Cancer feeds on sugar

Cancer cells primarily use sugar for energy and

they use sugar very inefficiently. 


This fact was discovered by Dr. Otto Warburg, Ph.D., a 1931 Nobel laureate in medicine.  He noted that cancer cells have a different  energy metabolism compared to healthy cells and that cancer cells can only use glucose and glutamine to a much lesser extent for energy and survival.  

 This difference in the energy metabolism is the principle behind the positron emission tomography device, or PET scan (cancer diagnostic equipment).  

 The science behind PET scan

How do you catch a fish?  Well, you use things that the fish love to eat as a bait and that is earth worm (or other insects).  The same is true with cancer, if you want to find out the presence of cancer - use sugar to do the trick.  

Consider this – during the PET scan, the radiologist  injects the  patient with a radioactive tracer; FDG (fluorodeoxyglucose - combination of a sugar and a small amount of radioactively labeled sugar solution) in the vein.  The scan tracks where the radioactive sugar is being gobbled up and helps locate the cancer because of the fact that sugar-hungry cancer cells absorb sugar more intensely than other tissues in the body.   A PET scan will appear mostly dark except for areas (hot spots) where the cancer is absorbing high amounts of the sugar.  

The image on the left - Colorectal cancer showing metastatic disease to the liver on FDG PET imaging. The heart shows the most FDG uptake (normal). Just below and to the right are two foci of increased FDG uptake showing cancer in the liver.  Image from: www.hopkinscoloncancercenter.org

Sugar feeds cancer - a concept often overlooked by the mainstream medicine

 It’s mind boggling that the simple concept of "sugar feeds cancer" can be so dramatically overlooked by the mainstream medicine and not included as part of a comprehensive cancer treatment plan.  Of the many cancer patients that we have treated, hardly any are offered any scientifically guided nutritional therapy beyond being told to "just eat good foods” or “eat anything you want” as “food has no bearing on cancer”.  Most patients we work with come with a complete lack of knowledge on an optimal nutritional program or how to implement it. 

 Don’t doubt it — sugar has an irrefutable role in encouraging the growth and metastasis of  cancer once it is established.    If you want to overcome cancer, one of the most important thing that you need to do is to cut down on the amount of sugar and simple carbohydrates particularly those which cause a surge in blood sugar and insulin levels.  This would metabolically weaken the cancer cells by depriving them of the food they need for their energy production. 

Understanding carbohydrate and sugar

Starving the cancer cells does not mean that you shouldn’t eat carbohydrates, because our healthy cells need these to function - the trick is to avoid high peaks of glucose in the blood by eating the right ‘foods’.    Let’s fall back to the science of carbohydrates. 

 Carbohydrate and sugar - In order to control your sugar, you will need to know some basics about carbohydrates.

 Carbohydrate is the most misunderstood nutrient (other than fat) in our diet and many people are still seriously confused about the role of carbohydrate in relation to piling up of sugar (in the form of glucose) in their system.   In order to control your sugar, you will need to know some basics of carbohydrates.

 Understanding carbohydrates and sugar

 We’ll give you a brief explanation on carbohydrate and sugar for it’s important for you to understand the relation between carbohydrates (carb) and sugar, the differences between ‘good carbs’ and ‘bad carbs’, to help you in making healthy diet choices and avoid inadvertently ‘feeding the cancer’.

 Carbohydrate?  Is Sugar a carbohydrate?

 What are carbohydrates?  I am sure you are thinking of rice, potatoes and pasta.  You are partly right, but that’s just a small part of the huge range of foods known as carbohydrates.   Carbohydrates are found in a wide array of foods both healthy (fruits and vegetables) and unhealthy (sugars, bread, cereal products, soda).   All fruits, vegetables, grains and ‘processed food’ contain varying degree of simple carbs (sugar), complex carbohydrate (also sugar) and fiber.  Some provide important nutrients that promote health while others simply provide empty calories that promote cancer and other diseases.  

 Carbohydrates are organic compounds present in various foods and are major sources of energy for our body.  They are called carbohydrates because the carbon, oxygen and hydrogen they contain are generally in proportion with the general formula of Cn (H2O)n  --> Carbon + water.  ‘Simple’ sugar, is the basic building block of every carbohydrate and may be called different names eg.  glucose, sucrose,  fructose, maltose and lactose.

 There are two major forms of carbohydrates which are classified depending on the chemical structure of the food, and how quickly the sugar is broken down, digested and absorbed.  Refer to diagram below:


Simple carbohydrates or simple sugars have a 'simple' molecular structure and are made of one (monosaccharides) or two (disaccharides) sugar molecules.  

