Should Cancer Patients Avoid Sugar?


Sugar, Sweeteners and Breast CancerA common question many cancer patients have is whether or not to avoid sugar …so let’s look at the results of an interesting study and see what it suggests.

A natural cancer clinic in Arizona conducted the study. The clinic treats all types of cancer and all stages of cancer, using naturopathic, holistic, and alternative treatments. The clinic conducted a  7-year interventional study of 317 of their patients, all treated at one clinic. Although the patients received different treatments for different durations, based on their individual needs, they were all given just one dietary guideline to follow.

Dietary Advice

The recommendation to all patients in the trial was to avoid consuming sweetened foods. “Sweetened foods” included foods that contain:

  • sugar
  • honey
  • maple syrup
  • corn syrup
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • alcohol
  • sugar alcohols
  • plant nectars

The recommendation included the avoidance of fruit juice, and to limit other refined carbohydrates, specifically flour products. If a participant wanted to use a sweetener, the use of stevia was encouraged.

A wide variety of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, eggs, dairy, and other animal products was encouraged. Patients were free to continue following any specific diets they were currently on, such as vegan, vegetarian, omnivore, avoiding grains, etc. The single dietary focus was avoidance of sweeteners. Patients were told they could eat anything they like, but avoidance of sweeteners was urged.

The authors’ conclusion was that NOT consuming sweetened foods made a significant difference in patient outcome across all stages and types of cancer in their clinic, by reducing mortality and improving remission rates.

Take Home Message

So yes, this is only one study. And there are a large number of variables. However, considering the potential risk:benefit ratio, it would seem prudent for cancer patients to avoid sugar and sweeteners.

Note that this study focused on sugar/sweeteners and did not ask the participants to exclude fruit from the diet. The information on many websites is confusing on the subject of sugar and cancer, which can result in cancer patients eliminating ALL foods that contain sugar – even beneficial foods such as fruits that contain essential nutrients.

In summary, avoiding foods made with added sugar or sweeteners seems to be a good idea; however, this evidence does not extend to include the need to avoid fruit.

Ruth BaillieRuth Baillie is originally from the UK and now lives most of the year in Northern California. She holds two Master’s degrees, one in Personalized Nutrition (distinction), and another in Health Psychology. She is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Certified Professional Cancer Coach, and Cancer Guide, and has undertaken considerable post-graduate studies in integrative naturopathic oncology. She is the author of “Choices in mind-body medicine for cancer patients in Sonoma County, California” and her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals.

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