Ask the Expert: Sugar

The Physicians Committee

Ask the Expert: Sugar

Q: How important is it to steer clear of sugar? I’ve heard that sugar feeds cancer cells.

A: Simple, refined sugars (syrup, honey, white sugar, brown sugar, soda) provide calories but no nutritional benefit when it comes to cancer prevention and survival. It is easy to overdo it with refined sugars because they are not filling. Therefore, they can promote weight gain, which increases the risk for certain types of cancer. In addition, there's some evidence that the elevated insulin levels resulting from the consumption of refined sugars may increase cancer risk, and potentially impair survival. For these reasons, it's important to consume a low-fat, plant-based diet limiting refined sugars and choosing healthier sweet foods, such as whole and dried fruits, that have cancer-fighting nutrients and fiber.

Krone CA, Ely JT. Controlling hyperglycemia as an adjunct to cancer therapy. Integr Cancer Ther. 2005;4(1):25-31.

ML Slattery, et al. Dietary sugar and colon cancer. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention. 1997;6(9):677-685.

Michaud DS, et al. Dietary sugar, glycemic load, and pancreatic cancer risk in a prospective study. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2002;94(17):1293-1300.


Q: Are artificial sweeteners safe?

A: Artificial sweeteners are not a necessary part of anyone’s diet and have not been proven to be especially helpful for losing or maintaining weight. That being said, there are seven nonnutritive sweeteners that are approved for use in the United States and generally recognized as safe: acesulfame K, aspartame, luo han guo fruit extract, neotame, saccharin, stevia, and sucralose.