Can eating sugar cause cancer?

January 8, 2018 by Siddhi Shroff, University of Kentucky

A recent study published by Belgian biologists found a relationship between glucose (sugar) and the activation of a gene that stimulates the growth of cancer cells. This led to public fear that everything with sugar should be avoided as it will cause or "feed" cancer.

While these results have many implications for future research, it is important to remember that this one study was done in a laboratory environment and it is not enough evidence to apply it to changes in the human diet or to the general population.

But this has led to a public understanding that one should be cutting carbs and avoiding any and all sugars in the diet. This is not necessarily true. Another common misconception is that patients should avoid all sugars throughout cancer treatment.

Our body needs energy; the carbohydrates in the we eat break down to glucose, the that is the main source of energy for the body. All cells require this energy in order for the body to function effectively. While a form of sugar is naturally found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy foods, these foods offer more beneficial nutrients than highly processed foods with added sugars.

Added sugars are what you want to limit or avoid. These are the sweeteners that are added to food during processing. Unlike the foods mentioned above, added sugars are not nutrient dense with essential vitamins and minerals, and they provide empty calories.

Added sugars usually come from sweetened beverages (soft drinks, coffee, tea, energy drinks), candy, cakes, cookies, pies, pastries, doughnuts, Jams, jellies, syrups, sweet toppings and more.

These foods are higher in calories. Excess caloric intake can lead to weight gain and obesity, which has been shown to be a risk for many cancers.

So, how much of added sugar is OK to eat? According to the American Heart Association, women should aim to consume around 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day and men should aim for no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day.

You can limit your intake of added sugars by:

  • Drinking water and unsweetened coffee/tea, instead of sodas and other sweetened beverages.
  • Choose beverages like low-fat milk or 100 percent fruit juice, which will also help you to meet dairy and fruit group recommendation for daily intake.
  • Choose fruit as a naturally sweet dessert or snack instead of foods with added sugars.
  • Making sweet desserts a "once-in-a-while" treat and eating smaller portions.
  • Buying packaged foods from the store that have little to no : plain yogurt, unsweetened applesauce, frozen with no added sugar or syrups.

Explore further: Researchers report breakthrough in the war on sugar

Related Stories

Researchers report breakthrough in the war on sugar

December 7, 2017
Distinguishing naturally occurring sugars in a person's diet from those added as sweetener has been challenging – until now, thanks to a new method developed by the University of Otago.

Eliminate sweetened drinks, cut kids' sugar intake

September 26, 2016
(HealthDay)—Looking for the quickest way to cut added sugar from your kid's diet?

Should you replace sugar with artificial sweeteners?

September 12, 2017
We know Australians are consuming too much sugar. The latest results from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show 52% of the population are consuming more than is recommended, and this is affecting weight and dental health.

Two-thirds of packaged foods and drinks in Canada have added sugars

January 12, 2017
An analysis of over 40,000 commonly available packaged foods and beverages in Canada has found that 66 per cent of these products - including some infant formulas and baby food products and many so-called 'healthier' foods ...

Children should eat less than 25 grams of added sugars daily

August 22, 2016
Children ages 2 to 18 should eat or drink less than six teaspoons of added sugars daily, according to the scientific statement recommending a specific limit on added sugars for children, published in the American Heart Association ...

'Ultra-processed' foods make up more than half of all calories in US diet

March 9, 2016
'Ultra-processed' foods make up more than half of all calories consumed in the US diet, and contribute nearly 90% of all added sugar intake, finds research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

Recommended for you

Ovarian cancer cells switched off by 'unusual' mechanism

June 19, 2018
Scientists at the Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre at Imperial College London have discovered a mechanism that deactivates ovarian cancer cells.

Breast cancer could be prevented by targeting epigenetic proteins, study suggests

June 19, 2018
Researchers at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto have discovered that epigenetic proteins promote the proliferation of mammary gland stem cells in response to the sex hormone progesterone. The study, which will ...

Targeting the engine room of the cancer cell

June 18, 2018
Researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) have developed a highly innovative computational framework that can support personalized cancer treatment by matching individual tumors with the drugs or drug ...

Study suggests well-known growth suppressor actually fuels lethal brain cancers

June 18, 2018
Scientists report finding a potentially promising treatment target for aggressive and deadly high-grade brain cancers like glioblastoma. But they also say the current lack of a drug that hits the molecular target keeps it ...

Researchers create novel combination as potential therapy for high-risk neuroblastoma

June 18, 2018
Researchers at VCU Massey Cancer Center in Richmond, Virginia, have identified a promising target to reverse the development of high-risk neuroblastoma and potentially inform the creation of novel combination therapies for ...

Genomics offers new treatment options for infants with range of soft tissue tumors

June 18, 2018
The genetic causes of a group of related infant cancers have been discovered by scientists at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the University of Wuerzburg and their collaborators. Whole genome sequencing of tumours revealed ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Jan 09, 2018
As noted here, this study does not establish causation. Our products are safe, as the body of science and worldwide regulatory authorities have repeatedly reaffirmed.

With that said, America's beverage companies agree that it's important for Americans to be mindful of their sugar intake. We've been broadening beverage choices dramatically through innovations like lower calorie sodas, teas, sports drinks, flavored waters, enhanced waters and premium waters. We've developed mid-calorie versions of longtime favorites; we created mini-cans. The beverage aisle looks much different today than just 10 years ago. We are committed to being part of real solutions to public health challenges with initiatives like Balance Calories - an initiative to reduce the calories Americans consume from beverages nationally by 20 percent by 2025.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.