 Monosaccharides – have one sugar molecule and examples from food source include fructose (from fruits) and galactose (from dairy products, breastmilk).   Fructose is the sweetest of all    naturally occurring carbohydrates.

Disaccharides – have two sugar molecules linked together - examples from food source include lactose (from dairy), maltose (from malt) and sucrose (sugar cane, sugar beets, table sugar). The most common being sucrose.

 Complex carbohydrates – Complex carbohydrates on the other hand are made up of long chains of sugar molecules.  They have three or more sugar units linked together.   Food sources include vegetables, beans, lentils and whole grains.

 How does the body process carbohydrates?

Our body cannot absorb intact polysaccharide* molecules.   Therefore the goal of digestion and absorption of carbohydrates is to break them down into the simplest form of sugar known as glucose which is the main sugar in the blood.    *poly = many , saccharide - sugar

Carbohydrates play a critical role in the proper functioning of the immune system, fertilization, energy production, blood clotting, and human development.

 Upon consumption, all forms of carbohydrates are broken down into ‘simple sugar’ to be used by the body.  Glucose, fructose and galactose which are monosaccharides are the only carbohydrates that can be absorbed into the bloodstream through the intestinal lining.  Once in the bloodstream, glucose, fructose and galactose travels with all other absorbed nutrients to the liver for metabolism and processing (for the case of fructose and galactose) where they are converted to ‘glucose’ through a series of structural change/ process.  Glucose also known as ‘blood sugar’ is a primary fuel that drives the metabolism and function of every cell in the body. 

 Simple carbohydrates require very little effort to break down and convert into glucose and are   easily absorbed into the blood.  Due to the ease of absorption, simple carbohydrates provide quick energy but they also make you feel hungry faster. 

 For example, when you eat or drink food high in simple carbohydrate – eg.  a can of soda or a slice of cake– all of the ingested sugar quickly rushes into your bloodstream and cause blood sugar   levels to rise quickly.   You feel a quick rush of energy.  In response, the pancreas secretes a large amount of insulin to keep blood glucose levels from rising too high. 

 Unfortunately, when too much sugar floods the system all at once, your body can't use it all for energy.  So what does it do?  The body stores some of the glucose as ‘glycogen’ in the liver and muscles for future use and when there is extra glucose, the body will store it as fat.  High levels of sugar is associated with various health problem like hyperglycaemia, diabetes, and insulin resistance and can lead to obesity and other health issues.

 In contrast, complex carbohydrates take longer to be digested and absorbed because they are   complex and composed of a network of three or more sugars linked together.  As a result, digesting complex carbohydrates releases glucose into the bloodstream more slowly and evenly than  digesting simple carbs.  As they require more time for conversion, they supply us with constant energy for a longer duration (hence they keep you feeling fuller, longer).   The steady release of sugar into the bloodstream and subsequently to the cells, allows the cells time to burn it for energy instead of storing them as fat.  Complex carbohydrates also contain fiber; and due to the complexity of the sugar links and their fibrous nature, tend to delay digestion.

 Plant sources for complex carbohydrates

 In natural form, vegetables and fruits are packed with starch, fiber, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytochemicals.   Starches are the way plants store energy -- plants produce glucose and bond the glucose  molecules together to form starch.  Most grains (wheat, corn, oats, rice) and food like potatoes and bananas are high in starch.

 Dietary fiber often known as ‘roughage’ is a kind of carbohydrate that cannot be broken by human digestive enzymes – they are the indigestible part of fruits, vegetable, whole grains, nuts and legumes.  Examples of these are cellulose, pectin, beta-glucans and gum.   When consumed, most of the dietary fiber passes through the intestines and is not digested.  It is important to the health of the digestive system because it attracts and holds water, increases the bulkiness of the feces thus making them easier to pass out of the body.  They constitute an important source of food for good bacteria (probiotics)  in our body.   Vegetables such as broccoli and spinach contain less starch, but they have more fiber.  Refer to table below. 

Percent calories from protein, Carbohydrate and Fat in selected food

   (Source: Healthy Eating for Life to Prevent and Treat Cancer — PCRM)


Protein (%)

Carbohydrate (%)

Fat (%)

Black beans



*Vegetarian chicken/meat

































Brown rice
























Chicken breast



Low fat milk













 What are good carbs?

The answer is fruits, vegetables and whole grains in its natural form.  In natural form, in addition to the sugar (which gives us energy) they are also a rich source of  fiber, vitamins, minerals and enzymes.  They are absorbed slowly into the systems thus avoiding spikes in blood sugar levels. 

 What are bad carbs?

‘Bad carbs’ are carbohydrates found in processed/ junk food including bleached white flour based food like bread, cakes, cookies etc., they provide calories, but devoid of other nutrients which have been deactivated or removed during refining process.  Refined sugars, artificial sweeteners and HFCS (high fructose corn syrup which is found in soda, syrup, health drinks, baked goods etc) are very bad carbs.

