Much has been made of the link between sugar and cancer, with particularly strong links for breast cancer. A common suggestion revealed by even a cursory google is that sugar feeds tumours and cancer cells . So, is the ‘white death’ really the deadly poison that many would have us believe? And should anyone diagnosed with breast cancer cut all trace of it out of their diets?
Opinion among scientists is divided. Sugar is said to be as addictive and and more rewarding than cocaine. Common sense may dictate that too much of anything is surely a bad thing. Add to this that being overweight, a known side effect of too much sugar consumption, is bad for general health and can contribute to many diseases such as diabetes, as well as increasing the risk of 13 different types of cancer. Obviously, a sugar overload is never going to be recommended for anyone. Still, few people have a sugar free diet.
First it may be useful to differentiate between refined sugars and naturally occurring sugars like fructose or ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sugars. Refined sugar is the manufactured crystalline substance that is brown or white and is added to cakes, biscuits and fizzy drinks, etc which may be listed under many different names. The sugar in fruit on the other hand is a mixture of fructose and glucose. It is important to note that fruit also contains essential vitamins and minerals as well as fibre, water and those all important cancer fighting antioxidants. Five a day and counting ?
Simple carbohydrates are made up of sugar, starches and fibres. They are composed of easy to digest, basic sugars, such as pastries and desserts and should be limited. Complex carbohydrates are considered ‘good’ as foods containing these typically have more vitamins, fibre and minerals than simpler ones such as beans and legumes. The lower the sugar, the higher the fibre the better is a good rule of thumb.
Dark chocolate is also known to contain cancer fighting antioxidants called flavanols which may reduce the damage to cells. Resveratrol, a nutrient found in red wine is though to have anti-oxidant properties which may be beneficial in moderation, But then there’s the alcohol and the sugar. Or does the sugar turn to alcohol? And what about alcohol? (a whole other blog post). A glass of red and a piece of chocolate anyone?
Cancer Research UK says that sugar fuelling cancer is a myth, stating ‘There is no evidence that following a sugar free diet lowers the risk of getting cancer, or boosts the chances of surviving if you are diagnosed’, as glucose feeds all the cells in the body, which it relies on for energy. They even go as far at to say that ‘ Following severely restricted diets with very low amounts of carbohydrate could damage health in the long term by eliminating foods that are good sources of fibre and vitamins. This is particularly important for cancer patients, because some treatments can result in weight loss and put the body under a lot of stress. So poor nutrition from restrictive diets could also hamper recovery, or even be life-threatening.’
Your body needs all the energy it can get, right? Maybe never more so than when you have the effects of cancer and its treatment to deal with.
I have noticed that a favourite fund raising event of cancer charities is coffee and cake mornings and bake sales. A slice of carrot cake maybe counting as one of your five-a-day? Do the monies raised offset the potentially detrimental effects of eating a lemon cupcake?
‘The Truth about Cancer’ takes an altogether harder line about the white stuff (and indeed about most things) ‘Due to the anaerobic respiratory mechanism exhibited by ALL cancer cells, sugar is cancer’s favorite food!’ From breast cancer to prostate cancer, and in the interests of a healthy, balanced diet, the website recommends that you ‘avoid white sugar, brown sugar, agave, and all artificial sweeteners such as aspartame/AminoSweet, sucralose, and saccharin. If you have a sweet tooth, it’s best to stick with 100% organic green stevia, xylitol, raw honey, pure maple syrup, molasses, and coconut sugar’
After vast amounts of research in this as in every other area, I chose to make a conscious effort to reduce my sugar intake, and after reading a book about the subject managed to successfully cut all the obvious refined sugar out of my diet with only the odd relapse. This resulted in weight loss, better skin and more energy in general. Though I’m not gonna lie, it was hard. Hard to do and hard to stick to. But now I naturally can’t eat anything that’s too sweet as my taste buds can’t take it and my body rejects it. So I have a few pieces of dark chocolate for a sweet fix and hope it’s somehow doing me some good.
I leave you with these final words of wisdom from the cancer charity that helped me the most during and after my diagnosis, Macmillan ‘Sugar in your diet doesn’t directly increase the risk of cancer, or encourage it to grow. But sugar contains no useful nutrients, apart from energy, and we can get all the energy we need from healthier sources. So it’s best to limit the amount of sugar in your diet.’