FROM THE EXPERTS
Advanced Practice Nurse for the
Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer
Institute and co-author of The
Complete Cancer Organizer: Your
Answers to Questions About Living
Clinical Dietitian at the University of
Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
Health Psychologist at Memorial
Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in
New York City
ABOUT THE EXPERTS
PHOTO OF DEBRA RUZENSK Y COUR TESY OF M. D. ANDERSON CANCER CEN TER
PHO TO OF JAMIE SCH WACH TER COUR TES Y OF THE CLEVELAND CLINIC
PHOTO OF KATHERINE DUHAMEL COURTES Y OF MEMORIAL SLOAN KE T TERING
People have told me I need to stop
eating sugar because it feeds cancer cells.
IS THIS TRUE?
DEBRA RUZENSKY: All of our cells need
fuel to survive. They usually rely on glucose,
a simple form of sugar. Like gas-guzzling cars
that need extra fuel, rapidly dividing cancer
cells consume more glucose than other cell
types. It’s tempting to think that we can keep
cancer cells from growing by avoiding sugar or
carbohydrates. That’s not entirely accurate.
When we eat sweets, fruits, whole grains or
other carbohydrate-rich food, the result of our
digestion is an increase in blood glucose levels.
If you eliminate sugar from your diet by fasting
or eating a diet low in carbohydrates, your body
still needs energy. To meet that need, your body
will begin making its own sugar, also causing an
increase in blood glucose levels.
To produce its own sugar, the body breaks
down fat and then protein, which can be desirable for people who need to lose weight. We may
not want that to happen in patients undergoing cancer treatment, however, because some
patients struggle to maintain their weight.
Patients being treated also can experience
muscle loss, which makes recovery more difficult. If the body is forced to break down muscle
for fuel, that can make the situation even worse.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should
eat a lot of sugary foods. Many foods and
beverages that are high in sugar provide
little to no nutritional value. Sugar in the
diet is also associated with weight gain and
increased production of the hormones insulin
and insulin-like growth factor, which are
all linked to cancer. Instead, focus on eating
complex, whole foods without added sugars.
Examples include whole grains, fruits,
starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds. If you are
going to have a sweet treat, have it along with
a meal so the sugars will be mixed in your
stomach with protein, fat and fiber.
While you need not avoid all sugar, concentrate on fueling your body with the most
nutritious food you can. A balanced diet can
help support the immune system and give you
the energy and strength you need to carry you
through this difficult time.
CANCER AND SUGAR // Mayo Clinic debunks the myth that sugar
makes cancer grow faster. mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/
in-depth/cancer-causes/art-20044714?pg= 2 // The National Cancer
Institute explores whether artificial sweeteners are associated with cancer.
cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/artificial-sweeteners-fact-sheet // An American Institute for Cancer Research video shows
how to read nutrition labels to avoid consuming too much added sugar.