Here are some ways to help cut down sugar from your diet.

 Ö Make a conscious decision to cut down on sugar.  To be cancer free is definitely a top reason for you to cut down on sugar.  Start by identifying the sources of sugar in your diet, and   decide what to cut out completely and what to cut down on.   Begin at the place that is within your control such as sugary beverages and sweetened drinks including energy drinks and  flavored soda – you don’t need these. 

 Ö Be conscious of the type of carbohydrates you consume, they are not created equal.  Any carbohydrate intake should be restricted to complex, unprocessed carbohydrates.  

 Complex carbohydrates are made up of sugar molecules strung together in long complex chain.  In whole food they have starches (stored sugar for energy), vitamins, minerals and fibers.      Because of the complex nature of the ‘bond’, the body takes a longer time to digest and metabolize the food ( and therefore a slower release of sugar into the bloodstream ).

 Look for the following in your carbohydrates:

 Þ Whole organic food in their unprocessed or minimally processed state.

Þ  Starchy carbohydrates - such as brown rice, beans, sweet potatoes and whole grains, and products made from them

Þ  Fibrous carbohydrates - such asparagus, carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, spinach , bell peppers and most varieties of dark green leafy vegetables.  

 Remember, the quest is not to eliminate carbohydrates from the diet but rather to control blood glucose within a narrow range to help starve the cancer and bolster immune function.

 Example of whole carbohydrates

                      Whole grains such as rice, barley, oats etc

                                      Beans and legumes


              Potatoes, corn and sweet potatoes

                           Nut varieties

           Brocolli and other leafy vegetables

          (These are the fibrous carbohydrates)


0   Avoid processed food.  They are often laden with sugar, preservatives, salt, and bad fats eg. cereal, hot dogs, canned soups, nuggets etc.

0   Avoid anything ‘refined’ eg. refined grains (white rice and white flour), refined sugar, refined salt etc.

0   Avoid totally synthetic sweeteners (aspartame, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Splenda).  They are unnatural, manmade chemicals that have toxic effects on the body.  Aspartame used    in most diet sodas is an excitotoxin, meaning that it can penetrate the blood-brain barrier and damage the brain and the nervous system.  Although it has very low GI, they are poisonous to the body.

0  Eat naturally occurring sugar found in fruits, vegetable and honey for quick energy, they  provide vitamins, minerals, enzymes as well as fibers.  Coconut drinks are excellent ‘pick me up’. 

0  Other acceptable naturally occurring sugar in a more concentrated forms are raw sugar, palm sugar and coconut sugar (reflecting the   different palm species), stevia and maple syrup.  Again, we want you to exercise ‘discipline’ when it comes to sugar.  Beware of ‘imitation’ and the contaminated ones -  ie. Where refined sugars are added to adulterate the quality and boost profits.  

Apply the principle of ‘the lesser of  two evils’ - when you have the uncontrollable urge to satisfy those sugar craving.

 Refer to the image on the left for the nutritional value of maple syrup.  Per 100g serving, the sugar content is about 59.53g which is about 60%, however the syrup also gives you a number of valuable vitamins and minerals which are required by the body. White sugar is high oncalorie but low of nutrients.

Note:  For those with advance cancer (i.e where there is a large cancer burden), eat less fruit for they contain sugar (fructose) and avoid any added sugar.  Eat more greens instead.

The Glycemic index (GI) of coconut sugar (gula Melaka) is only 35, pure honey is 55, maple syrup is 54, table sugar (sucrose) has a GI of 64.

 The glycemic index (GI) measures how easily the body turns carbohydrates into glucose thus provoking an insulin response. (raise your blood sugar).    It is based on the amount of glucose in the food.  The lower the GI, the kinder it is to the body.   You can use the GI as a guide.

One of the most damaging things you can do to your body is to increase your blood insulin, and this happens every time you eat sugar.  If you eat sugar several times a day, insulin level will be high all day, everyday.  Insulin not only ‘switches on’ cancer, it drives it too.   Cancer cells have up to ten times more insulin receptors than normal cells and this is a mechanism by which the cancer cell obtain enough sugar and other   nutrients from the blood stream to run their metabolic systems.  Sugar suppresses the immune system too.


Processed breakfast cereals


Coconut sugar - natural and has low Glycemic Index

Natural honey - it has antibiotic, antibacterial properties

 Processed food stuffs tend to have artificial flavours, colors, chemical preservatives, stabilizers etc. and are laden with sugar especially the HSCF - high fructose corn syrup.  This is to ensure that you enjoy the food and come back for more.



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