Wednesday 29 April, 2020

Does Sugar Feed Cancer?

Does sugar feed cancer? What diet is the right diet during cancer treatment? What should I eat? Every week in the War On Cancer app we post War On Cancer ‘Take Overs’.

The weekly takeovers are done by professionals sharing insights into their lives, work, and what they have experienced. This week the War On Cancer weekly take over is done by Nicole Giller – Oncology Registered Dietitian who has worked with people affected by cancer for over 10 years, guiding people under treatment to eat ‘right’. In a previous Weekly Take Over we received a couple of questions about “sugar and cancer” – we wanted to make sure you get an answer to your question and have allowed Nicole Giller to address the topic.

Meet Nicole

I am an Oncology Registered Dietitian in the USA. I have worked with cancer patients for over 10 years. I have worked in several settings: in-patient hospitals, cancer centers, pediatric and adult survivorship clinics. Currently, I have expanded my services to be able to practice globally in a virtual setting; I am able to support and “meet” patients all over the world during different stages of their cancer journey.

I am passionate about getting the right information out there to reduce fear and instill confidence in cancer patients around food and nutrition. I use current evidence-based guidelines to create and share simplified facts and tips on how to eat during and after cancer treatment. Fortunately, cancer patients have more food options than society believes – it really just comes down to personal preference and side effects. Many cancer diet myths have been exacerbated without reviewing the science. Sadly, these diet myths have also been pushed onto patients to follow. Sharing the facts helps dispel these myths and give many patients relief and flexibility to eat more and keep enjoying food! Not only is it better to be able to enjoy more foods but eating better during cancer treatment supports better outcomes. That is my mission – more food options and being able to enjoy food to support a thriving body throughout life!

Diets when going through cancer

How many different “diets” have you been told to try during cancer treatment? People going through cancer may hear of or try special diets in hopes that their treatment will work better, prevent side effects from treatment, or to treat cancer itself. However, for most of these special diets, there is no evidence that shows they work, and what usually is advised is to try and consult with your doctor/nutritionist on what your body may need. There isn’t a one size fits all as all bodies are unique and react differently to diets. 

But as a general rule of thumb

Include all foods (emphasis on protein at mealtimes) to support optimal treatment attendance and avoid malnutrition.

  • Experiencing Weight loss? Add in more calorie-dense foods + exercise, if possible.
  • Experiencing Weight gain? Add in more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins + exercise, if possible.

Does sugar feed cancer?

Glucose (the form of sugar used most in the body) feeds every cell in the body and is so important to the function of your brain that the body has several back up strategies to keep blood sugar levels normal. But research shows that eating sugar doesn’t lead to cancer directly – cancer will not grow faster with higher sugar intakes nor will cancer growth slow from no sugar intakes. It is more what sugar does to your waistline and body that can indirectly lead to sugar causing cancer. The idea that sugar could directly fuel the growth of cancer cells can lead some people to avoid all carbohydrate-containing foods which can be counter-productive for anyone struggling to maintain their weight while dealing with side effects of cancer and treatments.
Instead of focusing on ‘to sugar or not to sugar’, maybe try and focus on how to balance a total carbohydrate intake and to do so, you can use the “plate method” designed by AICR:
Consider a 2/3 plate…

  • ½ of the surface should be covered with vegetables, fruits and/or beans. These are fiber-containing foods that slow stomach emptying
  • ¼ of the surface is covered by starches, such as rice or potatoes
  • ¼ of the surface is covered by lean protein sources. Protein keeps us full longer. Choose lower-fat options and plant sources of fat, such as olive oil, to limit saturated fats.
Does sugar feed cancer?

There’s a lot of misinformation out there

If a diet sounds too good to be true, extremely limited, a bit expensive, or your gut just tells you no, then skip it and get back to simplicity with nutrition after cancer – emphasis on more plants and regular exercise. From almost the moment someone is diagnosed with cancer, everyone suddenly rushes over to watch them eat and tell them how they are doing it “wrong” ??. Here’s the deal, there is A LOT of misinformation out there. Nutrition becomes personal, since we all eat, but that DOES NOT make everyone an expert on it.
Bring in uneducated and opinionated friends and family and there’s likely a large dose of “advice” coming at you. Some people mean well but unless they are an expert in oncology nutrition, they have no clue.
So what to do?! Talk with an oncology dietitian as we and they are experts on nutrition. We want you eating and enjoying it – especially during cancer treatment where malnutrition can greatly hinder your treatment outcomes.
Lots of warmth,

Join the conversation and ask questions to Nicole Giller by downloading the War On Cancer app
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American Institute for Cancer Research
US Department of Agriculture World Cancer Research Fund UK

The information shared does not constitute a medical consultation and is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult with your doctor or other qualified health providers for questions regarding a medical condition, especially during the active period of Corona / Covid19. Please do not disregard professional health provider advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read here.  In the event of a medical emergency, call a doctor, 112 or 911 immediately.

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