Sugar and cancer treatment: 4 things patients should know

There are many myths surrounding sugar and cancer treatment. But what do cancer patients
really need to know about sugar to make sure they’re getting the best
diet during treatment?

We spoke with Randi Nicholson, a clinical dietitian at MD Anderson, to find out.  

Eating dessert won’t make your cancer spread

“Many people think that sugar will make your cancer spread, but
that’s not technically true,” Nicholson says.

Every cell in your body uses sugar, and that includes cancer cells.
But that doesn’t mean sugar will make your cancer spread.

“The danger in sugar is that it’s basically empty calories. It would
be better to consume vitamins and nutrients that help your body stay
strong during cancer treatment,” Nicholson says.

You don’t need to cut all sugar from your diet  

Eliminating all sugar from your diet is difficult and unnecessary.

“You don’t need to take an all or nothing approach,” Nicholson says.
“It’s best to consume no more than the recommended amount of sugar
each day and to try to take in less sugar if you need to.”

The American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons
of added sugar per day for women and nine teaspoons per day for men.

Nicholson says it’s more important to focus on consuming less added
sugar than natural sugars, like those found in fruits and grains.

That’s because added sugar – which is found in drinks and processed
or prepared foods — can lead to unwanted weight gain, which can cause
other health problems.

Artificial sweeteners aren’t necessarily healthy

Artificial sweeteners should be limited, Nicholson says. These
synthetic sugar substitutes may contain zero calories, but that
doesn’t mean they’re healthy.

They offer no nutritional benefit, and they could have negative
health effects.

Some studies done in laboratory animals have found links between
artificial sweeteners and cancer, but there’s no proof that they can
cause cancer to develop or spread. Regardless, it’s best to avoid
artificial sweeteners or consume them in moderation.

Natural sweeteners don’t offer as many benefits as you may think

Natural sweeteners like honey, dates, coconut sugar and maple syrup
are often thought of as healthy alternatives to sugar. Yet the health
benefits aren’t big enough to make a difference in your diet,
Nicholson says.

“These natural sweeteners do contain some antioxidants, vitamins and
minerals, but it’s really small amounts. They won’t have a big effect
on your health,” Nicholson says.

“The most important thing for cancer patients is to limit the amount
of sugar in your diet and focus on getting the nutrients you need to
stay strong during treatment.”

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by
calling 1-877-632-6789.