What does ‘sugar free’ mean?

The trouble with being a researcher with a cancer diagnosis is that I want to read everything I can to create a holistic treatment plan.

Something of a controversy in the literature is opposing views on sugar consumption following a cancer diagnosis.

The literature all confirms that being overweight increases your likeliness of getting cancer but what if you were a healthy weight when you got diagnosed?…could limiting your sugar consumption aid your treatment and reduce your chance a relapse?

Well the answers aren’t that straight forward.

The books I’ve read all agree that limiting sugar consumption should be a lifelong commitment following a cancer diagnosis. In particular ‘radical remissions‘, ‘anti-cancer‘ and the ‘cancer whisperer‘ all talk about this at length as do many academic articles. However, Macmillan and Cancer Research UK both state that there is not enough evidence to support the need to limit sugar consumption and that during treatment cancer patients should eat whatever they want to maintain strength and weight.

Sugar in your diet doesn’t directly increase the risk of cancer, or encourage it to grow. But sugar contains no useful nutrients, apart from energy, and we can get all the energy we need from healthier sources. So it’s best to limit the amount of sugar in your diet. http://www.macmillan.org.uk/

However when cancer patients are given a PET scan they are injected with a glucose based radioactive dye because it goes to the cancer cells first, thus highlighting them on the scan results. This is because, whilst all cells require glucose, cancerous cells ‘feed’ on glucose faster than ‘normal’ cells.

So there lies the controversy. On the one hand we are told that sugar is of no harm to someone with cancer and, often, encouraged to eat it in order to gain or maintain weight. However, on the other hand, research shows that cancerous cells will feed on sugar faster than other cells.

So what’s my conclusion?

I know that whilst recovering from surgery, when I ate sugar I felt more pain in the following hours than I did on a normal basis.

I know I craved sugar on a ridiculous level in the months before my diagnosis – we are talking a couple of bars of chocolate, a can of fizzy juice, a bag of sweets AND several large spoonfuls of Nutella each day! This is a common factor in most cancer journeys, with people often reporting similar abnormal sugar cravings prior to their diagnosis.

Finally I know that my CA125 levels reduced the most rapidly during the chemo cycles I consumed the least sugar.

So, whether it’s a placebo affect or not, I still made the decision to cease all sugar consumption and I tell you what – I feeling awesome for it!

But what about ‘natural’ sugars?

Now…let’s get one thing straight…all food we consume is turned into glucose for our cells. When I say I’ve cut out sugar I’m talking refined, processed sugar and ‘white’ foods.


I still consume fruit – yes it contains fructose but it is in a form that my body has to work to convert it. Also the nutrients it provides are essential to maintaining a healthy immune system – this is essential during chemotherapy treatment. I do however ensure I eat a larger amount of vegetables that fruit: about a 80-20% ratio.

Also, I very rarely juice…that’s a whole other story!…


I rarely eat honey. It is essentially glucose and has the same effect as eating sugar. When I do use it it’s just a teaspoon in a cup of hot water when I feel a cold coming as it usually stops it in its tracks.

Agave syrup v agave nectar

If you are in a particular need of something sweet you can use agave nectar which can be bought in most health food shops. A word of warning though…agave nectar is not to be confused with agave syrup which is made in the same way as processed corn syrup and just as bad for your health.

Personally I don’t use either as I now find them too sweet.

White bread, flour, rice and potatoes

I have a gluten allergy and so haven’t eaten white bread or flour for years however now I am also limiting my intake of white potatoes (favouring sweet potatoes) and white rice (favouring brown or red rice or lentils).

Dark chocolate

I thought dark chocolate was a ‘safe’ option but many of the packs I’ve looked at contain at least 25g of sugar per 100g. That means they are made up of a quarter of sugar! Just picture that! I even found one that was 42g of sugar!

Instead I now use raw cacao chips which are 100% sugar free and taste great. I like them over sliced pear with some grated ginger. Amazing!

Satisfying my sweet tooth

There is still lots(!) of puddings available once you’ve gone sugar free. “I quit sugar” is a great place to start.  Here I’ve learnt how to make sugar free Nutella, sugar free ginger biscuits and sugar free avocado and chocolate mouse. They all tasted amazing and were super quick and easy to make!

A word of warning…
Cutting out refined sugar is hard. It’s one of the most addictive substances we consume. However, the less of it you eat, the less of it you crave. Also your taste buds change…you start to find that other natural food tastes much sweeter than before.

A final note…

All of this could be nonsense in terms of helping my body to heal from cancer. I could stand just as good a chance whilst eating cake every day. I just don’t know.

What I do now is that I come through my chemo reasonably well compared to some other people. My cancer markers are down. I no longer take painkillers. I was diagnosed with stage four cancer and yet just seven months later I was told I was in remission and today, all things considered, I’m very well!

All that really matters is that you eat what feels right for you and your treatment plan.

Love and light, Fi xx

I originally published this post on 29th April 2016 x 

5 thoughts on “What does ‘sugar free’ mean?”

  1. Really enjoyed reading your article and yes, cutting out sugar or any other addiction is difficlult. We are all just chemical factories at the end of the day! I know you do a lot of research to help with your cancer journey. I am not one for plugging books but have heard of Patrick Holford? He has a good book on how to quit without feeling S**T Patrick Holford David Millier PhD & Dr James Braly.

  2. Fi, I read a great book called The China Study, gave you heard of it. All about the link between eating protein and disease. Really interesting. You can borrow mine if you like.

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