We all know that eating too much sugar is bad for you, but did you know that sugar can actually lead to cancer?
“Basically, sugar feeds cancer cells,” says Katie Bogaard, a naturopathic practitioner at the Center for Holistic Medicine. “People often don’t realize what they eat has such a direct relationship to their cancer.”
A recent study from the University of Texas at Dallas found that sugar was responsible for the growth of certain types of lung cancer, and previous studies from Cancer Research and New York University have suggested that sugar may increase people’s risk for both breast cancer and prostate cancer.
The growing evidence that high sugar intake is linked to increase cancer rates is one of the reasons that the American Society of Clinical Oncology issued a statement in 2014 saying that obesity is “quickly overtaking tobacco as the leading preventable cause of cancer.”
Insulin Levels and Cancer
So how, exactly, does sugar influence cancer cells? The answer may lie in insulin levels.
Essentially, all cells feed on glucose, which is found in all types of food that we eat. But according to OncologyNutrition.org, cancer cells have more insulin receptors than other cells, so when you have a spike in blood sugar, it causes those cells to grow.
That’s why it’s important to avoid sugary drinks, candy, cookies and other sweets that are loaded with both sugar and simple carbohydrates that cause a massive spike in blood sugar and instead, focus on foods with a lower glycemic index, such as whole grains, that keep your blood sugar levels more even.
Fruit, for example, doesn’t cause as big of a jump in insulin levels as sugar because the fruit also has fiber, which takes your body longer to digest. But some fruits – like raisins and watermelon – cause more of a spike than others, such as apples and blueberries.
“I think any type of sugar that has some nutrients to it is better than refined sugar,” Bogaard says.
Sugar and Inflammation
Another reason sugar can affect your risk of developing cancer? Inflammation.
“The root of all illnesses is inflammation and sugar feeds inflammation,” Bogaard explains.
Bogaard says when you have abnormal cells (otherwise known as cancer), your body is supposed to be able to gobble them up and dispose of them, which is what happens in a normal inflammation response. But if your body is suffering from chronic inflammation, the body doesn’t know which affected areas to deal with first, leading to growth of abnormal cells.
Healthy Eating to Fight Cancer
Unfortunately, many doctors don’t tell people how dangerous a high-sugar diet can be.
“When people are going through chemotherapy, they often have trouble keeping anything down, so doctors will tell them to eat whatever they want,” Bogaard says. “So people are eating ice cream and cheeseburgers and not getting the proper nutrition.”
Instead, Bogaard recommends eating a ketogenic diet — high amounts of good fats, moderate protein, low carbs and low sugar — to stay cancer-free. Avoid simple sugars, including white flour, and instead go with complex carbohydrates. And, of course, load up on fruits and veggies that are high in anti-oxidants like blueberries, strawberries, plums, red grapes, red peppers, acai berries and goji berries.
Bogaard also recommends beefing up your use of spices, such as garlic, basil, rosemary and oregano, often found in Italian cooking; and curry powder, cayenne pepper and turmeric, often found in Indian cooking.
Want to find out more about the dangers of sugar and natural ways to fight cancer through nutrition, osteopathic medicine, acupuncture and more? Come to our free workshops: “The Dangers of Sugar: How to Kick the Habit for Good” on June 12, and “Comprehensive Cancer Care: Prevention, Treatment, and Aftercare” on June 13.