As I sit and watch my toddler crunch her way through a rootbeer flavored Dum Dum sucker, I can’t help but think “no way” when she asks, “more, mommy?”
What is it that causes so many of us to see sugar in a bad light? Toddlers sure love it. And I know that I love the taste of it too. I even love the smell of it baking and the sight of it caramelized on the top of a crème brulee.
As sugar and sugar sweetened foods became more accessible—and activity levels decrease—we’ve learned that sugar isn’t the best for us. High consumption of sugar sweetened foods has been linked to excess weight gain, and carrying excess weight has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer.
Excess Sugar Consumption and Health
Excess sugar consumption can contribute to higher calorie intake and subsequent undesirable weight gain. This is a vicious cycle that can increase your risk of cancer, secondary cancers and cancer recurrence. Consuming a diet high in sugar sweetened foods and beverages also increases insulin levels in the body, which in addition to obesity, can create a more cancer friendly environment.
For these reasons, those who have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer learn quickly from friends, family members, websites, magazines and many other places that sugar should be avoided. I want to help you understand the link between sugar consumption and cancer because it is not black and white. Instead, it is really a grey area that takes some explaining. And of course, I want to help you learn the healthful way to include carbohydrates in your diet.
Does Sugar Feed Cancer?
Sugar does not “feed” cancer cells in any more than it “feeds” the other cells in our body. We have not yet learned how to feed the normal cells in our bodies and starve the cancer cells. This is because every cell in our body needs energy from some source. Naturally, our cells prefer simple carbohydrates, or sugar—the basic building block of carbohydrates—for energy. We eat food and it gets broken down into tiny particles that enter the bloodstream. These tiny particles, or simple carbohydrate, are removed from the bloodstream and used by all cells to create energy. It doesn’t matter if they are normal cells or cancer cells. They all utilize the food we consume.
Many cancer patients mistakenly avoid all sugar and carbohydrate in fear that they are doing harm by eating them. If we choose to consume an extremely reduced sugar and carbohydrate diet, our body will convert fat and protein into a form of sugar to feed our cells. This can be very taxing on the body. When your body is fighting cancer, it needs all the necessary tools to do its best to repair and heal tissue and an extremely low carbohydrate is not the answer.
So What is Best to Eat?
The best way to supply your body with the wide variety of nutrients that it needs is to consume a mostly plant-based diet that includes a variety of healthy choices.
Here are some useful tips:
- Limit concentrated and refined sugar from candy, cake, cookies, sodas and sugar sweetened beverages because they are empty calories without any nutritional benefit
- Choose more whole grain and complex carbohydrates from whole grain breads, rice, cereals, pasta, beans and legumes
- Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables* which contain natural sugar along with beneficial antioxidants, fiber and plant chemicals
*If you are a colon cancer patient who has difficulty consuming fiber, a modified plant-based diet is still acceptable.
If you have additional questions or concerns about diet and colon cancer, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. We also encourage you to speak with your healthcare team and meet with a registered dietitian to to discuss your individual nutritional needs.
Angela Hummel, specialist in oncology nutrition at Meals to Heal.
This post is written by Angela Hummel, registered dietitian and certified specialist in oncology nutrition at Meals to Heal. She is passionate about helping people meet the many challenges of managing health throughout cancer treatment. Angela studied nutrition at Central Michigan University, where she completed her bachelor’s degree, dietetic internship and master’s degree. She has worked in the inpatient, outpatient and community oncology settings for many years. Currently, she is part of the clinical team at Meals to Heal where she counsels people on oncology nutrition and contributes to clinical website and other Meals to Heal content.
Don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have additional questions about colon cancer screening or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline. We’re here to help!