing my blog series on the various ways sugar can affect cancer. I hope you follow along! By understanding sugar’s role, and making changes in your diet, it can help you to reduce your fear that comes up when you think about the sugar you consume feeding your cancer.

The 4 part blog series exploring the relationships between sugar and cancer includes:

Part 1: The Warburg Effect and Ketogenic Diets

  • What is Warburg effect between sugar and cancer?
  • Should I avoid all sugar in my diet?
  • What is a ketogenic diet and should I be on one?

Part 2: The Insulin and Diabetes Connection to Cancer

  • How are diabetes and cancer connected?
  • What are insulin receptors?
  • What is the glycemic index and glycemic load?
  • How do I use this information to reduce my risk?

Part 3: Excess Sugar Calories, Visceral Fat and Cancer

  • What is the connection between sugar, visceral fat and cancer?
  • How much sugar can I safely include in my diet?


Part 4: Navigating a Low Added Sugar Diet

  • What are added sugars?
  • How many can I consume?
  • How do I eat a low added sugar diet?

To be sure you get all of the posts and take advantage of monthly training, monthly live Q and A and my on-line support community, join my Thriving After Cancer Coaching and Support Program

Today’s blog is Part 4 of the Does Sugar Feed Cancer? series: Navigating a Low Added Sugar Diet

In my first blog of this series I discussed how cancer cells prefer to use sugar as an energy source, which naturally triggers the question; should I eliminate sugar from my diet? Read my answer here.

In my second blog of the series I discussed the connection between sugar and insulin and cancer and you learned why it’s important to eat just like a person with diabetes should, even if you don’t have diabetes. You can read about that by following this link.

In my third blog, I explained the connection between sugar, body fat and cancer. It’s important to understand that some body fat is more dangerous than others and some sugars can more easily cause the dangerous type of body fat. Read the full story here.

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.

How Much Added Sugar Should I Eat?

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.SOY BEVERAGE UNSWEETEND

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:

Unsweetend Soy Beverage
Unsweetened: 4 g Carbohydrate; 1 g sugar
Vanilla: 11 g Carbohydrate; 8 g sugar


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.

Plain and Vanilla Yogurt

Plain yogurt has no sugar added
Plain yogurt has no sugar added; 6 g of Sugar
Vanilla yogurt with organic sugar added
Vanilla yogurt with organic sugar added; 20 g of Sugar

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

Fruit Flavoured Green Tea Beverage

Grape Juice

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.

Added sugar in Green Tea
Added sugar in Green Tea; 20 g of sugar in 1 can
40 g of Naturally Occurring Sugar in Grape Juice
40 g of Naturally Occurring Sugar in 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.

Also Limit Sugars You Add 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.

Track Your Intake

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.

Want More?

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.


References and Additional Reading

National Cancer Institute: Obesity and Cancer Risk

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.

Dietary sugars: a fat difference. J Clin Invest. 2009 May;119(5):1089-92. Hofmann SM and Tschöp MH.