Q:  Can eating sugar cause cancer or increase my chance of recurrence?

A:   I get asked this question on a daily basis.

Presently there is no scientific evidence that directly links sugar consumption and increased risk of cancer, increased tumor growth or increased risk of recurrence. To say sugar causes cancer would be the same as saying sugar causes diabetes. Both are false statements. The data regarding sugar and cancer risk draw their conclusions on information from preliminary studies done with animals and in test tubes, not on human subjects. Recent research has been looking at an individual’s diet along with sugar intake to see how it may affect cancer risk or survivorship outcomes. There has yet to be any randomized, controlled trials showing that sugar causes cancer.

What we do know about sugar it that it has no nutritional value. It provides us with nothing but calories. Increased consumption of calories in the absence of physical activity can lead to weight gain. Excess weight has been linked to increased risk of the following cancers: esophageal, pancreatic, colon/rectal, breast (postmenopausal), endometrial, kidney, thyroid and gallbladder. The American Institute for Cancer Research states the following: “Foods and drinks that are high in refined carbohydrates, added sugar, and fat contribute to obesity, a major risk factor for cancer.”   Eating too much refined sugar can also cause chronic low-grade inflammation which has been linked to increased cancer risk as well.

When we talk about sugar consumption, we are talking about refined sugar, not sugar found naturally in our food, ie lactose in milk or fructose in fruit, so cutting back on these foods is not warranted. Keeping refined sugar to a minimum is hugely important for overall health.

The current recommendations are to keep refined/added sugar to 6 teaspoons per day for females and 9 teaspoons per day for males. Americans currently consume 3 to 4 times that much. When reading the food label of your favorite sugary treat, keep in mind the following equation to help you determine how many grams of sugar you are consuming per serving:

Take grams of sugar and divide by 4 and it will give you teaspoons per serving. Say for instance the soda you’re about to drink has 44 grams of sugar. 44 divided by 4 = 11 tsp of sugar, which is 1 tsp shy of a ¼ cup. That’s not to mention any other added/refined sugar that shows up in the rest of your food throughout the day.   Spend your sugar budget wisely, and when it comes to processed sugar, less is always better. Simply start by cutting out sugary foods such as pies, cookies, candies and eliminating sugary beverages such as soda, sweet tea, and sports drinks.