Will Sugar Make My Cancer Grow?

The temptation to indulge in sugar-laden foods is around every corner. Find out what you should know about sugar, weight gain and cancer.

First comes Halloween, a holiday now defined by passing out sugary treats. Then, Thanksgiving rolls around, and there’s an entire dessert table filled with pumpkin and pecan pies. Before you know it, you’re up to your elbows in holiday cookies.

But is there any harm in having candy, pie, cookies or other sweets when you’re being treated for cancer or are a cancer survivor?

Busting the Sugar-Fueled Cancer Myth

Sugars are a carbohydrate providing fuel for the body and all its vital organs.

However, researchers have found eating foods packed with sugar doesn’t make cancer grow or spread faster. Likewise, reducing the amount of sugar you eat and drink hasn’t been proven to slow cancer growth.

The Connection Between Weight Gain and Cancer

While there is no evidence to directly link sugar consumption and cancer growth, you should still be mindful of how much sugar you eat or drink.

Added sugar has no nutritional value. The empty calories are stored as fat and cause weight gain.

Research has found those who are overweight or obese, have an increased risk of cancer including pancreatic, breast, liver and kidney cancer. Obesity also increases your risks of developing other chronic illnesses that could make cancer treatment more difficult.

According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, added sugar should amount to no more than 10 percent of your daily calories. For someone on a 2,000-calorie diet, this would mean less than 12 teaspoons of sugar a day.

Artificial Sweeteners, Weight Gain and Cancer

Zero-calorie artificial sweeteners, such as NutraSweet, Equal and Splenda, aren’t healthy replacements for refined sugars. Research has not found a direct correlation between artificial sweeteners and cancer in humans, however there is a link between weight gain and artificial sweeteners.

Study results find consuming artificial sweeteners to be associated with:

  • Increases in weight
  • Increases in waist circumference

  • Higher rate of obesity

  • Higher rate of metabolic syndrome

  • Higher incidence of type 2 diabetes

Since increased weight and obesity are linked to cancer, it’s a good idea to avoid foods and drinks with artificial sugars.

Why Natural Sweeteners Are Best

Our bodies need sugar to function, and the source of that sugar can make a difference. Doctors recommend getting sugar from natural sources whenever possible. Naturally occurring sugars typically have antioxidants and other compounds that provide nutritional value beyond providing cells with energy.

Natural sweeteners include:

  • Stevia

  • Honey

  • Agave nectar

  • Natural syrups, like molasses and maple syrup

Though natural sweeteners provide additional benefits, they can still have a high calorie count. Be sure to stick to the recommended daily sugar amounts—no matter what you use as a sweetener.