Are Carbohydrates Linked to Cancer In Any Way?

By Jessica Bombace, ASU Nutrition Student

Cancer has affected all of us either indirectly or directly sometime in our lives.  I always wondered if any food that we ate had an impact on the risks of getting cancer. “You are what you eat!”, is a saying that is always in the back of my mind. This is what sparked the idea to research and see if carbohydrates have an affect on getting cancer.

The first study that I came across was provided by an article called “Cancer: Low Carb, low tumor growth. Here is a break down of the study

  • Study conducted in Vancouver, Canada
  • Study was done by Gerald Krystal and colleagues
  • Mice were the subjects
  • Low carb, high-protein diet showed slower tumor growth (1)
  • Study was compared to a typical high- carb western diet (1)
  • It was also compared to the growth of both human and mouse tumors in mice (1)
  • Mice were fed diets comprising of 8%, 10%, 15%, or 55% carbohydrates (1)
  • For the 10% and 15% carbohydrate diet it resulted in mice having slower tumor growth compared to the other mice who ate a high-carbohydrate diet (1)

So, of course this study doesn’t exactly prove that carbohydrates are the reason for cancer, but what it does show is a significant link to how a low-carbohydrate diet may help in the long run in slowing down a tumor if one already exists.

The next study focuses more on a particular cancer and it’s link to carbohydrates and breast cancer. Here is a break down of the information and details of the findings in this study:

  • Study was done by Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention
  • Mexican researchers did a study by comparing diets
  • The subjects in this study were done on human subjects (women)
  • What was compared was self-reported diets of 475 breast cancer patients to the diets that 1,391 women (healthy, no cancer). (2)
  • All the women are all around the same age, weight and other comparing factors (2)
  • The results from this study showed that the healthy women who had the diet of consuming the highest amount of carbs had a higher risk of developing breast cancer than the women who did not have a high carb diet. (2)
  • In many cultures around the world, carbohydrates are known to be the “backbone” so of speak (2)
  • In this article it makes sure to provide two important points about carbs and cancer. Here are the two points verbatim
  1. “You cannot, on the basis of this or any single study, draw conclusions about carbohydrates and their effect on cancer risk. To warrant dietary change, scientific findings must be reviewed, considered against the bulk of previous evidence and replicated by different researchers using researchers using studies of different types.” (2)
  2. “ You cannot make generalizations about “carb” because the category contains an enormous variety of foods that have vastly different nutritional profiles and vastly different effects on the body.” (2)


So getting back to the study itself, the Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention study reports that the carbs that were in this study were mostly highly processed carbs. Some of these highly processed foods were chips, corn tortillas, white bread and soft drinks. Another interesting point that they came across was that how insoluble fiber is over looked on how it impacts breast cancer. (2)

What is insoluble fiber?  It is found in whole grains, vegetables and also wheat bran. The effect it has in our body is that it adds bulk to our stool and actually assists in helping the stomach and intestines pass it quicker. (2)

Instead of focusing on carbohydrates only, in this study they also observed the intake of insoluble fiber that was consumed by the women as well. What they found out was that the women who consumed the most insoluble fiber had a lower risk of breast cancer.(2)


What we can conclude from this research is that there are insufficient studies to actually say and link carbohydrates to cancer. In some studies it might have shown that people who ate more had a higher risk, there just needs to be more back up information and proof to show that there isn’t any other underlying causes/factors other than carbohydrates.



Image: Retrieved from


(1) Cancer: Low carb, low tumor growth. (2011). Nature475(7354), 9-9. doi:10.1038/475009a


(2) Researcher statement on carbs-breast cancer link. (2004, Aug 06). PR NewswireRetrieved from

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